It is 1843 and Captain Nathaniel Sir Drinkwater embarks on the paddle-steamer Vestal for an inspection of lighthouses on the west coast of England. Bowed with age and honors, the old sea officer has been drawn from retirement on half-pay to fulfill his public duty. The following day, tragedy strikes, and Drinkwater is confronted with his past life: his sins and follies, his triumphs and his disasters.
Drawing on a true incident, Richard Woodman deftly concludes the career of his sea hero. Drinkwater's complex character is revealed in its entirety. Far from being the reminiscences of an old man, the novel skillfully weaves the past with the present; the personal tensions below decks, the straining creak of a man-of-war under sail, the crack of a cannon shot and the plaintive mews of the trailing gulls are never far away. To the end, Nathaniel Drinkwater's life is full of incident and the unexpected, so typical of the sea officers of his day.
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aboard alarm vessel alongside Appleby ashore Baroness Baskerville beach Blackmore boat brig-sloop British brother cabin Calais Callowell Calvert Captain Poulter Captain Smetherley caught coast command companionway Cossack cutter Cyclops Cyclops's d'you damned dark deck Devaux Drew Drinkwater asked Drinkwater felt Drinkwater looked Drinkwater replied Drinkwater saw Drinkwater smiled Drinkwater's Edward Elizabeth eyes face Forester forward French Frey frigate Gantley Hall glass gunroom guns hand Harwich head Hollingbury hope horse Hortense Jago Kempenfelt Kestrel Khudoznik knew larboard laugh Lieutenant lugger marine mate matter McCullough Midshipman Nathaniel Drinkwater nodded oars officer paddles passed paused port post-captain quarterdeck Quier Roach round Royal George Royal Navy sail Scanderbeg seamen seemed ship shook shot shouted sighed Sir Nathaniel Spithead starboard stared stern stood suddenly Susan swivels sword thought tide took Trinity House turned Vane Vestal voice watch wave Wheeler wind Wykeham