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About the book
  • Published: 2 January 2014
  • ISBN: 9781409027652
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 368

Down To The Sea In Ships

Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men

Acclaimed nature writer Horatio Clare travels the great oceans on cargo ships, and witnesses the collision of two temperaments: man and the sea

'Magnificent' Robert Macfarlane

Winner of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year

Our lives depend on shipping but it is a world which is largely hidden from us. In every lonely corner of every sea, through every night, every day, and every imaginable weather, tiny crews of seafarers work the giant ships which keep landed life afloat. These ordinary men live extraordinary lives, subject to dangers and difficulties we can only imagine, from hurricanes and pirates to years of confinement in hazardous, if not hellish, environments. Horatio Clare joins two container ships on their epic voyages across the globe and experiences unforgettable journeys. As the ships cross seas of history and incident, seafarers unfold the stories of their lives, and a beautiful and terrifying portrait of the oceans and their human subjects emerges.

'Tremendous' The Times

  • Pub date: 2 January 2014
  • ISBN: 9781409027652
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 368

About the Author

Horatio Clare

Horatio Clare is the bestselling author of the memoirs Running for the Hills and Truant and the travel books A Single Swallow (which follows the birds' migration from South Africa to the UK), Down to the Sea in Ships (the story of two voyages on container vessels) and Orison for a Curlew, a journey in search of one of the world’s rarest birds. His books for children include Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot and Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds. Horatio’s essays and reviews appear on BBC radio and in the Financial Times, the Observer and the Spectator, among other publications. He lives with his family in West Yorkshire.

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Praise for Down To The Sea In Ships

“Wonderful… Clare’s account of his journeys with the officers and crews of container ships is gripping and stomach-churning in equal measure”

Daily Telegraph

“[A] beautifully written account of seafaring life”

Ian Critchley, Sunday Times

“A lyrical, heartfelt but eye-opening chronicle... Both romantic and realistic, written from the heart but crafted with a seafarer’s “passionate precision”, [Clare’s] book will steer you into the new year on a course that may deepen your grasp both of that world, and of ourselves”

Boyd Tonkin, Independent

“If you can't run away to sea (though I recommend you do), Clare's book is a warm and captivating companion to it”


“Stupendous and extraordinarily exciting... What Clare demonstrates, even beyond his undoubted gifts as writer, is his basic humanity. I read his wonderful book with gratitude for his insight – but also with increased admiration for the men to whom we owe almost everything in our comfortable and secure lives”

Philip Hoare, Times Higher Education

“Rich and dense, full of old sea-dog stories, with barely a word wasted, it’s a triumph of quiet artistry”

Marcus Berkmann, Daily Mail

“This is a warm and lyrical book about a tough trade in tough times”

Sara Wheeler, Observer

“Wonderful... Clare’s writing is fluid, light and eminently readable, but perhaps his greatest asset is his empathy”

Philip Hoare, Sunday Telegraph

“Clare’s powers of plain description are tremendous”

Libby Purves, The Times

“A fabulous account... There is Conradian insight in Clare’s portrayal of the crews to which he is supernumerary, from the captain who hums as he negotiates narrow channels to the first mate constantly crunching carrots”

Giles Foden, Condé Nast Traveller

“There remains something majestic and timeless about the sailor’s life, captured here in moments of pure poetry”

Alex Saril, UK Press Syndication

“Remarkable... Clare has the two essential qualities of a good travel writer: a sharp observing eye and a generous spirit”

Jane Shilling, Evening Standard

“An epic and lyrical adventure in which Clare naturally recalls Melville, Conrad, Masefield and Coleridge to evoke a way of life that is so entwined with, yet alien to, our own”

Carl Wilkinson, Financial Times

“A lyrical but eye-opening chronicle”


“Clare's reportage is exemplary... He offers a fascinating insight into the often uncomfortable realities of an industry that relies on the cheap labour of Filipinos”

Andrzej Lukowski, Metro

“Encounters with crew members are interspersed with allusions to seafarers literary and historical. Clare's prose is at its most lyrical, however, describing the endlessly changing seascapes all around him”

Oliver Smith, Lonely Planet Traveller

“A true account of a remarkable journey by the extremely talented Welsh writer”

Western Mail

“[Clare] is a wonderfully energetic travel writer, as buoyant as a cork in a high sea”


“As wonderful as it can be terrifying, this glimpse into a seldom seen world cannot be missed!”

UK Press Syndication

“Acutely observed and surprisingly moving... Clare’s writing everywhere is of the highest order, assured, probing and alert. But it is his ability to convey the strange effect on the human spirit of being at sea that raises the book above the ordinary”

Philip Marsden, Spectator

“A smooth, compelling narrative. Above all, [Clare is] good company: sharp-eyed, empathetic, amused and endearing”

Maggie Fergusson, Intelligent Life

“A fascinating study of big businesses afloat, this is a moving tribute to those who live and work on the great waters far from land”

Western Morning News

“Somehow, Clare manages to describe these clunking behemoths of the ocean in exquisite, often poetic language… Unexpectedly riveting”

Nic Bottomley, Bath Life

“With an obsessive attention to detail, Clare captures the tales, trials and musings of mariners that would otherwise be lost to the tides”

Food and Travel

“Reading the account of [Clare’s] travels I am transported back to the bridge, and the sea, and the salt spray of the ocean”

Helen Sampson, Guardian

“A fascinating study into the realities of big business afloat and of humanity in extreme conditions”

Welsh Coastal Life

“We highly recommend it”


“This is far more than a travelogue. Packed with acute observations and sprinkled with historical seafaring tales, it’s a wonderful, insightful read”

Julia Richardson, Daily Mail

“[Clare] brilliantly evokes a way of life that is unfamiliar to most people, but essential to all our daily lives”

Good Book Guide

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