Monday, August 6, 2012

Sea of Troubles by JoAnn Semones

Why I read it: To review it for Wreck & Rescue and Sea History magazines.

Summary: The stories of the major wrecks that have occurred off California's Point Sur, south of Monterery.

My Thoughts: I've studied shipwrecks for nearly two decades, now, as a student and writer of Coast Guard history, and for some reason it took this book to drive home one important point for me.

I love shipwreck books (that's not the point). But what it took me this long to realize is the randomness of them in relation to the points - and by points I mean peninsulas, bays, shoals, ledges, etc. - about which we write. Let me explain.

As a writer working in Massachusetts, I may choose, oh, let's say, Boston Lighthouse and the Brewster Islands. If I were to do a shipwreck survey book, I'd be talking about ships of different sizes, wrecking over three hundred years, carrying different cargoes, and passengers from numerous different places around the Atlantic world.

In short, Semones' book, her third in the genre, captures stories of wrecked ships that have nothing more in common than the fact that they wrecked in the same general area. Even the hows and whys are different - collisions, strandings, fires, etc. The wrecks of Point Sur are also classified in another way, though, as they all fall under the umbrella of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. They didn't know that at the time they wrecked, though.

There's one thing about Semones' writing that warrants further mentioning, and that is that she loves the stories of the people as well as the ships, and does a great job of humanizing these often tragic tales. That might seem a little macabre, but a little personality goes a long way. Anybody can tell the story of the airship Macon, but who was at the controls?

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