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Looking for a Ship by John McPhee

Looking for a Ship

by John McPhee

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McPhee's first person account of a 42 day trip to South American he took with the Merchant Marines a quarter century ago is entertaining and informative. One of my friends from high school became a merchant mariner and now I have some idea of the kind of career and life he's led. McPhee discusses how older union cards trump younger ones, the decline of the American Merchant Marine, the mechanics of ships, navigation, different ports of call, piracy, and the men who choose this life. McPhee, observes everything, including the minutia of the ships' cargo. He recounts his and others' adventure. His writing is crafty and precise, if a little impersonal. It dwells on exteriors and surfaces, those of people and boats, not inner or emotional lives. There are characters, but it is not a character driven narrative. Stylistically, it took getting used to but over time I warmed up to it. ( )
  OccassionalRead | Oct 1, 2013 |
This is McPhee's report of his voyage on a freighter, the Stella Lykes. Another thing I really want to do before I croak. He travels for 42 days, through the Panama Canal and down the coast of South America delivering containers. The are attacked by pirates, navigate around storms, and discuss the decline of the American Merchant Marine. My father actually took a trip on one of the Lykes container ship and was stuck for several weeks on the west side of the Panama Canal during our invasion of Panama. Highly recommended for nautical buffs. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
An interesting read. I've often looked out at cargo ships passing through the bay of my home town and wondered what happens onboard. McPhee provides an insight into the decreasing size of the US Merchant Marine and paints it as a dying industry.

Unfortunately, the book meanders along without ever really reaching any high point or having something grander to say than describing the minutiae of every day. I think there were plenty of missed opporunties with this one. I haven't read any other of McPhee's works though, so this could be stylistic. ( )
  kenno82 | Jan 1, 2012 |
The book starts out very interesting. The author catches a ride on a container ship. He give the reader a look at the present state of the Merchant Marine. Following the ship from port to port in South America, where the crew deals with boaders stealing out of the containers. The book though ends in frustration. The ship has a major engine meltdown, but then it ends. You have no idea what happened to the crew or the ship. It is almost like part of the book is missing. ( )
  mhankel | Dec 29, 2008 |
My very favorite John McPhee book. ( )
  majorbabs | Apr 4, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374523193, Paperback)

This is an extraordinary tale of life aboard what may be one of the last American merchant ships. As the story begins, Andy Chase, who holds a license as a second mate is looking for a ship. In less than ten years, the United States Merchant Marine has shrunk from more than two thousand ships to fewer than four hundred, and Chase faces the scarcity of jobs from which all American merchant mariners have been suffering.

With John McPhee along, Chase finds a job as a second mate aboard the S.S. Stella Lykes, captained by the extraordinary Paul McHenry Washburn. The journey takes them on a forty-two day run down the Pacific coast of South America, with stops to unload and pick up freight at such ports as Cartagena, Valparaiso, Balboa, Lima, and Guayaquil—an area notorious for pirates. As the crew make their ocean voyage, they tell sea stories of other runs and other ships, tales of disaster, stupidity, greed, generosity, and courage. Through the journey itself and the tales told emerge the history and character of a fascinating calling.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:38 -0400)

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On one of the last American merchant ships, second mate Andy Chase and author board the S.S. Stella Lykes, captained by Paul McHenry Washburn. The 42-day journey down the Pacific coast of South America stops for freight at Cartagena, Balboa, Lima, and Guayaquil, notorious for pirates. The crew exchange tales of disaster, stupidity, greed, generosity, and courage.… (more)

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