Tim Severin has sailed a leather boat across the Atlantic in the wake of St. Brendan the Navigator, captained an Arab sailing ship from Muscat to China to investigate the legends of Sindbad the Sailor, steered a replica of a Bronze Age galley to seek the landfalls of Jason and the Argonauts and of Ulysses, ridden the route of the first Crusader knights across Europe to Jerusalem, travelled on horse back with nomads of Mongolia in search of the heritage of Genghis Khan, sailed the Pacific on a bamboo raft to test the theory that ancient Chinese mariners could have reached to the Americas, retraced the journeys of Alfred Russell Wallace, Victorian pioneer naturalist, through the Spice Islands of Indonesia using a 19th century prahu, and traced the origins of Moby Dick, the great white whale among the aboriginal sea hunters of the Pacific.
One of his recent quests has been to identify the 'real' Robinson Crusoe whose true adventures marooned on a desert island in the Caribbean provided material for the fictional exploits of the world's most famous castaway.
He has written books about all these adventures, which have won him the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, The Book Of The Sea Award, a Christopher Prize and the literary medal of the Academie de la Marine. He has been a regular contributor to the National Geographic Magazine.
He has also recorded his journeys in documentary films which have become classics of exploration and adventure. At film festivals they have won prizes for Best Cameraman, Best Film of the Sea and Best Adventure Film. Collected under the title TIME TRAVELLER, they have been screened on Discovery Channel, Sky Television, and National Geographic TV.
In January 2005 he published VIKING, Odinn's Child, the first volume in his historical fiction trilogy (Macmillan). Odinn's Child entered the best seller lists, and was followed by VIKING, Sworn Brother, and VIKING King's Man. The trilogy has been translated into languages ranging from Portuguese to Korean. His latest historical novel is BUCCANEER. Set in the late 17th century, it is the second in an action-packed series recounting the Adventures of Hector Lynch, Pirate on his voyages to the farthest shores of the then known world.
Tim Severin holds the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. He has been conferred with the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, by Trinity College, Dublin, and by University College, Cork.
The Brendan Voyage
'A truly awesome sight loomed up out of the dark just downwind of us - the white and serrated edge of a massive floe, twice the size of Brendan and glinting with malice. This apparition was rolling and wallowing like some enormous log. Its powerful, squat shape had one great bluff end which was pointing like a battering ram straight at Brendan, and was rocking backward and forward with ponderous certainty to deliver a blow of perhaps a hundred tons or so at the fragile leather. George took one look at this monster and leapt up the foremast to try to clear the jammed sail and give us steerage way. It was a slim hope. "Hang on tight !" I bellowed at him as the swell gathered up Brendan and pushed her at the great ice lump which heaved up ponderously to greet her. Crack ! Thump ! the whole boat shook as if she had struck a reef, which indeed she had, but a reef of ice. The impact flung George backward from the mast ...'
Paperback: 266 pages
Publisher: Gill & Macmillan Ltd; illustrated edition edition (May 2005)
It has been described as the greatest epic voyage in modern Irish history. Tim Severin and his companions built a boat using only techniques and materials available in the sixth-century A.D, when St Brendan was supposed to have sailed to America. The vessel comprised forty-nine ox hides stitched together in a patchwork and stretched over a wooden frame. This leather skin was only a quarter of an inch thick. Yet Severin and his crew sailed Brendan from Brandon Creek in Dingle to Newfoundland, surviving storms and a puncture from pack ice. "The Brendan Voyage" is Tim Severin's dramatic account of their journey. This new edition of a book already translated into twenty-seven languages introduces a new generation of readers to an enduring classic. Tim Severin didn't prove St Brendan reached America, only that he could have, that it was possible. Brilliantly written, "The Brendan Voyage" conveys unforgettably the sensation of being in a small, open boat in the vastness of the North Atlantic, visited by inquisitive whales, reaching mist-shrouded landfalls, and receiving a welcome from seafaring folk wherever the crew touched land.
In Search of Genghis Khan
Paperback: 141 pages
Publisher: Prentice Hall & IBD; Reprinted edition edition (26 May 1993)
The Sindbad Voyage
'Now the storm line was right on top of us. The din of the wind and the snapping of the ropes created a pandemonium of sound, a raw fury. The slick figures of the crew were lit up again and again by flashes of lightning. Suddenly one of the brailing lines began to move. 'Heave ! She's moving,' came a cry. But it was a delusion. With a thunderous crack the whole rear edge of the mainsail, 50 feet of double stitch canvas, was ripped asunder. The tear ran up the sail in an instant. A moment later the whole rear edge disintegrated in shreds, a lashing ruin of torn canvas. The useless brailing lines dragged only strips of cloth to the yard. The mainsail was a total wreck, 1600 square feet of canvas blown away in an instant; the last rags of material flew away downwind into the black night like departing spirits.'
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Basic Books (8 July 2002)
The Jason Voyage
'The little galley crept up the European shore, the crew still rowing easily to save their strength before the next ordeal. I saw the millrace at Bebek point from at least half a mile away. The water was shooting round the corner in a seething mass where a rocky spur thrust out into the current flow. Whirlpools gyrated away from the edge of the race; blobs of foam dipped and spun in the hurrying current. As we drew nearer I called a warning to the crew; 'Thirty yards to go to the race ! ... Twenty .. start building up boat speed !' ... Just in front of me Mark began to say 'Couldn't we stay on this side ? Perhaps get round the point inside the current, and ..' But before he finished his sentence Argo's bow hit the race and I heard his startled gasp. It was like steering failure in a moving car . Argo simply went out of control.'
Publisher: Hutchinson; First Edition edition (1 Jan 1994)
The Ulysses Voyage
'As we approached the island of Anticythera eight or nine northbound dolphins crossed paths with the galley and promptly swam over to amuse themselves by leaping and playing round Argo's ram. They came bursting jauntily out of the water before ducking down and racing away with exuberant wriggles of their streamlined bodies. One dolphin was so consumed with curiosity that he lingered for twenty minutes about twenty yards ahead of the galley, occasionally heaving himself vertically into the air for three quarters of the length of his body to look over the gunnel and get a better view. .. As the dolphins tumbled and curvetted, their joyous leaps were so like the painted dolphins speeding across the wall frescoes of Minoan palaces that I couldn't help thinking that perhaps the finest context ever to see this aquatic spectacle was from a Bronze Age galley, slipping through the water with a dolphin shape and questing eye, another natural sea creature.
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Hutchinson (April 1987)
Tracking Marco Polo
Hardcover: 164 pages
Publisher: Peter Bedrick Books (May 1986)
Crusader: By Horse to Jerusalem
'The fat horse and I stared at one another with mutual doubts. Chubby and poorly coordinated he had tripped over his own immense feet as he squelched through the mud to inspect me. Just a youngster who had not yet finished growing, already he weighed three quarters of a ton. Nor could anyone have described him as handsome. His head was blocky and enormous. A pronounced Roman bump on his nose gave him a slightly comical and endearing expression as he peered at me through long eye lashes, though his eyes seemed far too small for that massive head. .. the stiff grey hair of his tangled mane was tangled and matted, with the consistency of a wire wool pot scourer. His tail, trimmed into a ridiculous bob, was a joke, an afterthought stuck on to his fat bottom.'
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; New edition edition (18 Jan 2001)
Nearly 900 years after Duke Godfrey de Bouillon set out on the First Crusade, Tim Severin set out with one woman and two horses to retrace his steps. Starting out from Chateau Bouillon in Belgium with the same breed of Ardennes Heavy Horse used by Duke Godfrey, Severin followed the historic trail for eight and a half months. Riding out of the green countryside of northern Europe into the heat and parched landscape of the Near East, he and his companion covered more than 2,500 miles, past ruined Crusader settlements and ancient battlefields, through arduous mountain passes and across barren Anatolian steppes. Across Germany, Austria, Hungary, (then) Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Syria, he followed the precise route of the medieval voyagers towards their common destination - Jerusalem. In this dazzling synthesis of adventure, practical history and exploration, Severin assesses just how far Duke Godfrey could have travelled each day; which routes the Crusaders would have taken and how they would have cared for themselves and their horses.
In Search of Moby Dick
'Behind the harpooner his assistant stood up, gesturing with hand signals to the steersman to keep him on course. The paddlers were howling and roaring and chanting the stroke. For a long moment the scene held. Then the harpooner judged his distance and struck. He leaped from the boat. He burst upward from the half-crouch and flung himself forward, still holding the lance. Harpoon head, shaft, and human were all one single projectile, hurtling through the air. The harpoon travelled forward and down, and for one moment the man looked like a flag attached to the long pole and trailing behind it. The harpoon head struck the black target of the whale's back, the forward motion stopped, and the harpooner tumbled into the water right beside the thirty-ton animal. It appeared to be a leap of utter madness.'
Paperback: 242 pages
Publisher: Abacus; New edition edition (5 Oct 2000)
Herman Melville's novel MOBY DICK immortalised the concept of a battling white sperm whale, but did such a creature really exist? Acclaimed explorer and writer Tim Severin travelled to the islands of the Pacific to find out. From Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas archipelago to Pamilacan and Tonga, Severin compares myth with reality in a fascinating journey of discovery. Along the way he investigates the real extent of Melville's whaling experience, and unearths other potential sources for his famous story; encounters the extraordinary whale-jumpers, who even now make their living by leaping on the backs of whales to ram home their spears; and observes a retired harpooner re-enact the curious ballet of a kill -- transporting himself to his youth in the process, like a shaman from a forgotten age. Superb travel writing combined with personal and historical anecdote make this a hugely enjoyable and enlightening exploration of one of the ocean's enduring myths.
Seeking Robinson Crusoe
'We ate the booby later that same afternoon. We made a fire of driftwood and sat on sand of extraordinary fineness. It was as soft and yielding as the finest-milled white flour. Trondur skinned and disjointed the booby, and the morsels were skewered on twigs and propped over the embers. The pieces of booby took a very long time to cook, and the dark flesh did, as Dampier promised 'eat fishy'. Nor was there much substance to chew on. If boobies 'were eaten by the privateers', they must have needed at least one bird per man or gone hungry. When we tired of gnawing on the charred flesh we tossed the remnants to the dog the fishermen had left behind to guard their shacks. Initially the dog had done its duty and come to bark ferociously. Then, losing heart, it had crept closer and begged for scraps. When we left the beach and rowed back, the dog sat down on the crest of the dune and looked bereft. Then it lifted its muzzle and began to howl and howl. His wailing made Salt Tortuga seem an even more abandoned place.'Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Pan; New edition edition (6 Jun 2003)
Who was the real Robinson Crusoe? In search of the world's most famous castaway Tim Severin travels where men were shipwrecked or abandoned in the days of the pirates and buccaneers... and lived to tell their tales of survival.
A Scottish sailor, Alexander Selkirk, has long been considered as the real life inspiration for Crusoe. So Severin begins his quest on the islands of Juan Fernandez 400 miles off the coast of Chile where Selkirk was marooned for four years.
Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, also knew the extraordinary survival tale of an English buccaneer surgeon, Lionel Wafer, wounded in a pirate raid and abandoned in the jungle of Panama. So Severin goes to meet the Indian tribe, the Kuna, who rescued him. Carrying on his journey he finally takes a 100 year old sailing boat to Salt Tortuga, a small uninhabited island off the coast of Venezuela. There he establishes the truth about a runaway 'white slave', Henry Pitman, marooned by pirates thirty years before Defoe created Crusoe...
The Spice Islands Voyage
'Sure enough, at about quarter to seven, the Birds of Paradise flew in, assembling from different directions. The first glimpse was of a quick, russet-brown flicker of quite a small bird flying with very fast wing-beats, and abruptly settling on a branch high up in a tree. You would think nothing of this creature until you used binoculars and brought into focus a bravura display of plumes. The bird had a fine yellow head, green throat and its tail was a brilliant scarlet cascade of feathers hanging in an arching curve. Drooping from this amazing tail were two elegant feathers, more like wires, which hung in a spiral and gently swayed in the air. These were the male Red Birds of Paradise, of a most extraordinary beauty and variety of colours... from these superb creatures came that remarkably ugly 'wawk, wawk, wawk.' Then they would fall silent and follow up with a gurgle and chirrup, like the sound of a wet cork being drawn slowly out of a bottle.'
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company; First Edition edition (13 Nov 1997)
The Spice Islands voyage is a trip among the Spice Islands of Indonesia on a traditional native sailing vessel and a quest to rediscover a remarkable Englishman who changed the way we see the natural world. Alfred Russel Wallace was the joint author of the theory of evolution by natural selection, yet his name has been overshadowed by that of Darwin. An intrepid naturalist, he wrote "The Malay Archipelago", one of the first travel books. Tim Severin used the book as a guide, when in 1996 he retraced Wallace's path through the Spice Islands, travelling through uncharted waters, observing unusual flora and fauna, and ancient systems of tribal rule. His own account of this journey is offered here.
The China Voyage
'Most shocking of all were the impacts of the waves which happened to peak and crest as they swept up to the raft. Then the top of the wave broke free and smashed into the side of the raft, while the body of the wave washed under. The impact was shattering: shaking the entire raft, and felt especially clearly inside the flimsy bamboo cabin which shook and bent under the blows, "Like a missile landing," was Joe's description, as tons of water thundered right over the cabin, small timbers lashed together, creaked and groaned, and sometimes split with a terrifying crack. The cabins bent and buckled under the weight of water, twisting and squashing out of shape. The same thought was in everyone's minds: will the bamboo-and-leaf cabins survive or will they be washed away as their bindings snap, or will they simply fold inwards trapping their occupants ?"
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Abacus; New edition edition (5 Oct 1995)
The story of how six men and one woman made maritime history: sailing the Pacific on a bamboo raft where every wave washed right through the structure. Their purpose was to test the theory that Asian raft sailors reached America some 2000 years ago. Forming a team of builders and riggers he constructed a 60-foot ocean-going raft from 220 giant bamboos, lashing them together with rattan. Named Hsu Fu, in honour of a Chinese mariner who was sent to explore the Pacific in the third century BC, the raft set out from Hong Kong on its epic voyage. They contended with pirates, fog, gales, breakages to spars and rigging, and the gnawing of bamboo beetles eating the very fabric of the raft. They took records of the birds, fish and whales - and pollution - they encountered, and supplemented their diet by catching fish by harpoon as well as hook and line. Broken ribs, a meeting with a killer whale, and the steady deterioration of their half-submerged vessel contribute to this remarkable tale. The crossing ended 5500 miles from Hong Kong after 6 months at sea - a modern record for raft journeys in hostile waters.
The Adventures of Hector Lynch, Pirate
Volume 1 - CORSAIR
'Suddenly there was an appalling crash and Izzet Darya quivered from stem to stern. A cannon ball had struck the vessel. Hector saw a gaping hole on the port side. He heard screams of pain and fear. Then came another crash. At point blank range the warship's gunners could not miss. The broadside struck the stationary galley amidships, and broke her back. Men and oars were flung into the water. Shocked and dazed, Hector grasped at a splintered post. Then, as the stern section began to roll over, he was washed into the sea …'
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Pan; paperback / softback edition (4 Jan 2008)
1677, on a late summer’s evening two ships lurk off the coast of southwest Ireland. They are Barbary corsairs from North Africa, slave catchers. As soon as it is dark, their landing parties row ashore to raid a small fishing village - on the hunt for fresh prey . . .
In the village, seventeen-year-old Hector Lynch wakes to the sound of a pistol shot. Moments later he and his sister Elizabeth are taken prisoner. From then on Hector’s life plunges into a turbulent and lawless world that is full of surprises. Separated from Elizabeth, he is sold to the slave market of Algiers, where he survives with the help of his newfound friend Dan, a Miskito Indian from the Caribbean.
The two men convert to Islam to escape the horrors of the slave pens, only to become victims of the deadly warfare of the Mediterranean. Serving aboard a Turkish corsair ship, their vessel is sunk at sea and they find themselves condemned to the oar as galley slaves for France. Driven by his quest to find his sister, Hector finally stumbles on the chilling truth of her fate when he and Dan are shipwrecked on the coast of Morocco . . .
The Adventures of Hector Lynch, Pirate
Volume 2 - BUCCANEER
'Hector tensed, already feeling the bullet in his guts, when an arm seemed to come from nowhere, sweeping down towards the pistol and knocking it aside just as Coxon pulled the trigger .. At the same moment someone kicked the captain's feet from under him so that he fell heavily to the deck. Aware that the entire company was watching him, Coxon got back on his feet. Then he stepped up close to Hector and said in a voice so low that no one else could hear him but was thick with menace. 'You would be well advised to leave your bones here in the South Sea, Lynch. Should you ever return to a place where I can reach you, I will make sure that you pay for what you have done today.'
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Pan (2 Jan 2009)
Sailing across the Caribbean Hector Lynch falls into the hands of the notorious buccaneer, Captain John Coxon. Hector’s two friends, Dan and Jacques, are released when Coxon mistakes Hector as the nephew of Sir Thomas Lynch the Governor of Jamaica - an error that Hector encourages.
Coxon delivers Hector to Sir Henry Morgan, a bitter enemy of Governor Lynch. The captain is expecting to curry favour with Henry Morgan but is publicly humiliated at a Christmas ball held in Morgan’s grand Jamaican home when it is revealed that Hector is not a member of the Governor’s family. From then on, Coxon seeks to revenge himself on Hector and the young seafarer finds himself on the run again. On his new journey he falls in love for the first time, gets caught in a deadly hurricane and merely survives another shipwreck. Eventually he teams up again with his old friends Dan, Jacques and the group joins an expedition along the Panama coast. Their aim is to raid one of the biggest Spanish gold mines, but their plans are soon interfered by some angry Spaniards. . . and their clash has even more dramatic consequences . . .
The Adventures of Hector Lynch, Pirate
Volume 3 - SEA ROBBER
'The gale increased to a hurricane. It raged out of the west screaming through the rigging, and by mid afternoon the seas had grown higher than anything even the most experienced sailor on board had witnessed. Solid walls of water reared up and loomed over the labouring ship. The Bachelor's Delight lay under bare poles, scarcely managing to stay afloat. She rose to each wave, staggered as the crests struck her and skewed sideways. It was suicidal now to try to reach the foredeck.'
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Pan (1 Jan 2010)
Ambushed by a gang of hardened sea robbers headed for the South Sea, Hector Lynch, pirate and fugitive, is obliged to navigate their vessel on a nightmarish journey through the stormy seas off Cape Horn and when his ruthless shipmates abandon him in Peru, he learns that Maria, the young Spanish woman who stole his heart and whose false testimony saved him from the gallows, is now living on the remote Ladrones, the Thief Islands, on the far side of the Pacific Ocean. His epic voyage to reach her will bring him face to face with a Japanese warlord who submits trespassers to his island to a deadly duel and with a naked Stone Age tribe who file their teeth to sharp points and sail boats that outpace the fastest galleon.
In Pirate: Sea Robbers Tim Severin takes the reader on an enthralling adventure through the seventeenth-century world of the seafarers who risked scurvy, shipwreck and drowning in hopes of reaping fortunes in spice and treasure.
'At that moment the enemy line began to move. It came at us not in a single organised rush, but as a ragged, rolling charge, the Irish first letting loose a high keening scream, which overlaid the deeper roar of their Norse allies. They ran forward in a broken torrent, brandishing axes, swords, pikes, spears. A few tripped on the rough ground and went sprawling, vanishing under the feet of their companions, but the ones on top rushed on, determined to gather as much speed as possible before they hit the shield wall. When the collision came, there was a massive, shattering crack like oak trees falling in the forest, and into the air flew an eerie cloud of grey and white sprinkled with bright flecks. It was the dust and whitewash from several thousand shields that had been carefully cleaned and repainted before the battle.'
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Pan; New edition edition (1 July 2005)
Our story begins in the year 1001 and the toddler, Thorgils Leiffson, son of Leif the Lucky and Thorgunna, arrives on the shores of Brattahlid in Greenland to be brought up in the fostercare of a young woman - Gudrid. Thorgils is a rootless character of quicksilver intelligence and adaptability. He has inherited his mother’s ability of second sight and his destiny lies beyond the imagination of those around him.
Virtually orphaned, he is raised by various mentors, who teach him the ancient ways and warn him of the invasion of the ‘White Christ’ into the land of the ‘Old Gods’. Thorgils is guided by a restless quest for adventure and the wanderlust of his favoured god, Odinn. His fortunes take him into many dangerous situations as well as to the brink of death by execution, in battle, disease and shipwreck…
Packed with wonderfully reimagined Viking sagas and adventures, and fascinating and unique characters, VIKING - Odinn’s Child gives historical novel writing a new dimension.
'I had no time to turn and flee. The snow would have hampered my flight and the bear would have caught and ripped me in an instant. So I stood my ground, rammed the butt of the crude spear into the snow behind me and felt it strike solid, frozen earth. Scattering the snow in all directions, the bear came careering towards me. When it saw the obstacle in its path, its warning growl rose to a full threatening roar and it rose on its back legs, its paws ready to strike. If the bear had stayed on all fours, I would not have known where to aim the spear. Now I was confronted with the hairy belly, the open mouth and pink gullet …'
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Pan (4 Nov 2005)
London, 1019: a few months have passed since Thorgils has escaped the clutches of the Irish Church only to find himself at the centre of a capricious love affair with Aelfgifu, wife of Knut the Great, ruler of England, and one of the most powerful men of the Viking empire. A passionate relationship between two unlikely lovers begins to unfold, which forebodes uncontrollable consequences…
When Thorgils is finally on the run again, he meets Grettir, an outlaw who is feared by most for his volatile and brooding behaviour. The two men become travel companions and sworn brothers – which binds them together beyond death. At the gates of Byzantium Thorgils' loyalty is put to the ultimate test...
Sworn Brother continues an utterly compelling journey back in time to a world that is brimming with wonderfully crafted characters and their insatiable hunger for riches and renown.
'Harald himself stood out like a beacon in a sea of turmoil. Seated high on his horse, whose frantic run had been halted by the mass of men, he could be seen fighting like a beserk warrior from the ancient days. He had neither shield nor armour, but held a long-shafted, single-bladed axe in each hand, his favoured weapon since his days in the Varangian guard. He was roaring out in anger. .. All around him the English foot soldiers were attempting to dodge his furious sweeping blows and, too slow, were falling to his attack. Like hundreds of his own men, I looked towards Harald, waiting for a signal telling us what to do. Without his guidance we were lost. And as I did so, I saw the arrow fly …'
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Pan General Fiction (7 April 2006)
It is Constantinople, 1035: Thorgils has become a member of the Varangian lifeguard and witnesses the glories of the richest city on earth but also the murderous ways of the imperial family. Under the leadership of warrior chief Harald Sigurdsson, he is set up as the unwitting bait in a deadly ambush to destroy Arab pirates harassing the Byzantine shipping lanes in the Mediterranean. When Harald eventually ascends the throne of Norway, his liegeman Thorgils is despatched on a secret mission to Duke William of Normandy with a plan to coordinate the twin invasions of England. On 20 September 1066, Harald's fleet of three hundred ships sails up the Ouse, confident of success, but a prophetic dream warns Thorgils that Duke William has duped his allies and the Norsemen are heading for disaster at Stamford Bridge. Thorgils embarks upon a race against time to reach and warn his liege lord before the battle begins. But will Odinn's devout follower really be able to anticipate what fate has decreed and save the heritage of his Viking ancestors?
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