Prisoners of the Sea by Bob MacAlinden

Prisoners of the Sea by Bob MacAlinden (1999) published by Peter Williams Associates, Milford Haven, England. 178 pages, softcover, profusely illustrated with photographs and drawings.

The crews and the lightships that they manned were the prisoners of an alien environment. For the men it was, in the main, a voluntary exile, that was marginally better for a seaman than voyaging the seven seas and being away from their families for years. For the ships, anchored in one place at the mercy of the buffeting sea, it was a trial between their builder and nature. In spite of this the prisoners enjoyed sunny afternoons fishing and yarning, but were always ready, whatever the weather, to risk their lives to rescue less fortunate seamen whose ships had tried to impale themselves on the very mark that the light vessel was guarding them against.

The author traces the development of these “prisons” from the early almost unseaworthy wooden hulks to the modern well-founded, all steel, high-tech light vessel, and includes stories from the crews´ point of view.

A light vessel was first used in the River Thames in 1732, and their use soon spread to guard sandbanks around the British coastline. Through British influence their use spread to the four corners of the world including Europe and the United States where many improvements were made to the light vessels and crew conditions. From the back cover.

I picked up my signed  copy on eBay last week for a mere €16.32 (£12.68) including p+p and on first glance it looks to be an excellent addition to my library. It turns out that there are quite a lot more lightship books out there than I first thought and I will shortly add a list of all those that I’ve come across – watch this space.

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