“The sea swept over the Arctic’s stern in a maelstrom of dark water and white foam. It rumbled and roared on either side of the ship as her bow eased skyward. There was no quick incline to an almost vertical position, no massive lunge to find the bottom. She slowly backed into the waves at a twenty-five-degree angle, assuming grace and beauty even in her last moments.”
But apart from those last moments, nothing about the Arctic’s sinking is graceful or beautiful. It showcased cruelty and selfishness in spades and the limitations of the code of honor that only a few people bothered to follow in the events leading to the disaster. While David W. Shaw’s The Sea Shall Embrace Them has flaws, with writing occasionally clunky and facts occasionally unclear, the horror of the sinking of the ship and the mad scramble to escape it is wrenching to read and hard to forget. Continue reading
I have a decidedly morbid interest in maritime disasters. I don’t know where it comes from, particularly since I tend to flinch away from them after examining them for long stretches. There’s something viscerally horrifying about the power of the ocean, and perhaps it’s this terror that makes it so fascinating. There’s an awesomeness to it. Stories of the things that happen at sea almost always have to be considered in that context, and it was with that in mind that I picked up The Sea Shall Embrace Them, by David W. Shaw, as my third readathon book.
The sea’s awesomeness is an undeniable backdrop in the disaster of the steamship Arctic, but what makes the disaster of its collision with the Vesta so agonizing to read is how much of the loss of life might have been prevented if meeting scheduling hadn’t been such a pressure that the captain opted to churn at top speed through a thick fog by Newfoundland. If regulations had been more of a concern at the time. If the captain of the Arctic, Luce, had made the choice to try to aid the ship he rammed in defiance of the bad position his ship was in for honor’s sake (the Vesta, though it ironically looked done for at time of collision, ended up making it back to land and might have been able to help the passengers and crew of the Arctic had turned back. But with the Arctic itself floundering, it’s very hard to blame Luce for trying to keep his ship afloat as long as possible). If the crew had had more courage, enough to let the passengers off instead of opting to rush the lifeboats and save themselves.
All I can say is that the murder mystery I have planned to follow will come as an uplifting and sunny change.