Author: Hammond Innes
Narrated by Bill Wallis
Published by Audible Studios in June 2010
The battered hulk of a huge ship looms out of the stinging spray of a furious gale. Only one man, half-mad, remains aboard, working without sleep or sustenance to save her from sinking.
But this man is no hero, and this ship was not meant to be saved. As Hammond Innes’ classic tale moves from desperate struggles on the sea to a nail-biting courtroom controversy, the murky truth about the last voyage of the Mary Deare finally comes to light.
John Sands, the narrator, and his two friends are on the English Channel in their small sailing boat, Sea Witch, bringing her back to England from France where she was purchased. It’s a dark and very windy night on the choppy English Channel. Through the blanket of mist they could see a translucent greenish light and then the huge bow of a steamer appeared, heading straight for them.
The white of a bow wave showed dimly in the brilliance, and then the shadowy outline of the bows themselves took shape. In an instant I could see the whole for’ard half of the ship. It was like a ghost ship emerging out of the mist, and the blunt bows were already towering over us as I swung the wheel.
The Sea Witch barely escaped the path of the ship and strangely, as far as they could tell, no-one appeared to be on the bridge. They came across the ship again the next day, stationary, looking deserted and damaged and ascertained the ship was the Mary Deare. As they were hoping to set up a business as salvagers, if the ship had been abandoned for whatever reason, this seemed like a perfect opportunity. Sands decided to board and check it out. To his surprise he found the captain, Gideon Patch, still aboard. Patch was exhausted, seemingly drunk and his incoherent speech not making much sense to Sands. Patch refused to leave the ship. The approaching storm meant neither of them would be leaving.
The story is told in three parts — the first full of suspense and danger as the two men battle the elements on an extremely damaged ship in a bid to stay alive. The second part covers the inquiry into what happened to the Mary Deare to leave her in the state she was in and filling in the backstory of how Patch came to be alone on the ship – details about the members of the crew and their conflicting stories of how the Mary Deare was damaged, who was responsible and why they abandoned ship. More adventure and danger battling brutal seas in the concluding part, with Patch’s and Sands’ desperate attempts to reach the Mary Deare, speared on the rocks of The Minquiers and slowly sinking.
On the whole The Wreck of the Mary Deare was an enjoyable listen. There’s a lot of nautical terminology included which, although a lot of it went over my head, was incredibly descriptive. An exciting story of men pitted against the elements in extreme situations.
Sometimes the narrator’s interpretation of Patch grated a little but he brought the scenes at sea and the conditions on board the Mary Deare to life vividly, bringing all the tension and suspense to the narrative.
Ralph Hammond Innes was born in Horsham, Sussex, on 15 July 1913 and educated at Cranbrook School, Kent. He left school aged eighteen, and worked successively in publishing, teaching and journalism. In 1936, in need of money in order to marry, he wrote a supernatural thriller, The Doppleganger, which was published in 1937 as part of a two-year, four book deal. In 1939 Innes moved to a different publisher, and began to write compulsively, continuing to publish throughout his service in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War.
Innes travelled widely to research his novels and always wrote from personal experience – his 1940s novels The Blue Ice and The White South were informed by time spent working on a whaling ship in the Antarctic, while The Lonely Skier came out of a post-war skiing course in the Dolomites. He was a keen and accomplished sailor, which passion inspired his 1956 bestseller The Wreck of the Mary Deare. The equally successful 1959 film adaptation of this novel enabled Innes to buy a large yacht, the Mary Deare, in which he sailed around the world for the next fifteen years, accompanied by his wife and fellow author Dorothy Lang.
Innes wrote over thirty novels, as well as several works of non-fiction and travel journalism. His thrilling stories of spies, counterfeiters, black markets and shipwreck earned him both literary acclaim and an international following, and in 1978 he was awarded a CBE. Hammond Innes died at his home in Suffolk on 10th June 1998.