This Week's Review


Forty Years Master: A Life in Sail and Steam

by Daniel O. Killman

Rebecca Huycke Ellison (Compiled by)

Review by Marty Miller (guest reviewer for Inklings Bookshop)

I’ve always been a wannabe sailor. A couple years ago I joined the Yakima Makers Space and (over the course of more months than I care to admit) built a small pram which I occasionally sail in nearby lakes. When the opportunity to read some historic, nautical nonfiction came about, my response was a hearty “Aye, matey!”

Before overnight shipping and next-day delivery, international trade was carried out by large ships powered by sail and steam. Voyages lasted months and the crews faced incredible hardships, severe weather, fist fights, injuries and charges of murder! 

Forty Years Master by Daniel O. Killman is the story of an expert sailor and his adventures on oceans and in ports around the globe. Our narrator is Master Daniel O. Killman himself, who did us the favor of recording detailed notes of his travels, beginning in the 1870s and continuing well into the 1920s.

Killman begins with some background of his early years, growing up in Maine and finding himself on the crew of a ship at a very young age. He quickly begins traveling further distances, gaining valuable experience and rising the ranks of ships’ crews.

The distances traveled and remote ports of call are impressive. Killman sails around Cape Horn, to the Yangtze River, to Alaska, and several stops along the Washington coast and Puget Sound. He spent significant time ferrying cargo up and down the west coast of the Americas and far beyond. His time near Mozambique at the outset of World War I and, later, losing a rudder in the South Pacific, were especially captivating.

Killman also describes the business side of his endeavors. Among them are negotiating terms for hauling cargo and frequent challenges coming into various ports. Then, there was the ever-present issue of finding qualified crews willing to work hard 24/7 and be at-sea for months at a time. Even during Killman’s time, he laments the declining quality of seaman available to crew a ship. Finding that crew today might be nearly impossible, when the vast majority of our good citizens likely don’t know port from starboard. 

Readers are treated to magnificent photos of the various ship’s Killman sailed. The notes, documentation and glossary are also a treasure trove for those interested in maritime adventures.

There is also a local connection. Long after his death, Killman’s family gave the manuscript to Harold Huycke Jr., himself a sea captain with a love for maritime history. After Huycke Jr’s passing, his daughter, Rebecca Huycke Ellison, completed the compilation and annotation of the book. Captain Huycke’s son is longtime Yakima Valley College geology professor David Huycke.

If you are looking for a first-person account of a thrilling and bygone era in travel and commerce written by one of the great characters of the time, I’d highly recommend Forty Years Master. Rebecca Huycke Ellison will be at Inklings along with authors Dennis Dauble and Brad Trumbo this Saturday from noon to 2pm.

Oh, and port is left, starboard is right.