'Hungry as the Sea'

A novel by Wilbur Smith

-----This is one of the most incredible novels I have ever read. I always recommend this book to people who want to know what Wilbur Smith is all about. Most of his novels have to do with the African continent, but you will find many sections dealing with the sea and its fury in there also. This book is strictly about the sea, its lure, and the incredible power it wields over the ships that dare to test it.

-----Nicholas Berg is the captain of the tug Warlock, returning to the sea after fifteen years of running a shipping company from the shore. He has been removed from the company by the man who stole his wife, his child, and life's work, Duncan Alexander. As a consolation for making the company the shipping power that it was, Nick was given a small part of the company along with all its debts and problems to leave his family and the company alone. Shortly after one of his best shipmasters dies, Nick decides to try and reinvent his life by taking personal control of the leaderless tug.

'-----Though he was only a little above average, Nicholas Berg gave the impression of towering height, and the shoulders beneath the blue cashmere of his jacket were wide and powerful. He wore no hat and his hair was very dark, very thick and brushed back from a wide unlined forehead. The head was big-nosed and gaunt-boned, with a heavy jaw, blue now with a new beard, and his eyes were set deep in the cages of their bony sockets, underlined with dark plum-colored smears, as though they were bruised.'

'-----But what shocked David Allen was the man's pallor. His face was drained, as though it had been bled from the jugular. It was the pallor of mortal illness or of exhaustion close to death itself, and it was emphasized by the dark eye-sockets. This was not what David had expected of the legendary Golden Prince of Christy Marine. It was not the face he had seen so often pictured in the newspapers and magazines around the world. Surprise made him mute and the man stopped and looked down at him.'

-----"Allen?" asked Nicholas Berg quietly. His voice was low and level without accent, but with a surprising timber and resonance.'

-----"Yes, sir. Welcome aboard , sir."

'-----When Nicholas Berg smiled, the edges of sickness and exhaustion smoothed away at his brow and the corners of his mouth. His hand was smooth and cool, but his grip was firm enough to make David Blink.'

-----Once Nick was back on the ship his instincts returned from their fifteen year layoff. Nick was once again one of the most clever men on the sea, and he'd need every bit of his cunning and instinct to accomplish what had to be done when the ship Golden Adventurer is split open by an Iceberg, abandoned by her crew and passengers, and left to wallow in subfreezing hostile weather, slowly settling herself into the deep frozen shore of Antarctica.'

-----Nick and his Chief Engineer decided to take a dive into the freezing waters and penetrate the hull of the wounded ship to assess the damage and steps needed to salvage her. They had decided to head back for the comfort of the Warlock when disaster struck underwater.

'-----He judged his moment carefully, the return was more dangerous than the entry, for the raw bright metal had been driven in by the ice, like petals of a sunflower - or the fangs of a shark's maw. He used the suck of water and shot through without a touch, turning and finning to wait for Vin Baker.'

'-----The Australian came through with the next rush of water, but Nick saw him flicked sideways by the current, and he struck the jagged opening a touching blow. There was instantly the roaring rush of escaping oxygen from his breathing bag, as the steel split it wide, and for a moment the chief was obscured in the silver cloud of gas that was his life's breath.'

-----"Oh God, I'm snagged," he shouted, clutching helplessly at his empty bag, plummeting sharply into the green depths at the drastic change of buoyancy. The heavily loaded belt around his waist had been weighted to counter the floatation of the oxygen bag, and he went down like a gannet diving on a shoal of sardines.'

'-----Nick saw instantly what was about to happen. The current had him - it was dragging him down under the hull, sucking him under the hammering steel bottom, where he would be crushed against the stoney beach by twenty-two thousand tons of pounding steel.'

'-----Nick went head down, finning desperately to catch the swirling body which tumbled like a leaf in high wind. He had a fleeting glimpse of Baker's face, contorted with terror and lack of breath, the glass visor on his helmet already swamping with icy water as the pressure spurted through the non-return valve. The Chief's headset microphone squealed once and then went dead as the water shorted it out.'

-----"Drop your belt," yelled Nick, but Baker did not respond; he had not heard, his headset had gone and instead he fought ineffectually at the swirling current, drawn inexorably down to brutal death.'

'-----Nick got his hand to him and threw back with all his strength on his fins to check their downward plunge, but still they went down and Nick's right hand was clumsy with cold and the double thickness of his mittens as he groped for the quick release on the Chief's belt.'

'-----He hit the rounded bottom of the great hull with his shoulder, and felt them dragged under to where the clouds of sediment blew like smoke from the working of the keel. Locked together like a couple of whirling dancers, they swung around and he saw the keel, like the blade of a guillotine, rise up high above them. He could not reach the Chief's release toggle.'

'-----There were micro-seconds in which to go for his one other chance. He hit his own release and the thick belt with thirty-five pounds of lead fell away from Nick's waist; with it went the buddy line that would guide them back to the waiting Zodiac, for it had been clipped to the back of the belt.'

'-----The abrupt loss of weight checked their downward plunge, and fighting with all the strength of his legs, Nick was just able to hold them clear of the great keel as it came swinging downwards.'

'-----Within ten feet of them, steel struck stone with a force that rang in Nick's eardrum like a bronze gong but he had an armlock on the Chief's struggling body, and now at last his right arm fought the release toggle on the other man's belt.'

'-----He hit it, and another thirty-five pounds of lead dropped away. They began to rise, up along the hogging steel hull, faster and faster as the oxygen in Nick's bag expanded with the release of pressure. Now their plight was ever bit as desperate, for they were racing upwards to a roof of solid ice with enough speed to break bone or crack a skull.'

'-----Nick emptied his lungs, exhaling on a single continuous breath, and at the same time blowing away the precious life-giving gas in an attempt to check their rise - yet still they went into the ice with a force that would have stunned them both, had Nick not twisted over and caught it on his shoulder and outflung arm. They were pinned there under the ice by the cork-like buoyancy of their rubber suits and the remaining gas in Nick's bag.'

-----You wont believe how the two get out of this mess, or the other fifty Nick gets into in the book. Join Nicholas Berg and his crew as they rescue boats, families, and fortunes from the grip of disaster.

'Hungry as the Sea' Wilbur Smith. Published by Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1978.