Rough Passage to London: A Sea Captain’s Tale

Written by Robin Lloyd
Review by Gini Grossenbacher

Robin Lloyd is famous as an Emmy award-winning television and print journalist who covered the White House during the Reagan and Bush administrations. As a boy, he grew up sailing in the Caribbean. When Lloyd started reading about his ancestor, Elisha Ely Morgan, a famous packet ship captain for the Black X Line, Lloyd learned that his relative had been a friend of Charles Dickens. That interest spawned this rollicking story of the sea and the tall square-rigged ships that carried cargo and passengers between Britain and America in the early 1800s. Robin Lloyd has fashioned a novel which follows the search Ely Morgan undertook for his brothers William and Abraham, reportedly lost at sea. In tandem, the novel charts young Ely’s coming of age as he wonders “what he was doing in the middle of the Atlantic.” In fact, during his second week at sea, he finds himself “shivering with the November cold and wet as he helped reef the main topsail.”

Ely must confront the institutional cruelty of life aboard ships, where sailors were flogged for disobedience or executed as mutineers. He develops a hard shell, which eventually helps in strengthening his resolve, not only to become one of the most formidable captains of the line, but also to commune with surly mates who may know the fate or whereabouts of his lost brothers. He finds the love of his life aboard ship, a girl named Eliza with amber-colored eyes who captivates him with “the light touch of her lips.” The novel reads like a well-spun sea captain’s yarn, replete with detailed descriptions of life at sea in a time when effective captains entertained their passengers as well as running sail. The lively language of this novel has captivated me.