The Cruise of the Sea Eagle
This rollicking yarn stars a runaway nobleman who learned his trade as a common sailor, befriended an emperor and sailed the seven seas. It’s not Haroun al Rashid or Sinbad; it’s the true story of German count Felix von Luckner. Commanding a refitted windjammer, he ran the Royal Navy’s blockade and went on to capture fourteen merchant ships. He was a World War I-era Henry Morgan, except he tried not to shed blood, and love of the game motivated him instead of money. With his ship disguised as a Norwegian merchant, he sailed in close, then revealed his crew in uniform and ran up the Imperial German flag. He captured over 200 prisoners, and allowed them free run of the ship except for areas that were off limits. He evaded capture by rounding the Horn, and when his ship ran aground on Mopelia, sailed 2,500 miles in an open boat to raid again.
Pardoe does a great job of sifting facts from the accretions of legend. Count von Luckner was a larger-than-life character with faults and virtues. He lied about his own actions and it takes a skilled biographer to reach pay dirt. There are some digressions but the main narrative compels one forward. Paragraphs of exposition make the beginning hard going, but when von Luckner comes on stage there isn’t a dull moment.