The Falcon on the Baltic by E.F. Knight
IntroductionIn his introduction to the Mariner's Library edition of The Falcon on the Baltic (1951) Arthur Ransome attempted to explain the very special appeal of this book:
Grown-up people (if those who love sailing ever grow up, which I doubt) are like children in taking particular pleasure in stories that tell of adventures that might happen, with luck, to themselves. In these days few can own or look forward to owning large vessels. The cost of building even small ones is fantastically high and growing higher, while the wish to own a boat is felt no less urgently by those who cannot afford it than by those who can. And (boats being feminine) for hundreds of young men and young women Knight's little vessel has seemed and will seemWhen the Mariners Library was being planned, Ransome wrote to Rupert Hart-Davis on 5th November 1949 (Letters, pp. 329-330):That not impossible SheThere are still ship's lifeboats to be picked up cheaply and, if you are content with good crawling headroom and do not spoil them by some ridiculous superstructure, you can still make reasonable vessels of them, vessels in which you can move from one port to another, sleep and cook aboard, anchor in creeks where you can hear curlews instead of other people's wireless, and at week-ends, and on holidays, live in ecstatic discomfort. To all for whom such vessels are a dream of the future or a happy memory of the past Knight speaks as a personal friend.
Cruise of 'Alerte'. Nothing against it at all.As a newcomer to the book, what struck me most from the 'merely human' point of view was the personality of Knight himself: his huge enjoyment in everything he did, his interest in other people and tolerance of their foibles, and his sense of humour. He has some good stories to tell, and he tells them well. The following example is from Chapter 6:
"There is a fine hill in the Plantaage," said my companion, "and from the summit of it you will be able to see the country for a great distance around."With Knight as our travelling companion we find ourselves visiting the travelling circus in North Woolwich where the Siberian wind turns the artistes blue with cold: we battle against the Falcon's leak and against the ill-intentioned boys of the Zuider Zee: and along the way we are welcome guests at many local festivities and meet many sharply-described characters such as the vain young man of Veile in Chapter 12 who reduces Knight and his companion to helpless laughter. Among the many memorable episodes, the crossing of the North Sea in the wind and rain in Chapter 3 is likely to strike a chord for any fan of Arthur Ransome, since it irresistibly recalls the crossing by the Goblin in We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea.
I am grateful to Ian Baines for his loan of The Falcon on the Baltic.