Lazy Sunday Afternoon

A beautifully blue sky, daffodils gently waving and the blasted grass growing like someone just lit the blue touch paper! By the time I drag the lawnmower into operation the weather will have changed and the rain will have turned the lawn back into a bog. Sorry – I’m supposed to be the glass half full guy, so I’m really looking forward to seeing a neatly trimmed lawn to go with the fresh bright patio that I spent last week cleaning. If I wasn’t sitting here doodling on the laptop I might just get something done about it. But, if I did it would no longer be a lazy Sunday afternoon and I would have to write a different blog. Life is very difficult sometimes.

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Publication Day for Four Thousand Lives Lost

Publication date has arrived – bit of an anti-climax actually as I have had the advance copies and there is nothing particular happening to-day. For my last book (Selection Challenged) we had a launch, a TV debate and a couple of newspaper articles. Still, not many people actually bought the book. This one ought to be a longer term effort – although partly written about Titanic, it is not categorised as a “Titanic book”. The History Press have not included it in their “Titanic Sampler”. I am sending it to the editor of the Mariner’s Mirror for review as I don’t expect THP will do so. Anyway, I want to ensure that they are aware that the author is a member of the Society of Nautical Research.

Apparently one of the best ways to help promote a book is for it to get good reviews on Amazon. I am encouraging everyone who reads it to post a review on Amazon, in the hope that they will be good ones!

Talks have been arranged to the Belfast Titanic Society and also to the RUYC. A couple of friends have also mentioned the possibility of talks to historical societies. The problem is, of course, that all of this is likely to be in NI – really need an opportunity to expand the promotion in the rest of the UK and possibly get some sort of opening in the US.

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While Giants Sleep

One of the guys I met on the square rigger was Andy Miller, a multi-faceted person being a professor of educational psychology as well as a poet, author, rock climber and trainee sea captain!  His current book outside his professional domain is “While Giants Sleep”. Having had the privilege of reading it over the last couple of days I can thoroughly recommend it. It is quite unlike anything I have read previously, being an eclectic mix of poetry and prose covering a variety of topics and written over a forty year period.   It is an intensely personal reflection on some of the major influences on Andy’s life and it also externalises his feelings on activities that have been challenging but which have given great satisfaction. There is a moving description of trekking across the Annapurna Range from Nepal to Tibet as well as a tense recall of a near-fatal incident on a cliff in the Peak District. I have learned something about why people climb that I never understood before.

The book is available on Amazon at:



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Crewing on square-rigger with the Tall Ships Youth Trust

Just back from a week crewing on the Stavros S Niarchos, a square rigger owned by the Tall Ships Youth Trust. This was a 7-day voyage around the Canaries with an adult crew as it was term-time. I have had two previous trips and it is an experience that I can recommend to anyone with the slightest interest in ships and the sea. Those signing on as voyage crew are fully involved in the sailing of the ship and even get the opportunity to clean the loos! The cost is amazingly reasonable, the food is excellent and the ‘crack’ really enjoyable.

Going on an adult voyage such as this gives an insight into what the Tall Ships Youth Trust does for the young people it serves. The opportunity to face the challenge of going aloft to handle sails on the yard arms is an excellent way of providing a carefully managed risk. The actual risk involved is much less than it seems when you stand on deck and look 100 feet up into a mass of rigging. Young people are given a first class lesson in teamwork as well as building confidence through self-reliance. Captain Liam Keaton and his permanent crew as well as the charity’s trained volunteers really inspire confidence that the 48 young people who come on a voyage together will have a thoroughly worthwhile experience.

The charity website is at and gives all the details of the Stavros, the Trust’s other boats and the voyages that they provide.

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A Sense of Deja-vu

Many of the newspapers commenting on the Costa Concordia tragedy have wrongly drawn parallels with the Titanic. Far closer parallels exist with the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in 1914 and the Lusitania in 1915. We are told that the captain of Concordia may have been responsible for the collision with the rocks in the first instance. It also seems that immediately afterwards he took action which saved many lives by getting the ship ashore before it sank. Had the ship capsized in deeper water she would have sunk quickly and taken large numbers of people with her. The deaths of the 35 who were lost is very unfortunate, but the picture would have been so much worse if he had not been able to put her on the shore. He was able to do so because, despite the accommodation area losing power, the engine room was still functioning and was able to keep the ship going until it went onto the rocks.
Henry Kendall, captain of the Empress of Ireland tried to run his ship to the shore of the St Lawrence after she was catastrophically damaged by collision with the Storstad. Unfortunately, in that case, the engines were not functioning ad the ship capsized and sank quickly with the loss of over 1000 people. Likewise, when the Lusitania was hit by the torpedo, Will Turner tried to head for the Irish shore, but again the engines failed and the ship listed heavily and sank with dreadful loss of life. In both of those cases the listing of the ship meant that the lifeboats on one side of the ship were useless – just as was the case with the Costa Concordia. That problem has never been fully addressed over the century since the earlier sinkings. Given the very large numbers of people now being carried about on each of these modern cruise ships, as I point out in the book, there is still the potential for an appalling tragedy of Titanic proportions.

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Four Thousand Lives Lost – Book Release

My name is Alastair Walker and I am the author of a book to be released on 1 March, published by The History Press and called “Four Thousand Lives Lost: The Inquiries of Lord Mersey into the Sinking of Titanic, Empress of Ireland, Falaba and Lusitania”. For the first time the story is told of the remarkable series of inquiries over which John Charles Bigham, Lord Mersey, presided. Everyone knows of Titanic and Lusitania but not so many have heard of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in May 1914 on the St Lawrence in which more passengers died. Even fewer know about the first liner to be torpedoed, the Falaba, just six weeks before the sinking of the Lusitania.

The book looks at the context in which these tragedies occurred, both the peacetime situation up to 1914 and the changed wartime risks that ships faced after August that year. The nature of inquiries of this type is explored as well as the personality of those involved, including, of course, Mersey himself. The focus is on the captains whose decisions at sea were at the centre of the events and the book looks at the actions on which Mersey pronounced his judgments. Mersey has been viewed as something of an establishment man who did not wish to cause trouble. He is frequently considered as having being over-concerned to protect the interests of the shipping companies and having stuck too closely to the government line. Taking a perspective across all four inquiries we can see the extent to which these opinions may have substance. Nonetheless it can also be seen that, in many respects, he was his own man. The book then considers what more he could have done to prevent further tragedies of this type happening again.

The role of Mersey in presiding over four inquiries in less than four years, involving the deaths of almost 4000 people is unique. However, while the book places these events in their historical context, it also refers to events that have happened since and comments on some of the risks that passengers continue to face.



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