The four Walker children never meant to go to sea. They had promised their mother to stay safely in the harbour, and to be home on Friday in time for tea. But there they are in someone else’s boat, drifting out to sea in a thick fog. When the fog lifts, they can turn round and sail back to the harbour. But then comes the wind and the storm, driving them out even further across the cold North Sea…
This is one of my favourites from the Swallows and Amazons series. As a young teenager I read all of them, (even thought they had been bought for my brother!) but when it comes to re-reading this came out more than most of the others! The books are all about a group of children who have adventures together, most of them revolving around sailing. In this story, four of them, the Walker family brothers and sisters have an amazing adventure when the boat they are sleeping on drifts out to sea and they have to navigate their way through a storm, alone.
It is a very well-paced book, a good build up and then plenty of excitement through the most adventurous parts. It was nail-biting stuff the first time I read it! Will they survive? Will they get home? What will their mother say?! It is a real adventure, not pretending adventures in the Lake District (which is the basis of the other books), but actual danger and a huge sea that they have to deal with all on their own.
As well as being an adventure this book has great characters. We get to know the Walkers over the whole series, but in this story they grow and develop more than in any of the others. Each of the children reacts differently to the situation, they individually deal with the excitement, the responsibility, the guilt and the fear that this situation places them in. The tensions between them and their dependency on each other to survive heighten their relationships and feelings towards each other. Susan is trying to fulfil the mother role and coping with sea sickness! John is feeling guilty about involving the others in these circumstances and disagreeing with Susan as how best to deal with things now they are alone at sea. These are all very real brother and sister tensions in what has to be a very unreal setting.
This is a state of affairs that feels like it could never happen today, and yet it is so enthralling that it is perfectly believable. Ransome makes you feel that this could just happen and that these children just might be able to deal with it!
Verdict: An exciting read for an older child, an interest in sailing is definitely not mandatory!
Reviewed by Helen