|Captain Alan Villiers (23 Sept 1903- 3 March 1982)|
In command of the MAYFLOWER II
sailing to Plymouth, MA., 1957.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
Alan Villiers was that uncommon mixture of author and seaman, who had the skill and ambition to write contemporary books of the life that he knew in the last years of commercial deep-sea sail. He was born in Australia in Sept 1903, and as the WW years came to an end, young Villiers, not out of his teen years, went off to sea in Tasman Sea barks, then into deep-water square-riggers and occasionally into steamers. His talent for writing led him into journalism, but a career in the newspaper business was soon brought up short when he was lured back to sea in the late 1920s, with the urge to document in film and by writing the last deep sea voyages of Cape Horn square-riggers.
The success of his numerous books and his affiliation with the National Geographic Magazine in the 1930s brought him world wide recognition as a seafaring author whose books and articles created an intense interest in what had hitherto been a nearly forgotten industry, that of the stubborn but inevitably dying commercial sailing ship. During WW II he served in the British Navy and retired with the rank of Commander. In the nearly 35 years that followed WW II, Captain Villiers continued his seafaring career but in a field of endeavor that was peculiarly suited to his style and experience.
He commanded the 1957 vintage replica MAYFLOWER on a trans-Atlantic voyage, and served a master and advisor (and occasionally as a small bit player) in moving pictures, when authentic ships were available for real deep-sea and off-shore filming.
Capt. Villiers made a least three trips to Seattle as a lecturer under the sponsorship of World Cavalcade, and was awarded an Honorary Membership in the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society.
His ambition, before the beginning of World War II, was to sail in every type of sailing craft still in service world wide. Beginning this determined and rigid schedule in 1938, he spent nearly a year sailing with Arabs in their dhows in the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and along the African Coast. It was his intent, as he once told this reviewer, to sail in the Indian Ocean rice barks still plodding between Burma and the Maldives and Indian Ocean islands, then work his way around to sail in the East Indian, Chinese and Japanese junks and sailing sampans that were numerous and continually engaged in commercial voyages in the Far East. World War II ended this scheme, though his ventures in the Portuguese bankers and replicas provided him with ample writing opportunities and experiences in the post-war years.
In his latter, shore-bound years he continued a prodigious program of research and biographical writing, focusing his attention on outstanding historical seamen such as Capt. James Cook and Joseph Conrad. The last unpublished biography of Conrad may have been a fitting sort of monument to Capt. Villiers, himself a seaman-author as was Conrad.
Villiers' special devotion to the life of Conrad was epitomized by his act, in 1934 of renaming the small Danish full-rigged ship GEORG STAGE (after the famous Polish author), when he bought the aging training ship from the Danes and named her JOSEPH CONRAD. Today the ship lies at permanent moorings at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT., a monument to the seaman author for whom she was renamed, and for twentieth c. seaman-author, Capt. Alan Villiers who saved her from oblivion.
Capt. Villiers wrote at least thirty books and probably more, to say nothing of un-numbered articles for the National Geographic Magazine and many historical and maritime publications. He was a strong, firm and vocal advocate for the values of sail-training, and his voice was heard world wide. He was a friend of royalty, the great and near-great, and the fo'c'sle hands and un-named Atlantic fishermen, Arab dhow sailors and land-bound aficionados who read his books.
Alan Villiers thoroughly documented the dying age of sail and preserved forever his insight and knowledge of all classes of seamen. A half-century of his contributions to the literature and history of the sea and the ships he knew is his memorial."
Above text written by Capt. Harold D. Huycke; for The Sea Chest, September 1982. Quarterly journal published by the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, Seattle, WA.
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