I was saddened to learn that Tim Severin, a truly remarkable man who was a living inspiration, passed away last month.
The Irish Times has a feature on his life, focused (of course) on his first big hit, The Brendan Voyage.
Tim was born in Assam, India, the son of an English tea planter -- that planter being an employee, not the owner of the plantation, as his son was always anxious to point out. As was usual in those days, Tim was sent to boarding school in England at the age of seven. One cannot help but wonder how his mother felt to wave goodbye to such a small boy, but it is easy to imagine how tough it must have been for the boy himself, English boarding schools being notorious. Was he bullied? Probably. There would have been an emphasis on toughness and survival instincts, which would have served him very well in the strange adventures ahead.
His first was as an undergraduate of an Oxford college, when he followed in the wake of Marco Polo -- on a motorbike. The next was to follow in the wake of the Spanish Conquistadors, down the Mississippi, this time in a boat.
His big inspiration evolved in 1976, when he decided to try and prove that St. Brendan could have sailed from Ireland to Newfoundland in a leather boat. As always, his research was intense -- he intended to recreate the voyage as exactly as possible. So off he and a small crew sailed, bailing madly all the way. And on June 26, 1977, they made port in Newfoundland, proving that St. Brendan could have definitely done it, 900 years before Columbus.
The books that gripped my imagination were The Sindbad Voyage and The Spice Islands Voyage, which can read with Alan Villiers' Sons of Sinbad, as a perfect entry into the craft and seamanship of the Far East. Ever since, I have been photographing prahu and pinisi (and writing about them, too, in Eleanor's Odyssey and the Wiki Coffin mystery stories), and Ron painted and drew them.
The books poured out of Tim Severin -- more tracings of ancient voyages, novels about Vikings. I remember him for his kindness, his helpfulness, and generosity to someone faraway who was seeking answers to the same sort of questions. His eyes were those of a navigator or a mountaineer, always seeking a new horizon. He will be greatly missed.