Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ultimate Voyage by William Gilkerson

Published by Shamballa in 1998, William Gilkerson’s Ultimate Voyage is a masterpiece. To tag something a masterpiece in these cynical times leaves me open to criticism by the pundits in our ever-increasing negative culture, but it is a masterpiece. Great tales of the sea, written by knowledgeable authors are not uncommon, although finding them requires focus and determination. I don’t recall how I came upon a listing for this book, but my first edition hardcover is something I’ll never part with. Gilkerson himself is a respected artist and historian whose other fine books include Pirate’s Passage, The Ships of John Paul Jones, Scrimshander, and An Arctic Whaling Sketchbook. He was previously a feature writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Most of his books are non-fiction tiles relating to nautical topics. William Gilkerson wrote and illustrated Ultimate Voyage. This is a tale of five young mariners who build a small vessel, Alembic, and embark upon a journey of discovery. It can be interpreted as a coming of age story, and that would be correct, although Gilkerson has accomplished something that exceeds a simple analogy for youthful travails. There is that, and there is his vast knowledge of the sea, his comprehension of the human condition, and his uncanny ability to connect it all. The illustrations are stunning and complement the narrative. Shamballa did it right in their design. Inset with a color plate prior to the title page, the chapter illustrations are offset in either blue or black and white. The endpaper illustration is blue. Gilkerson’s carefully crafted prose and illustrations will transport you to a Renaissance world where the salt-spray of the sea and the cry of gulls over a harbor are at your fingertips. Gilkerson’s prose is leisurely, confident and alive with images. This is the type of story that a reader can take their time with, savoring each sentence as the story unfolds. Ultimate Voyage is a treasure for lovers of sea tales.

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