The Sea-Wolf

NOTE: This is a throwback post from about six years ago. I’ve long since finished the novel, life isn’t beating on me quite as much as it did, I have a Kindle and can afford an occasional book, and I’ve actually ridden a few ferry boats since originally posting this.

Cover of Jack London’s 1904 psychological adventure novel, The Sea-Wolf

I think every pansy and fancy-pants dandy oughta read Jack London’s classic novel, The Sea-Wolf. Heck, I’m only about a third of the way through it and I’m already becoming more of a man.

It’s about this guy (a fancy-pants dandy, of course) who falls overboard in San Francisco Bay when two ferry boats collide, and he gets picked up by an outbound sailing ship, which was really the only kind of ship they had at the time since the novel is set in the 1800s.

He begs and pleads for the captain to take him ashore, which is how we say “to shore” because we’re being all nautical; but the gruff, salty ol’ sea captain – Wolf Larsen – refuses and instead brings him on as a cabin boy.

So, this guy who was simply trying to get from San Francisco to Sausalito on a ferry, which is usually about a half-hour trip, suddenly finds himself headed out to sea where he’s going to spend the rest of the year a’sealin, which is how we say “hunting for seals.”

On this ship, they have these boats, and seal hunters who get in the boats with rifles and go up to the ice flows once they’re up there in the North, and they shoot the seals. Then they bring the hides back to the ship and the ship brings them back to San Francisco.

But I digress..

The book isn’t really about seal hunting, I guess, because I’m only a third of the way into it. I believe it’s more about how the fancy-pants dandy dude learns about life. He works really hard, gets beat up a few times, gets some callouses, and grows some muscles.

It’s so full of machismo that, every time I read a paragraph I practically sprout a new chest hair. I’m kind of mesmerized by this story because, well.. it seems to be about me.

A quick look at the life of Jack London shows that he knew what he was talking about, having endured quite a bit of hardship himself that molded and shaped him into one tough bastard who was even an amateur boxer for a while.

Check this out..

In 1889, London began working 12 to 18 hours a day at Hickmott’s Cannery. Seeking a way out, he borrowed money from his foster mother, Virginia Prentiss, bought the sloop ‘Razzle-Dazzle’ from an oyster pirate named French Frank, and became an oyster pirate himself.


He was even an “oyster pirate” for a while! That’s impressive, considering I can’t get an oyster down without gagging. They’re disgusting. I know a guy called, “French Fred,” because he’s French and his name is Fred, but I don’t know if he has a sloop rigged for oyster pirating. If he does, I’ll make him an offer.

Portrait of Jack London
That dastardly oyster pirate, author, and one tough bastard, JACK LONDON

I originally picked this book for two reasons. First, it was a free download on Kindle because it’s a classic, and I’m too broke right now to afford any books that were written in the past fifty years.

I don’t have a Kindle, but I do have a netbook with a Kindle app and I have a whole bunch of these type of books already downloaded onto it.

The second reason I picked this book is that I thought it was about San Francisco because Jack London was born here and lived a good part of his life here and over in Oakland, which has a square named after him called “Jack London Square.”

With Oakland being across the bay, I’d need a ferry-boat or the Bay Bridge to get there. After reading this book, I’m inclined to take the bridge.

But it turns out that the story isn’t so much about San Francisco because in the very beginning our hero steps onto a ferry-boat and leaves, and probably doesn’t return, although I really don’t know at this point because I haven’t yet finished it.

It’s shaping up to actually be a book about me because I’m learning some of life’s hard lessons just like the dandy dude in the story. I haven’t fallen off a ferry boat and been whisked to the Arctic on a sailing ship but, in a way, I feel like the rug has been pulled out and I’ve lost my safety net, so I’m plunging into the abyss with no certainty of a bright future.

By gum, I’m just going to have to hitch up my drawers, roll up my sleeves, and get to work behind the plow. Just so you know, those are all metaphors.. I don’t have a plow, there’s no abyss, I generally wear short-sleeved shirts, and I don’t chew gum. But you know what I’m saying, right?

I’m saying life’s giving me a good pummeling right now and I’m coming out the better for it but, as opposed to our hero in the book, I get to stay right here in San Francisco – and no getting sea-sick or anything.

But, I AM staying away from ferry boats. Just for the time being.

3 thoughts on “The Sea-Wolf

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