the background behind
Final Voyage
The World's Worst Maritime Disasters

I suspect most people with an interest in maritime disasters first developed that interest because of the Titanic, which in the public consciousness is the ubiquitous standard bearer for all major sinkings. The first maritime disaster I was interested in, however, involved the Poseidon, which wasn't even a real ship. She was struck by a huge wave in the Mediterranean in 1972 and turned turtle. Fortunately maverick vicar Gene Hackman was on board to lead a handful of survivors to safety...

Seeing The Poseidon Adventure as a child led to a general interest in maritime disasters, and for many years I was under the impression, like most people are, that the loss of the Titanic was the worst of all. At university I had to read Gunter Grass's novel The Tin Drum, and then read his more recent offering, Crabwalk. The novel is about the 1945 sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, in which almost 10,000 people died, and how it has become used by Far Right extremists in Germany to show that Germany suffered too, was the victim of war crimes, and that its plight was suppressed simply because Germany lost the war and the winners wrote the narrative Germans have been forced to accept.

Not many people have heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff, even though the disaster resulted in more than six times as many deaths as the loss of the Titanic. Around the time I began working on Don't Shoot the Albatross! I also started looking into maritime disasters, remembering the Wilhelm Gustloff, and wondering whether there were other sinkings that had been deadlier than the loss of the Titanic but had been similarly forgotten. I eventually found 50 of them, the most recent being only a few years past at the time.

The book was originally called Worse than Titanic, but Final Voyage was felt to be less histrionic (even if it is also less accurate; one of the ships featured, the Thielbek, sank with 2,750 lives lost, but was later refloated and repaired, going on to sail another 30-odd years).

'Gripping. A great read.'

'A great book and interesting read. Thoroughly engaging.'