The Voyage of the Rose City
An Adventure at Sea
By John Moynihan
(Spiegel & Grau, Hardcover, 9780812982435, 256pp.)
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
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A gripping, beautifully told story of a young man’s coming-of-age at sea
When John Moynihan decided to ship out in the Merchant Marine during the summer of his junior year at Wesleyan University, his father, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was not enthusiastic: As a young man, before joining the U.S. Navy, Pat Moynihan had worked the New York City docks and knew what his son would encounter. However, John’s mother, Elizabeth, an avid sailor, found the idea of an adventure at sea exciting and set out to help him get his Seaman’s Papers. When John was sworn in, he was given one piece of advice: to not tell the crew that his father was a United States senator.
The job ticket read “forty-five days from Camden, New Jersey, to the Mediterranean on the Rose City,” a supertanker. As the ship sailed the orders changed, and forty-five days became four months across the equator, around Africa, across the Indian Ocean, and up to Japan—a far more perilous voyage than John or his mother had imagined. The physical labor was grueling, and outdated machinery aboard the ship, including broken radar, jeopardized the lives of the crew. They passed through the Straits of Malacca three times, with hazardous sailing conditions and threats of pirates. But it was also the trip of a lifetime: John reveled in the natural world around him, listened avidly to the tales of the old timers, and even came to value the drunken camaraderie among men whose only real family was one another. A talented artist, John drew what he saw and kept a journal on the ship that he turned into his senior thesis when he returned to Wesleyan the following year.
A few years after John died in his early forties, the result of a reaction to acetaminophen, his mother printed a limited edition of his journal illustrated with drawings from his notebooks. Encouraged by the interest in his account of the voyage, she agreed to publish the book more widely. An honestly written story of a boy’s coming into manhood at sea, The Voyage of the Rose City is a taut, thrilling tale of the adventure of a lifetime.
John Moynihan was born in Syracuse, New York, and lived with his family in India for two years during middle school. That experience, and the travels that went with it, set him on a lifelong quest to see the wider world. He worked as a writer and animator and loved teaching as he traveled, always returning to New York City, his home base.
"Will speak to fans of books like Into the Wild; Moynihan has a good story to tell, one that's flecked with briny bits of Melville and Conrad and Raban. His unshowy prose has genuine immediacy. He's good company on the page."--The New York Times
“The Voyage of the Rose City is an amazing story, amazingly told. John Moynihan left us his heartfelt, moving, perfectly crafted story about the watery part of the world. Long after you finish reading, the story will echo through your head. Not to be missed.”—Darin Strauss
“John Moynihan’s high-spirited description of his four months as an ordinary seaman on a supertanker is a mesmerizing tale of courage, nerve, and heart. This riveting account of how the senator’s son was eventually accepted by the clannish crew is wittily illustrated by the drawings that filled the margins of his journal.”—James Ivory
“John Moynihan died young, but not before leaving, on the pages of a loose-leaf notebook, an imperishable legacy. This literary gem, the story of a young man and the sea, will be read as long as people care about life’s essentially lonely voyage to maturity. The delight that Moynihan’s prose occasions is tinged with melancholy because this is the only glimpse we shall have of a remarkable talent.”—George F. Will