Arts and Entertainment

Memoirs of a Mariner: Nephew of a Bainbridge Island seafarer brings to life memories of the high seas

Author Vaughn Sherman will visit Eagle Harbor Books on Sunday, Jan. 27 to talk about his book,
Author Vaughn Sherman will visit Eagle Harbor Books on Sunday, Jan. 27 to talk about his book, 'Sea Travels: Memoirs of a 20th Century Master Mariner.'
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Vaughn Sherman

Master Mariner J. Holger Christensen dedicated years of his life to the sea, years that also carry a deep connection to Bainbridge Island.

Born in Nome, Alaska and raised on Bainbridge Island, Christensen's seafaring career dates back to a bustling Blakely Harbor and both world wars.

In the late 1800s, his father sailed from Denmark "on one of the last fully-rigged sailboats" to Alaska. With seed money made gold mining, his parents took him and his brother to Bainbridge Island, bought a work boat and established a seafaring life.

Christensen worked with his father on the boat starting at a young age. By the time he was 12 years old, he could run the boat himself.

"He was just a superb seaman and master sailor," said Vaughn Sherman, the traveler's nephew and writer of Christensen's memoir, "Sea Travels: Memoirs of a 20th Century Master Mariner."

This Sunday, Sherman will be telling his uncle's story at Eagle Harbor Books during a book signing.

Sherman was always close to his uncle. So in 1984 when Sherman and his wife were planning a trip to Europe that would include a week in Denmark and his uncle "got starry eyed" at the thought of it, it was without question that they would invite him to join them.

Many days were spent on the trip traveling via a rental car and there was plenty of time to pass. Christensen poured out the stories that would become his printed memoirs.

By the time they returned from their trip, Sherman and Christensen had agreed to commit to a schedule.

Once a week, the two met in Seattle where Sherman lived. Sherman gave Christensen a list of questions and in return Christensen gave Sherman an audio recording of the answers to previous week's questions.

Christensen would then go over the written segments of the stories to correct any errors, and Sherman would listen to the tapes and take notes. They would end the meeting with lunch.

The seasoned sailor told of his father's dedication to the high seas and of leaving school to do the same. He told of his progress from a deckhand on the Bainbridge Island steamers to a seaman and finally as a master mariner, certified to command a merchant ship anywhere in the world.

And in the end, he told Sherman of his early retiring at the urging of his wife after a particularly long trip that lasted seven months.

Well-kept ship records and Christensen's remarkable memory were what made it possible for them to complete the book, Sherman explained.

At first, the tape transcriptions were given to family. Christensen, who passed away in 1988, did not live to see his memoirs transform into a published book.

Eagle Harbor Books will host the book signing, starting at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan 27.

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