We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea
Within twenty-four hours of promising to stay in the harbour, John, Susan, Titty and Roger find themselves fighting a night gale in the treacherous waters of the North Sea, adrift and in the main shipping lanes. Suddenly, it's real adventure and only their sailing skills can help them now...
Reviewed on 7th January 2012
The only one of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons novels to feature solely the Swallows, 'We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea' sees the four siblings do just that, as bad weather accidentally washes them out of the harbour.
I've enjoyed reading this one again - other than the basic premise I barely remembered anything about the story from reading it as a child, something which seems to be true of all the later books in the series, perhaps suggesting that I didn't re-read them the first time round. John comes across as the main character of the story, and I find it really interesting how well Ransome manages to spread the stories around the large group of characters he has created, with each focussing on a different individual or group.
The adventure is thrilling and richly described, and next to no knowledge of sailing is required to appreciate the realistic dangers that the children face. That said though, there are things to criticise in this book. It's the first time I've noticed any overt sexism in the series, with the two Walker girls variously being sea-sick, headachy, worrysome and nurses. John and Roger by comparison seem to be confident, headstrong and knowledgeable about sailing and engineering.
Overall though I feel it's a deserving entry in the series and certainly the peak of realism and threat. Even though the story only covers a few days it doesn't feel as if anything is dragged out, and I still think these are some of the greatest children's stories ever written.