The Tall Ships

by John Jennings
Reviewed by Jeanne

A tense, pre-War of 1812 naval story, but with some language, violence, and sexual content.


Ben Forbes has grown up with red-headed Nancy Savage and naturally everyone expects them to marry. Both their worlds are turned upside down, however, when they are run down in Ben's sailboat by a cutter and, only hours later, are shipwrecked on a lonely island. The two become the center of a scandal that spreads across the whole of Maryland and Ben is sent hastily into the young United States Navy. The story follows him as he sails on the "tall ships" of the early 1800s, and as he struggles to choose between the two women who both hold him captive: Nancy Savage, whom he is bound in honour to marry, and the beautiful Kirstie von Lund.


Fairly good. Ben is tempted when alone with Nancy, but remains honorable, although he does consequently fight several duels to defend that honor. He loves Kirstie von Lund, but he struggles to remain true to Nancy.

Nancy, the headstrong daughter of a plantation owner, does not show much remorse when a Negro is violently killed, except in that she wants to be "compensated" for him. Ben is embarrassed and shocked by her unfeeling attitude.

One ship on which Ben sails smuggles contraband goods and French refugees from islands in the Caribbean that the British have taken over. There is a general aura of hate for the British that is in keeping with the times portrayed.

Spiritual Content

God is only mentioned when His name is taken in vain.


Ben and Nancy are nearly killed when their boat is hit by a cutter, and the Negro they have along with them is killed rather gruesomely. Ben fights several duels, killing one man and being wounded himself. He is on the 'Chesapeake' at the time of her encounter with the HMS 'Leopard' and the ensuing battle is described, as are Ben's own severe wounds. Later he is shot in the shoulder and there is the possibility of a shark attack.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Alcoholic drinks are common, but there is no drunkenness.

Sexual Content

This was the weakest part of the story. It is stated that Ben's servant is having a relationship with one of the maids and ends up getting her pregnant; no one seems to mind. Ben sees Nancy without any clothes, and the sight is described much more than was necessary. He also sees Kirstie and she seems to think it perfectly all right, though they are not married. It is not clear whether they have relations. There is a scene of two people on their wedding night, but it is extremely brief and not described.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

"D*mn" is used several times, especially when Ben is on the USS 'Chesapeake', and God's name is taken in vain. "Bl****" and "Bristol man," a euphemism for an illegitimate son, are also used. Ben's friend Captain Boyle uses such exclamations as "burn me britches," and "d*** me eyes." Since this is a naval story, swearing is to be expected, but it is not used all of the time.


'The Tall Ships,' published in the 1950s, is a tense and enjoyable naval story and is actually cleaner than most. The first-person perspective is fresh and well-done, and the author gives details of the tall ships without overwhelming or confusing the reader. Although accurate to the times, the dialogue is, pleasantly, not riddled with oaths and foul language. The sexual content could have been left out for the most part, however, and that was disappointing.

Fun Score: 4
Values Score: 2.5
Written for Age: 13+

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