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The Brendan Voyage: A Leather Boat Tracks the Discovery of America by the Irish Sailor Saints

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  864 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
Could an Irish monk in the sixth century really have sailed all the way across the Atlantic in a small open boat, thus beating Columbus to the New World by almost a thousand years? Relying on the medieval text of St. Brendan, award-winning adventure writer Tim Severin painstakingly researched and built a boat identical to the leather curragh that carried Brendan on his epi ...more
Hardcover, 292 pages
Published April 1st 1982 by McGraw-Hill Customer Service (first published 1978)
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Read as part of my Goodreads Ireland challenge for 2017

Been meaning to get around to reading one of Tim Severin’s voyage books after loving his Odinn’s Child Viking series & so this challenge was the perfect excuse as first up was the genre “Travel” & so as a lateral move I plumped for this as being my “travel” book” I think it jus about counts!

Having stood next to the Kon-tiki raft in Oslo Museum & seeing the size of it...... they sailed across the Pacific in THAT!! Madness!! It do
Feb 28, 2014 Sceadugenga rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: outdoor
I recently finished reading Odinn's Child by the same author and wasn't overly impressed, but the fact that the book was well written and was very descriptive led me to believe that Severin's non-fiction books might just be on the mark. I read the free kindle excerpt and was happily proved right, needless to say, i subsequently downloaded the complete book. Whereas Severin's writing style tends to bog the reader down when writing historical fiction in this book it really flows creating a veritab ...more
Aug 15, 2009 Kent rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
One of the most fascinating books I've read in a long time. The author tells the step-by-step how he researched, and then built, a replica of the boat St Brendan used in the "Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis." His object is to prove it was possible for Brendan and his monks to have sailed to America from Ireland, and he does so by completing the voyage himself in his replicated boat.

Several things I really liked about this. First was the description of all the craftsmanship that went into the
I'm out of breath from gasping. I'm oxygen-deprived from holding my breath. My husband is battered by my insistent demands that he "listen to this!" What a thriller!

Tim Severin retraces the route St. Brendan (c. 489 A.D.) sailed in a curragh covered with forty-nine oxhides. He calls his open boat Brendan, in honor of the Irish Saint who wrote the Navigatio, and the journey he takes, The Brendan Voyage. "It dawned on me that the Brendan Voyage was going to be a detective story."

The narrative is d
Sep 24, 2014 Melody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this. It started a little slow for me, but before I knew what hit me, I was eyeball-deep in the adventure. And what an adventure! I want to know more about what has happened to the sailors since this voyage. I loved reading about all of the meticulous care they took to make sure that the boat was as close to medieval as it could be. I was on the edge of my seat when they were navigating the ice field. If you like boats and adventures and intrepid monks, don't miss this one.
Oct 15, 2013 Gill rated it really liked it
I have been reading a number of books to help with my own fictional one, trying to build a picture of life long ago. This book discussed and described an epic real voyage - from the west coast of Ireland, where the ship, a curragh, was built - to the East coast of Newfoundland. It also goes into the building process and details of the research carried out into the possibilities of using a leather-covered wooden double frame for the ship, and building it entirely using conventional materials and ...more
Good fun tale. I found the writing style irritating. Chapter One is a nail-biting sailing venture imperiling crew, with no preparation for what they're doing or why. The interesting research is relegated to an appendix; I thought it would have been better integrated into the narrative.
Peter Adrian
Dec 23, 2013 Peter Adrian rated it it was amazing
I had heard of the legend of St. Brendan the Navigator for years, and finally found this book in my local public library- while looking for something else altogether. What an adventure! Told with patience, humility, and humor, Tim Severin chronicles the evolution of the voyage from a dinner-table conversation to its ultimate, successful conclusion. Imagine Thor Heyerdahl in the frozen North Atlantic and you'll have the general idea. Fans of maritime history, adventure travel, and all things Irel ...more
Marcus Johnson
Sep 27, 2014 Marcus Johnson rated it really liked it
Shelves: adventure
This book had me totally absorbed, even though in no way would I have liked to have been part of this adventure (I cherish my comforts). I liked the early part the best, as the author was trying to re-create his boat as authentically as possible.
Oct 28, 2015 Katra rated it really liked it
I love a good adventure story. I love amazing nuggets from history. I love learning about far away places. Wrap them all up and you have the Brenden Voyage, a fascinating read for the brain, the imagination and the senses.
Mary Ellyn Cain
Aug 20, 2011 Mary Ellyn Cain rated it it was amazing
I bought 12 copies of this book so that I could give one copy to each of my siblings and their children.
Kathrin Passig
Aug 15, 2015 Kathrin Passig rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wenn ich irgendwann mal eine kurze Liste "Bücher über Extremunternehmungen, bei denen die Leute gute Laune haben" anlege, muss dieses Buch draufstehen.
Jan 24, 2011 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
Just pure awesome. For fans of practical archealogy.
May 24, 2017 Sam rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rc2017
Oh my god this book is good. I know almost nothing about boats so some of the language about the ship itself was a little lost on me and I had to look up some things about sails however this was an engaging memoir about one hell of a voyage in a boat made from leather sailing in sub Arctic waters. What incredible creatures humans are. Just read it because I am at a loss for words about how amazing this journey was.
Richard Young
Mar 09, 2017 Richard Young rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I enjoyed the book up to the point that Trundar harpooned a whale just for the fun it. They had tried to save little birds but a whale was fair game even though it was too big to to anything with.

I had to admire the work and research that went into building that boat and the hardship that they went through.
Jun 08, 2016 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book.
(See book/other reviews for synopsis)
One of my favourite parts is what Severin called Brendan Luck. The ways he discovered various historical facts or met the right person.
I don't even know if this could be done now because when he did this in the 1970s, there was like 1 person left in each field who was a master of the craft of Irish boat making, or the special kind of leather tanning, or leather working/stitching, or knowing which side of ash trees are the stronges
Linda Chrisman
Feb 28, 2017 Linda Chrisman rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Talk about an adventure! I love books by people who read something - in this case the Chronicles of St. Brendan, the proportedly imaginary voyages of the saint. Severin thinks that St. Brendan did made the voyage from Ireland to North America in a leather and wooden boat. He then sets out to prove it, building a the same kind of boat and attempting the voyage! I love books like this - Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon - is another one, where the author get an Idea and sets out to prove it can be ...more
Der Heilige Brendan lebte im 5. und 6. Jahrhundert auf der irischen Halbinsel Dingle, heute County Kerry. Brendans Reisebericht "Navigatio Sancti Brendani" über seine achtjährige Reise an Bord eines offenen Curragh könnte eine Besiedlung Amerikas durch irische Mönche vermuten lassen. Tim Severin (*1940 in Assam) vereint als Historiker, Segler und ehemaliger Ruderer eines Achters in Oxford die Talente, um sich in einem Nachbau des Boots auf die Spur des Heiligen Brendan zu begeben. Der auslösende ...more
sam tannehill
Feb 14, 2017 sam tannehill rated it it was amazing
This book is exciting, and at time harrowing. But it is also endearing to hear the account of Tim Severin recreating the fifth (ninth?) century voyage of the oracle in the coracle. There is a thesis and counter-thesis presented in this book: the first, that the Brendan Voyage is an hyperbole or a fiction; the second, that the Brendan Voyage is historical and had been passed down in an oral tradition. Tim Severin tells stories along the way of his sea-crossing in a tiny, leather-hulled boat that ...more
Sep 21, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing
This book is equal parts adventure novel and historical non-fiction. The concept is incredible enough - to cross the North Atlantic Ocean n a small, leather hulled boat with only two small sails for propulsion. The amount of shelter is minimal, with little space for provisions let alone a place for the crew to sleep. But author Tim Severin believed in the validity of the ancient Latin text that describes the voyage of St. Brandan the Navigator and his crew of Irish monks as they set out to find ...more
Mick Walsh
Jan 16, 2016 Mick Walsh rated it it was amazing
The Brendan Voyage is a wonderful blend of historical research and modern adventure.
The book is a first hand account of Severin's attempt to prove possible the notion that Irish Monks could have reached North America in skin boats in the 7th century. Severin's enthusiasm for the subject shines throughout the book, and he covers in adequate detail his research, trials in medieval material technology and of course the voyage itself.
As most people remain unaware of the original St Brendan story, o
This book is straight-up fun, simultaneously the most scientific and most speculative "archaeology" I've ever read. You can't get much more scientific than building a Medieval boat and sailing across the Atlantic. And you can't get more speculative than positing Irish monks in places where there is absolutely no evidence for them. And I don't even care, because I am so carried away by this real-life, ridiculous, fantastic adventure story spawned by the maybe-real-life literature of the Irish sai ...more
Unit of Raine
Jan 25, 2011 Unit of Raine rated it liked it
Interesting account of a journey across the north Atlantic use medieval technology. The main purpose was to demonstrate the possibility of 6th century Irish Monks traveling to the new world. This was an adventure/exploration story, but based on medieval research and scholarship. It was interesting to read. The most fascinating part was the initial materials research and great effort to locate the last remaining (in the 1970s) craft experts in oak-tanning, flax rope, native Irish forestry, boat b ...more
Mar 25, 2013 Kenno82 rated it liked it
I was unfamiliar with stories of ocean setting Irish monk explorers from the 8th century, setting out to uncover new lands. Sounds like fantasy. However, by recreating the voyage of Saint Brendan with traditional boat building materials such as leather, Severin sets out to prove that the historical account is factual, yet simply naiive in its retelling.

Severin's adventure and commitment to the historical value of his trip is comendable. I found the early parts of the book to be the most interest
Luna Martin
Feb 23, 2011 Luna Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Excellent book even to read aloud to middle age kids and up (nothing wrong for young kids, though they might be bored). It's useful to have a map nearby and probably even better if you know something about sailing and parts of boats. If you take a few minutes to work out the size of the boat, say measure the area in your living room, you'll wonder how they could possibly spend that much time together, exposed, for so long. The guys that went had to have really exemplary characters to finish the ...more
Searching for this book, I note that there's also another book on this subject.

I don't know if it's better, but this is not very good. These attempts to recreate legendary voyages often make good reading in proportion to how good a storyteller the author was--and my impression was that this one wasn't very good.

Still, it could serve as a springboard for further reading. My own favorite is from James White's The Silent Stars Go By, in which the Brendan saga takes place at the same time: but from
Aug 18, 2011 Kerri rated it really liked it
Shelves: homeschool, ambleside
My teen daughter didn't love this book as much as I did, but I thought it was wonderful! We read it as a spine for 7th grade geography.

So for my opinion, it was fascinating. I loved the history about St. Brendan, the descriptions of what they saw on the modern journey were awe-inspiring. I especially was drawn to the beginning of the story with the building of the curragh. It so amazing that again and again, the medieval ways proved to actually be the best for building this particular type of bo
Sep 02, 2015 Alayne rated it really liked it
What a fascinating story! I had never heard of Irish priests reaching America in the 7th century, so when I saw this book on Amazon, it intrigued me. A group of intrepid men, led by Tim Severin, build a Dark Ages open boat of timber and leather according to ancient descriptions, and travel across the North Atlantic to retrace the voyages of these old priests and prove it could have been done. In doing so they had several hair-raising moments (hours!) but did eventually reach the shores of Newfou ...more
Feb 02, 2016 Val rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Researching 6th century Irish boats, getting one built and then sailing it across the Atlantic does not prove that St. Brendan and his monks got to North America, but it certainly proves that they could have done so. This is what Tim Severin and his team did.
It was a dramatic adventure in its own right, as well as a good historical reenactment. Tim has also written about it in an engaging, informative and self-deprecating way, which is a pleasure to read.
The currach he used is now at the Craggau
Jul 15, 2014 Susan rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Intrigued by medieval accounts of an Irish monk, Saint Brendan, who sailed west across the Atlantic, Tim Severin undertook the research needed to recreate a prototype of the leather boat described in the chronicles and planned a voyage following the story's route. Whales were fascinated with this small boat and kept coming by to investigate. The four man crew faced storms, icebergs and other tight situations on their journey. I was intrigued by the details of how the boat came together and awed ...more
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Tim Severin is a British explorer, historian and writer. Severin is noted for his work in retracing the legendary journeys of historical figures. Severin was awarded both the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. He received the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award for his 1982 book The Sindbad Voyage.

He was born Timothy Severin
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