During a life spent largely at sea, the Australian writer Alan Villiers (1903-82) both lived and recorded the last days of commercial sail around the world, writing innumerable articles and more than forty books, many of them bestsellers in their day. Combining his gifts as intrepid seaman, writer, photographer, lecturer and advisor on maritime history and traditions, he built up a unique body of work on the world of tall ships that vanished during the first half of the 20th century. Sons of Sinbad, his account of sailing with the Arabs in their dhows between Arabia and East Africa in 1938-39, is regarded by many as his masterpiece.
Sons of Sindbad
“Sons of Sinbad … vividly documents the vanishing universe of sail in the western half of the Indian Ocean on the eve of the Second World War. … The collaborative introduction could hardly be bettered as an appraisal of Villiers’ life and achievement. … The authors contend that Villiers was the Thesiger of the Arabian Sea – a view which few readers are likely to contest.”
John Shipman, Asian Affairs
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Alan John Villiers was an author, adventurer, photographer and mariner.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Villiers first went to sea at age 15 and sailed on board traditionally rigged vessels, including the full-rigged ship Joseph Conrad. He commanded square-rigged ships for films, including Moby Dick and Billy Budd. He also commanded the Mayflower II on its voyage from the United Kingdom to the United States.
Villiers wrote 44 books, and served as the Chairman of the Society for Nautical Research, a Trustee of the National Maritime Museum, and Governor of the Cutty Sark Preservation Society. He was awarded the British Distinguished Service Cross as a Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve during the Second World War.
Villiers dies at 78 in March 1982.
Grace Pundyk is an author, a performer and a current PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Ideas. Her PhD research, titled Invisible Words: the semaphore of skin, utilizes skin and other beastly signifiers to articulate ideas around inherited memory and silenced trauma. It is from this research that Grace began making parchment. Largely self-taught, in 2014 she was able to improve her skills by undertaking a mentorship with Pergamena, professional parchment makers in New York. She continues to find her ‘skin’ practice both endlessly fascinating and challenging. Grace has written numerous books, including The Honey Trail (St Martin’s Press, NY) and Sons of Sindbad: the photographs (Arabian Publishing, London), and performed in and spoken at various festivals such as the Melbourne Festival, White Night Melbourne and the Sydney Writers Festival. She is also currently working on her first play, Steppe: a journey of unforgetting, which will premiere at this year’s Melbourne Fringe.
William Facey began his career as a classicist at Oxford and has emerged as a leading historian of the Arabian Peninsula. For many years he has worked as a consultant on museum projects in the Arabian Peninsula, particularly in the archaeology, history and people of the individual nations. He has also been involved in planning museums and exhibitions in England, Europe, Central America and the Far East.
Dr Yacoub Yusuf Al-Hijji was born in old Kuwait City in 1947, in a house not far from the waterfront. Having completed his schooling in Kuwait, he attended the American University of Beirut, graduating with a B.Sc. degree in geology. Returning to Kuwait, he joined the government groundwater department as a geologist.
In 1971, he was sent to University College, London, UK, for a graduate course in water resources, and in 1973 went to the United States to further his studies. There he attained his M.Sc. in hydrogeology from Ohio University, and his Ed.D. in science education from Boston University. In 1983, he joined Kuwait University as faculty member, a position he held until 1990. He currently works as a consultant at the Centre for Research and Studies on Kuwait (CRSK).
Dr Al-Hijji's interest in Kuwait's maritime history was first kindled in 1976 when he visited the dhow yards of Kuwait, and was fuelled soon after by reading Alan Villiers' classic work, Sons of Sindbad. Since then he has become an authority on Kuwait's rich maritime heritage, and now devotes much of his time to its study. He has written several articles and books about it, in both Arabic and English, among them The Voyage of Al-Ghazeer and the Art of Dhow Building in Kuwait.