Zac McDorrAs I’ve mentioned in this column before, I went to Ireland last year and fell in love with the place. Therefore, I was delighted to discover a series of books about swashbuckling Viking warriors in ancient Ireland, written by James L. Nelson, Maine’s own maritime history writer.

Besides his novels about butt-kicking Vikings, butt-kicking Maine lobstermen, and butt-kicking pirates, Nelson has written many non-fiction history books. These detail little-known tales of early American naval exploits.

Would you like to learn about George Washington’s secret navy? Benedict Arnold’s battles on the Great Lakes? The arms race to build the first ironclad fighting ship during the Civil War? Jim Nelson is your man.

Nelson grew up in a Lewiston family that had no interest in seafaring. He heard the siren call of the sea at an early age, however, and moved from building ship models to building his first real boat in ninth grade.

When it came time to grow up, he got a degree from UCLA in television production and entered that field for a while. The sea continued to call to him, and he began sailing again. He was living on his boat in LA when a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s “Golden Hinde” sailed into the harbor, and he left everything to join the crew.
Getting a job aboard a wooden sailing vessel used to be easy, whether you went willingly or not. Today, it’s more difficult, but Nelson managed to find work aboard several ships, including the HMS Rose, which was featured in the movie “Master and Commander.”

Fortunately for us, Nelson decided that writing about the sea was easier than sailing on it. He volunteers on the Maine’s First Ship project and gives frequent local lectures and demonstrations about history and seafaring.

Check out his website for details about upcoming talks about the Popham Colony and Colonial Pemaquid at



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