Oceans and Seas

the work of author Michael Krieger




Tramp [Chronicle, $35] is the stuff of Melville and Conrad, Bogart and Hepburn.

Subtitled “Sagas of High Adventure in the Vanishing World of the Old Tramp Freighters,” this is a beautifully illustrated and robustly written testament to sturdy ships, the spirited men who sail them and the people in little known ports who depend on tramps for supplies and transportation. Built before 1940, these vessels have given way to computerized container ships that sail a tight designated route with sailors whose main job is often to push buttons.

“A tramp freighter is one that sails on no scheduled route but travels when and to wherever the owner or agent can find it a cargo,” says author Michael J. Krieger, whose passion for tramps goes back more than 20 years when he owned an import-export business and chartered and supervised the loading of these steam-driven vessels. From cattle deliveries to Tasmania, to making copra runs in the South Pacific, to hearing about murder and mutiny at sea, Krieger and photographer Judy Howard gathered their stories and pictures during five adventuresome months sailing to 15 countries.

Along with the colorful profiles of more than 20 tramps, Krieger has provided the plans for many of the

ships and written wonderful side essays on subjects relating to most tramps. Many of these ships do not take passengers, and those that do often have squalid living conditions, but there still are opportunities to explore corners of the world aboard them.



Michael J. Krieger, Photographs by Judy Howard, TRAMP: SAGAS OF HIGH ADVENTURE IN THE VANISHING WORLD OF THE OLD TRAMP FRIEGHTERS, Chronicle Books, Illustrated, 143 pages, $35.00.

One of life’s enduring fantasies is being able to climb aboard a slow boat going nowhere while sniffing and sipping and grinning in equal measures. Michael J. Krieger has spent much of his life living out other people’s fantasies, aboard rustbuckets and floating paradises, tramping upstream and downstream on journeys to places no one can pronounce. Krieger spent most of three years in research and eight months of actual travel all over the world documenting the tramp steamers still afloat, still at sea, ready for adventurers. The tramp steamer has been muscled aside in recent years by modern cargo ships and supertankers; tramps can still be found but they are the remnants of a dying breed. TRAMP, superbly illustrated with full-color photographs, is a warm tribute to some valiant vessels; Krieger has skillfully captured a vanishing era of maritime history.**



Tramp: Sagas of High Adventure In the Vanishing World of the Old Tramp Freighters, by Michael J. Krieger, photography by Judy Howard (Chronicle Books, $35)

By fathoms the most original of the 1986 travel-book bunch, Tramp explores the disappearing world of ocean-going steam freighters, “of the men who sail them in the traditional way, without computers and push buttons, the people and companies who own them, as well as the isolated communities that depend on these men and their vessels.”

Michael J. Krieger, who once chartered tramp steamers himself in Sumatra, lovingly limns 21 of these vessels, which sail “on no scheduled route; but travel when and wherever the owner or agent can find it a cargo.

CHICAGO SUN TIMES – 7 December 1986


Conversations with Cannibals


Conversations with Cannibals: The End of the Old South Pacific, by Michael Krieger(Ecco Press/WW Norton, New York NY, 1994, 291pp,illus,appen,index,ISBN 0-88001-360-5; $23hc)

The vast stretches of the Pacific harbor an amazing variety of people, islanders seared and blasted by bomb and shell in World War II, and by the sudden, artificial riches dumped on them and snatched away by intruders from a different world. Here and there these people struggle to preserve their native cultures and Mike Krieger is right there with them, on lonely beaches and remote inland mountain trails, recording his day-to-day experiences among them. His previous book, Tramp, was a classic account of the vanishing world of the tramp steamer, and Conversations is a classic that should be read by anyone concerned about the survival of native cultures in a world fast closing in on them.



The book’s high point is a journey, remarkable by any standards, through a mountainous island in the Solomons to meet the Kwaio, a tribe once regarded as the most dangerous and duplicitous in the British Empire. Kwaio means “I will kill you” and that is what, as recently as 1987, they were still doing to trespassers in their Stone Age domain. Even the Solomon Island police must seek permission from the Kwaio to enter; usually, it’s refused. The tribe have been outcasts for much of the century, and plainly, elect to remain so today. Nevertheless, Krieger went to see them, surviving a hair-raising trek to arrive at a small village where they smoke graceful metal pipes fashioned from parts of a crashed World War II Japanese fighter and, to the distress of white missionaries – who don’t dare come near them – go in for robust devil-worship………………Certain scenes here remind one of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Alexander Frater, LOS ANGELES TIMES. Sunday, August 14, 1994


It doesn’t take long to realize that Krieger is one of the last outsiders who will experience the disappearing world he writes about so vividly. It’s only a matter of time before these traditional ways are swept away by the cultural undertow of the 20th century, so it’s important to have a witness on this last frontier, especially a witness as sympathetic as Krieger.



It’s hard for most of us to appreciate just how out of the mainstream a small island can still be. One man who knows is Michael Krieger, a journalist whose work has appeared in American and European newspapers. His two years of travels in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean have resulted in Conversations with the Cannibals (Ecco, $23), a personal report from distant islands where traditional life-styles are still on view, though under assault……………………………………………..

Conversations with the Cannibals is a readable journalistic – as opposed to scholarly – record of societies no better or worse than our own, but definitely more fragile. They may not be around much longer, but thanks to Michael Krieger we’ll have a compelling picture of what they were like.

ISLANDS MAGAZINE, September 1994


Where Rails Meet the Sea


Where Rails Meet the Sea: America’s Connections Between Ships and Trains. By Michael Krieger. (New York: MetroBooks, 1998. Pp. 176. $24.98.)

            In a text that is felicitous and informative he discusses the rise of the various systems and the agencies that controlled them, and he is especially interested in showing the special devices that characterize the rail/sea connections: not just the obvious lay of railroad tracks along piers, but ships that were designed to receive the trains themselves, ships upon which railroad cars were hoisted, ferry systems, barges that carried railroad cars, and a number of devices that speed the transfer of commodities from ship to train and back again.

NEW YORK HISTORY, Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association, October 1999


All The Men In The Sea

ALL THE MEN IN THE SEA: The Untold Story of One of the Greatest Rescues in History. MICHAEL KRIEGER, Free Press, $25 (240p) ISBN 0-7432-2708-5

            Journalist Krieger tells the thrilling story of the disaster that befell pipelaying divers and attendant seamen aboard barge 269 during a hurricane. Floating 60 miles off the coast of Yucatan Peninsula, 269 was moored to two tugboats in October 1995 when Hurricane Roxanne moved in, spiraled away and spun back with 90-mile-an-hour winds and waves nearly 45 feet high. Krieger chronicles how bad judgment and worse luck put hundreds of men in harm’s way and ultimately cost eight lives. (A passage depicting divers in need of accelerated decompression before the storm hits is particularly nerve-racking.) He also pauses to succinctly explain the mechanics of the tempest, what happens when someone gets the bends and the socioeconomic disparities of the Mexican and American shipmates. As if the specter of drowning were not enough, the 269 explodes, with thrashing tanks and deluged generators popping like fireworks, leaking oil, which sickens those who struggle to stay afloat until help arrives. In the second part of the book, Krieger examines the similarly unsettling suit brought against the Mexican-US company that owned the barge by various parties who are still plagued by choking memories of a debacle so viscerally recaptured. (Oct.)

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, September 2, 2002


“Michael Krieger, who has explored the far reaches of seafaring in notable books, brings us a vivid, authentic picture of a great untold sea rescue in All the Men in the Sea. He shows us men battling for their lives in extreme conditions and seamen working with consummate skill and determination and ultimate courage to save them from the raging sea’s fury. The injuries and loss of life in this true saga are shocking, but the dedication of man to save his fellow man should inspire all readers with a renewed faith in what human beings can bring to a desperate occasion.”

-Peter Stanford, President Emeritus of the National Maritime Historical Society


Krieger, Michael


The Untold Story of One of the

Greatest Rescues in History

            Apparent negligence and a ferocious hurricane spell mortal trouble for hundreds of men on an oil barge in this feverish tale of rescue from Krieger (Conversations with Cannibals, not reviewed).

In 1995, 60 miles off the coast of the Yucatan, a barge was laying oil pipeline. The craft, a colossal structure 400 feel long by 100 feet wide, carried 245 men and was maneuvered by a pair of ocean-going tugs. The manager of the vessel decided to ride out a hurricane at sea. Krieger delicately suggests that this decision may have been motivated by penalties imposed for running over schedule and may not have been the wisest choice, considering that the barge was not exactly shipshape, being both rusty and leaky. But responsibility is not Krieger’s main concern here; rather, he is intent on delivering a rousing story, directing the narrative like an old-fashioned melodrama: You know the hurricane is going to be trouble, just like the damsel tied to the tracks knows her goose is cooked when she hears the locomotive’s whistle. The first encounter with the storm batters the barge and tugs, though not critically. Then the hurricane turns on its heels to pound them again. This time the 40-foot seas sink the barge and all the men go into the drink. Keeping the story just this side of breathless, Krieger describes what it was like to be in the rough sea, waves crashing on the barge workers, and how preposterously valiant were the efforts of the tugs – one more soon arrived on the scene – to find the men and pull them aboard in the middle of the night and in the middle of a hurricane, the boats pitching like toys, the nine-foot propellers slicing the air with each crest. Incredibly, only eight men died. Litigation regarding the culpability of the barge’s owner continues to this day.

Tugboats aren’t renowned for their balletic qualities, but Krieger finds in them a beautiful intrepid choreography.

KIRKUS REVIEWS, August 1, 2002


“Meticulous, balanced, heartbreaking, and exciting, All The Men in the Sea details what happens when a floating village of oil pipeline workers meets a huge hurricane at sea. The resulting story belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in contemporary rescues and disaster.”

-Robert Frump, author of Until the Sea Shall Free Them