Historic ship housed in Everett sails again in Whidbey author’s new book

Whidbey Island author Nancy Horan remembers her visit to the schooner Equator in its shed east of the Port of Everett’s 10th Street boat launch.

“To learn that hulk was sitting just across the water from me was so interesting,” Horan said. “I didn’t find out about the Equator until after I had started the book. It is a wonderful piece of history.”

The Equator plays a role in Horan’s latest novel, “Under the Wide and Starry Sky,” a work of historical fiction that chronicles the relationship between the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his free-spirited American wife, Fanny.

In the late 1890s, the Stevensons sailed from Hawaii to Samoa aboard the Equator. Stevenson wrote about the boat in “The Wrecker” and “In the South Seas.”

Built in 1888 in San Francisco, the trading vessel was later converted to steam power. Abandoned in the 1950s in Port Gardner, the hull was dragged up into Everett.

In 1972, the battered Equator was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. All attempts to rebuild and restore the ship have failed.

Horan is best known for her book “Loving Frank,” a novel long on the New York Times best-seller list, about the love affair between architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his married client Mamah Borthwick Cheney.

A former journalist and an English teacher, Horan, 65, likes to stick with the facts, a starting point in her work that requires the digging skills she learned as a reporter freelancing for the Chicago Tribune.

Her research for this new romantic novel began when Horan visited Monterey, Calif., and learned that Stevenson had lived there in 1879. Horan got hooked on his American connections, especially when she read about his wife, the amazing character named Fanny. A divorced, single mother 10 years his senior, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne met Stevenson in France where she had gone to study art. Osbourne was sexy, unafraid and opinionated. He fell for her.

Stevenson, who grew up breathing the polluted air of Edinburgh, had health problems. Eventually the Stevensons moved to an island in Samoa. There Fanny kept her husband alive in the tropical climate while he wrote books such as “Treasure Island,” “Kidnapped” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Without Fanny, those books probably would not have been written, the author said.

“She wasn’t just his muse,” Horan said. “She set the standards high.”

As a writer, Horan prefers historical fiction to other genres.

“History is rich in plot and character. So why change it?” Horan said. “I just add the details and enrich the skeletal structure. What were the characters’ strengths and flaws? What choices did they make and what were the consequences?”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

Meet the author

Nancy Horan, author of the new novel “Under the Wide and Starry Sky,” will talk about her book and sign copies at 7 p.m. March 4 at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way NE, Lake Forest Park. The hardback lists for $26.

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