The Wreck of the Zephyr


Author Chris Van Allsburg
Illustrator Chris Van Allsburg
Country United States
Genre(s) Children's, Fantasy novel
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date 1983
Media type Print (Hardcover)

The Wreck of the Zephyr is a children's book written and illustrated by the American author Chris Van

Allsburg, first published by Houghton Mifflin in March 1983.


As he is exploring the sea shore near a small fishing village, the author comes upon the wreck of a small wooden sailboat high on a clifftop. A weather beaten old man is sitting near the wreck, and the author asks him how the boat came to be there, so far from the water. The old man begins to tell the story of a young boy who, years ago, was the most talented sailor in the harbor and who never missed an opportunity to prove it, performing feats that none of the grown men would dare try.

One day the boy decided to go out despite the storm brewing just outside the harbor and against the warnings of an old fisherman. As he sails out of the harbor a big gust strikes the boat and he is knocked unconscious by the boom. When he wakes up he and his boat, the Zephyr, are stranded on a strange beach far above the high-water mark. He starts walking to look for help, and after a long time he crests a hill to see the Zephyr being towed high above the waves by two boats he doesn't recognize. The boats are flying! From the hilltop the boy watches the two strange boats deposit the Zephyr in the harbor.

When he finally gets down to the harbor he is met by a fisherman who is as surprised to see him as the boy was to see his Zephyr fly. The fisherman tells him that they don't get any visitors because the island is surrounded by a treacherous reef. He offers to take the boy home but the boy refuses, saying he won't leave until he learns how to sail above the waves. The kind fisherman gives the boy a special set of sails for the Zephyr and spends all day trying to teach him, but the boy just cannot get the hang of it. The fisherman gives up and takes the boy back to his house where his wife has their dinner waiting.

Once the fisherman and his wife are asleep, the boy sneaks back out to the Zephyr to try again. This time he is successful and slowly the sound of the water gurgling against the hull fades and the Zephyr is flying. By the light of the full moon the boy navigates out of the harbor and sets a course for home.

As he nears his village the moonlight strikes the steeple of the church and he has an idea. If he sails the Zephyr over the village and rings her bell, everyone will know that he truly is the greatest sailor there ever was. Just as he is passing over the steeple the wind suddenly dies and the Zephyr starts to fall. The boy tacks and heads back for the safety of the harbor, but the Zephyr is falling too fast and they crash into the cliff. The crash destroyed the Zephyr, leaving only what you see here, says the old man, and the boy broke his leg badly.

"What happened to him after that?" asks the traveler. The townspeople never believed him, and the boy spent his life doing odd jobs and searching for the mysterious island, says the old man, ending the story by saying the breeze is looking just right for a sail as he limps back down toward the harbor.

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