Macomber gives history lecture: Navy turned to America’s yachtsmen

B. Elaine Michaelis
Special to the Eagle

On March 28, award-winning author and historian Robert N. Macomber is back to tell another remarkable story of naval history — when private yachts went to war.

Macomber’s lecture, which will begin at 7 p.m., will be held in Rose History Auditorium; all are welcome to attend.

In 1898, the United States Navy needed more ships and needed them fast; the United States was at war with the Spanish in Cuba.

“Most in America thought the war would be a cakewalk,” he said. “The Cubans knew the terrain and the conditions. Our navy knew it’d be difficult; our army was ill prepared … I want people to know what happened,” said Macomber.

Maritime historian and novelist Robert Macomber speaks to sightseers aboard Island Girl Charter's 45-foot catamaran during a boat tour on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015. Macomber hosts guided tours of historical Civil War sites of Southwest Florida between Pine Island and Charlotte Harbor.

To help with the war, the Navy turned to America’s yachtsmen, expropriating 38 of their pleasure craft and arming them for war. Several of these yachts became famous, with careers that lasted well into World War II. Their speed and maneuverability made them especially useful as patrol and dispatch vessels, convoy escorts, training ships and even, in later conflicts, as anti-submarine vessels.

The largest of these yacht, the USS Mayflower, took part in several engagements during the Spanish-American War and then served as the presidential yacht for over two decades. Though discarded by the Navy in 1931, the Mayflower was recommissioned during World War II, this time with the U.S. Coast Guard, and saw service patrolling the Atlantic coast for German U-boats.

Macomber is best known for his 13 popular naval thrillers, known as the “Honor” series (each book uses the word “honor” in its title). The books follow the life and career of a fictional American naval officer, Peter Wake, starting during the Civil War in Florida and continuing into the early part of the 20th century when America assumed the role of global power.

Macomber’s protagonist becomes a part of actual past settings and events, and his books’ pages are filled with exciting plots, historical and cultural details, helpful maps, extensive bibliographies and educational endnotes—all designed to foster a better understanding of world history. Back then, the Presidents used the Navy as “a sounding board for foreign affairs. They’d call for a naval officer to inform them as they were visiting ports all over the world; they [the officers} knew what was going on in those countries.”

Macomber grew up on the waters of Southwest Florida. He majored in Political Science, taught history for a short time, and then went on to become a defense contractor, specializing in strategic vision and planning. He began writing for magazines and journals early on but was encouraged by others to consider working in a longer format. It was only natural that when he finally decided to do so, his books would center on his love of history and the sea.

Macomber has a large following, both here and aboard; many of his readers even call themselves “Wakians”, after the main character of his books. When not traveling for research (often working on four books at a time), book signings or lecture tours, Macomber enjoys sailing in remote locales and cooking the exotic cuisines inspired by his books.

A book signing will immediately follow Macomber’s presentation; this lecture is free to members of the Historical Society and $10 for nonmembers. Rose History Auditorium is located at 180 S. Heathwood Drive across from the Library.

For more information, call 239-389-6447 or visit