Full Fathom Five

Ocean Warming and a Father’s Legacy

A spellbinding, deeply moving memoir about personal and scientific discovery and sea changes of many kinds—including ocean warming.

Gordon Chaplin’s father was a seemingly happy-go-lucky, charismatic adventurer who married a wealthy heiress and somehow transformed himself into the author of a landmark scientific study, Fishes of the Bahamas, published by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. As a young boy, the author took part in collecting specimens for his father. Fifty years later, he was asked to join a team from the same institution studying the state of sea life in the Bahamian waters where he grew up, as measured against his father’s benchmark. The first of the sea changes presented in this eloquent book stems from climate change and is the drastic transformation of ocean life due to global warming. The second is his father’s miraculous transformation from presumed playboy into scientist. And the third involves the author’s own complicated relationship with his parents and in particular his father, as he grew older and assumed the part of the prodigal son. Fifty years later, returning to his childhood home, he delves into the mysteries of his father’s life and the impossibility of ever truly recovering the past, or ever returning home.

Illustrated with gorgeous color plates from the original Fishes of the Bahamas and featuring descriptions of exquisite undersea beauty and heartrending devastation, this is a status report on climate change unlike any other, both a report from the field and an intensely personal reckoning.

Praise for Full Fathom Five
“Full Fathom Five is a strange and beautiful specimen pulled up from the deep—part study of fish diversity in the Caribbean, part scientific report on the health of coral reefs threatened by climate change, and part memoir of the author’s father, sister, and wife. Together they make a book that is touching and troubling by turns, but always full of life.”

— Tom Powers, author of Heisenberg’s War

“Gordon Chaplin’s new book is a fascinating read. It is both a gruesome memoir and an intriguing account of a science expedition. I loved it. Buy it and put some fun in your life.”

— Jim Harrison, author of The River Swimmer and many other books

“Like donning a dive mask and entering a tropical world of color, clarity, and mystique, opening Full Fathom Five is a gateway into another world. . . . . A must read!”

— Carole Baldwin, Curator of Ichthyology, Smithsonian Institution

“A unique picture of the effects of climate change. Readers aware of the abuse of our marine environments will find the conclusions as well as the techniques of the study most interesting. And finally, it’s a good read!”

— Stan Waterman, International SCUBA Diving Hall of Fame

“Gordon Chaplin dives into the past, present, and future of the ocean with eloquence, deep personal insight, and a message relevant for all people everywhere. With care, there is hope that the reefs and fishes that abounded in the Bahamas half a century ago will be as richly diverse and abundant in the seas of the future.”

— Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer in Residence

“Wonderfully written . . . Not only a significant scientific contribution in its own right but the touching tribute of a son’s ultimately successful quest to shoulder his father’s important legacy.”

— John E. Randall, Senior Ichthyologist Emeritus, Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii

“A uniquely personal and intimate portrait [and] an inviting, threatening, and richly informative tale of rarely observed fish community structures in the Bahamas.”

— Thomas Byrne Edsall, Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and author of The Age of Austerity

“Gordon Chaplin has given us his inside stories on the many challenges and frustrations of mounting collecting expeditions today and the important scientific insights that the resampling of fishes and coral reef habitats have yielded.”

— John G. Lundberg, Chaplin Chair and Curator of Ichthyology, The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia


Dark Wind

In 1992 Gordon Chaplin and Susan Atkinson set off from the Mosquito Coast in a thirty-six-foot sailboat. Behind them were the choices they had made--to leave their spouses and families and live life together on the edge. Ahead of them was the gleaming Pacific, schools of dolphins and flying fish, and days marked by the rising and setting of the sun. They had an intense romance, fueled by their love of the sea, for adventure, and for risk. Then, in a hidden paradise called Wotho atoll, a dark wind caught up with Chaplin and Atkinson, and plunged them into a horrific, tragic night. 

Praise for Dark Wind

“This is the kind of memoir . . . that makes readers feel they are not just reading a book but reviewing a life.”

— The New York Times

“A harrowing memoir of adventure, disaster, guilt, and the subsequent anguished search for understanding.”

— Publishers Weekly


The Fever Coast Log

Gordon Chaplin and Susan Atkinson sail a small boat down the seedy, remote, fractious Mosquito Coast of Central America from Belize to Panama in the days of the Sandinistas, the Contras, and Manuel Noriega. They are seeking the truth about Chaplin’s ancestor Frederick Catherwood, who in 1842 documented the rediscovery of many significant Mayan ruins here. They are also researching the region’s turbulent past and present and its disastrous relationship with the superpowers. But their voyage ultimately becomes one of self-discovery.

Praise for Fever Coast Log

“A fast-paced adventure…Chaplin emerges as a natural storyteller, weaving together anecdotes, portraiture, bits of history and personal reminiscences.”

— Booklist

“With plenty of history, lore and the requisite colorful characters and mishaps, Chaplin’s adventure remains lively even when it resembles a nautical treatment for male midlife crisis.”

— Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A lovely, quarrelsome, sometimes enthralling book about a voyage along the Caribbean coast of Central America. Chaplin writes with the skill of a very good novelist, a painful lucidity leavened by ebullience of observation.”

— Jim Harrison, author of Dalva,etc.



A Vietnam-era novel about two bored American teenagers living with their parents in Bangkok who steal a motorcycle and take off across Southeast Asia to see the war for themselves.

Reviews and Comments

“It is a tragic book, stunning, spare and clean in its image of adolescence and of Vietnam. The language is real, true to the era and to the mind of one coming of age then. It talks of the destruction of youth and of life with the reportorial force of Hemingway; lines and images are not wasted. The book is as taut as it is compelling.”

— The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Much fiction about adolescence takes up experience that is typical. Gordon Chaplin shows us that, even in experience that is wildly exceptional, a good novelist can enable us to see ourselves.”

— The Washington Post

“Gordon Chaplin has done something I would have thought impossible—written a genuinely original novel about the war in Vietnam. On the surface it’s a compelling story of two teenagers on a stolen motorcycle going to see the war. But this is more than a picaresque adventure. Like the war itself their journey turns ugly and violent. The theme is deceptively simple—how one thing leads to another. Joyride is a fine novel about kids, about the 60s, and about something we’d all like to forget—the careless American innocence which wrecked Indochina.”

— Thomas Powers, author of The Man Who Kept the Secrets, etc.