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Captains Courageous is an 1897 novel, by Rudyard Kipling, that follows the adventures of fifteen-year-old Harvey Cheyne Jr., the spoiled son of a railroad tycoon, after he is saved from drowning by a fishing boat in the north Atlantic. The novel originally appeared as a serialisation in McClure's, beginning with the November 1896 edition.
The book's title comes from the ballad "Mary Ambree", which starts, "When captains courageous, whom death could not daunt". Kipling had previously used the same title for an article on businessmen as the new adventurers, published in The Times of 23 November 1892.
Harvey Cheyne is the son of a wealthy railroad magnate and his wife, who are over-indulgent parents in San Diego, California. Washed overboard from a transatlantic steamship and rescued by fishermen off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, the young Harvey Cheyne can neither persuade them to take him quickly to port, nor convince them of his wealth. Disko Troop, captain of the We're Here, offers him a job as part of the crew until they return to port. With no other choice, Harvey accepts.
Through a series of trials and adventures, the youth learns to adjust to his rough new life and, with the help of his friend, the captain's son Dan Troop, he makes progress. Eventually, the schooner returns to port and Harvey wires his parents. They rush cross-country by their private rail car, given priority over commercial traffic, to Boston, Massachusetts. From there they go to the fishing town of Gloucester to find that their son has matured to become an industrious, serious and considerate young man.
Harvey's mother rewards the seaman who initially rescued her son. Harvey's father rewards Captain Troop by hiring his son Dan to work on his prestigious tea clipper fleet. He is delighted at his son's new maturity and their relationship improves, and Harvey decides to begin his career with his father's shipping lines.
The book was written during Kipling's time living in Brattleboro, Vermont. Kipling credited his family doctor and personal friend there with helping him on the novel. Kipling recalled in his autobiography:
Now our Dr. [James] Conland had served in [the Gloucester] fleet when he was young. One thing leading to another, as happens in this world, I embarked on a little book which was called Captains Courageous. My part was the writing; his the details. This book took us (he rejoicing to escape from the dread respectability of our little town) to the shore-front, and the old T-wharf of Boston Harbour, and to queer meals in sailors’ eating-houses, where he renewed his youth among ex-shipmates or their kin. We assisted hospitable tug-masters to help haul three- and four-stick schooners of Pocahontas coal all round the harbour; we boarded every craft that looked as if she might be useful, and we delighted ourselves to the limit of delight. ... Old tales, too, he dug up, and the lists of dead and gone schooners whom he had loved, and I revelled in profligate abundance of detail—not necessarily for publication but for the joy of it. ...I wanted to see if I could catch and hold something of a rather beautiful localised American atmosphere that was already beginning to fade. Thanks to Conland I came near this.
Kipling also recalled another who helped:
When, at the end of my tale, I desired that some of my characters should pass from San Francisco [sic] to New York in record time, and wrote to a railway magnate of my acquaintance asking what he himself would do, that most excellent man sent a fully worked-out time-table, with watering halts, changes of engine, mileage, track conditions and climates, so that a corpse could not have gone wrong in the schedule.
The resulting account, in Chapter 9, of the Cheynes' journey from San Diego to Boston is a classic of railway literature. The couple travel in the Cheynes' private rail car, the "Constance", are taken from San Diego to Chicago as a special train, hauled by sixteen locomotives in succession. It takes precedence over 177 other trains. "Two and one-half minutes would be allowed for changing engines; three for watering and two for coaling." The "Constance" is attached to the scheduled express "New York Limited" to Buffalo, New York and then transferred to the New York Central for the trip across the state to Albany. Switched to the Boston and Albany Railroad, the Cheynes complete the trip to Boston in their private car, with the entire cross-country run taking 87 hours 35 minutes.
Kipling also recalled:
My characters arrived triumphantly; and, then, a real live railway magnate was so moved after reading the book that he called out his engines and called out his men, hitched up his own private car, and set himself to beat my time on paper over the identical route, and succeeded. 
Disko Troop was said to be given his first name because he was born on board his father's ship when it was iced in near Disko Island on the west coast of Greenland. One of the sailors, Long Jack, sometimes calls him Discobolus.
Captains Courageous has been adapted for film three times: