Ocean Hermit – sailing, solitude and stories

My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.

Book review: All at sea in James Patterson’s thriller “Sail”.

Book review:  All at sea in James Patterson’s thriller “Sail”.

Writing any book – whether non-fiction or a novel or other forms of fiction – takes a lot of time and effort. And any book takes some effort on the part of the reader first to obtain and secondly, to read.  So one might imagine that an author would want to get the facts of his or her story correct, if only to show respect to readers and for the personal pride of having created a coherent narrative. Alas, Patterson does not respect his readers enough in this thriller to have bothered getting even the simplest details correct about sailing and sailboats.

True, Hollywood movies frequently lack such integrity.  Remember U-571, the 2000 film in which the  German submarine was boarded in 1942 by United States Navy submariners in the Mediterranean seeking to capture her Enigma cipher machine? In fact, it was the British Royal Navy that captured the cypher machine from U110 off Ireland in 1941. According to Wikipedia, the real U-571 was never involved in any such events, was not captured, and was sunk in January 1944, off Ireland, by a Short Sunderland flying boat from No. 461 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force.

Sail is the story of the Dunne family – mother and her three alienated children who go off on a sailboat with the brother of her dead husband (who just happens to be the father of one of the children), leaving her doting husband and the children’s step-father pining for them on land.

Except that the defence lawyer – with a heart of sulphuric acid –  is with his mistress and not missing them at all.  In fact, he’s hired a hitman to murder them at sea so that he can get his wife’s $100 million inheritance.

So far so good.  Basic plot of the average page-turner.

What disappoints most about “Sail” are the absurd errors about sailboats and sailing.  Maybe one should never let the facts get in the way of even a mediocre story (to paraphrase C. P. Scott, the famous editor of the Manchester Guardian). But please, have a little integrity and treat your readers with respect.

Just because we may not know any better is not reason to treat us like idiots.  When we read a historical novel, for example, we make the tacit assumption that the author won’t directly play with history.  Marie Antoinette really did lose her head on the guillotine and was not saved by Spiderman.

In like vein, all boats and ships with through hulls (holes to the outside of the boat attached to hoses for cooling water or for drainage) have sea-cocks – taps that can be closed if the hose breaks.

Yet, Patterson insists that if the hose breaks, the only way to stop water gushing into the boat and sinking it is to strip off all your clothes and push them down the through-hull!!!  What?

And please don’t try deploying a sea anchor with the boat under full sail.

And never store compressed air tanks (for scuba diving) down below in the boat’s cabin in a locker where they can leap out in rough seas, fly through the air and smash the boat’s only radio.

All absurd.  However, in the interests of literature, I’ve set myself to read all the fiction written about sailboats – and there are so great novels – so I kept reading.  And it was a page-turner, after all.

The best I can say about Sail is that it truly is pulp fiction – a book that can be and should be turned quickly into pulp and recycled to make better use of the paper.

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This entry was posted on February 15, 2012 by in Book Reviews, Sailing and tagged , , .
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