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.
Bill Tilman was probably the greatest adventure sailor of the 20th century. So it’s unfortunate that, while many sailors may have heard of Tilman, probably few are aware of how many voyages he made to the Arctic, South America, around Africa and to Antarctica. Here was a man driven by a thirst for adventure – he was 79 years old when he was lost at sea in 1977.
Words thrill me – their sounds, their meanings, their histories and most of all, their power to convey ideas, emotions, and observations.
So when on an airplane many years ago I encountered an excerpt from a book about words I tore out the relevant pages from the inflight magazine and have carried them ever since. And that was decades ago. Every time I thought to throw out the pages – declutter by putting them in the woodstove on the boat – I’d get another kick out of the words and their meanings and put the papers away again with the best of intentions to do something with them later.
With so many small boats having sailed around the world in the last 20 or 30 years, it’s easy to forget that this was considered next to impossible 50 or 60 years ago. True, Joshua Slocum accomplished the first solo circumnavigation in 1898, but when Francis Chichester began researching for his own attempt to circumnavigate via Cape Horn he had to go back mostly to the accounts of the clipper ships for information. This book is the result of his research – an anthology of some of the best writing about sailing the route from England and around the globe via the three capes.
The classic detective story – of Agatha Christie’s or Dorothy L Sayers for example – very often take place among a group of people who know one another and who are isolated in some manner – the country house, the small island hotel, the steamer (Murder on the Nile), the railway train (Murder on the Orient Express), the archaeological dig out in the desert.
Until I found C. P. Snow’s first novel in a secondhand bookshop recently in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I’d no idea anyone had written a classic whodunnit aboard a sailboat. Imagine my delight! (It’s one of my aims in life to read every work of fiction set aboard a sailboat.)
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.
Next time you’re having a hard day, the world is dumping on you and you need some inspiration to get yourself moving again, read Sir Ernest Shackleton’s account of his “failed” expedition to Antarctica. I keep a copy of his book “South” on Kuan Yin for just such occasions when I need to grit my teeth and get some perspective on petty discomforts, frustrations or difficulties, “South” is the book I reach for, and with a cup of tea and ten minutes with Shackleton I’m ready to take on the world again. You may care nothing for sailing or Polar exploration, but Shackleton’s story reminds all of us of just how much stamina and intelligence human beings possess. The story of how 28 men survived for two years is so extraordinary, you wouldn’t believe it if it wasn’t true! And there isn’t a single word of whining or complaining in the whole book.