Books, True Adventure

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Robin Lee Graham
A 16 year–old boy sails solo around the world in a 24–foot sailboat and is covered by National Geographic magazine in 3 installments over 5 years.
This is a powerful book! Let me explain:
Once, at a flea market, I was leafing through a compilation book of popular National Geographic stories, and flipping through the pages I immediately recognized a photo of young Robin Lee Graham on his little boat. The caption read something to the effect of “Through all the years of National Geographic magazine, no one single person has evoked so much mail as Robin Lee Graham.” Okay, keep that in mind . . .
A few years earlier, while whitewater kayaking on the Potomac River, I happened to meet a guy and then, in time, his girlfriend. As we all became friends, stories surfaced, and I learned that by her mid–twenties she had already had quite a few adventures, among them backpacking in the Himalayas and a 6–month job on Antarctica. So I said to her, “Y’know, most people just don’t get around to doing these things, and furthermore, no offense intended but even fewer women do these things, and I’ll go one step further — very few hotties like yourself ever do these things! What got you into such an adventurous lifestyle?”
She answered, “Well, when I was a teenager I read a little book called Dove. It’s the true story of a 16–year–old kid who —” I stopped her: “— Say no more! I understand.”
Three more quick testaments to the power of this story:
• After the voyage, when Robin Lee Graham was quietly homesteading in Montana, Gregory Peck approached him — not vice versa — to make a movie version of his story, which they did. Videos of the movie go for about $35 on the internet.
• All over the internet, his name shows up in searches, and there are even postings about sighting the original Dove and Dove II.
• The voyage was in 1965–1970, and now, about 40 years later, his name pops up surprisingly often, especially among sailors, romantics, and dreamers (ya, I know — those three groups overlap!)
And the beauty of the book is that it reads like a long letter from your cousin. He talks about being dismasted in the middle of the ocean the way you and I mention we had a rather bothersome flat tire. And remember, he did this before the days of GPS — the more I sail around Chesapeake Bay, the more I am in awe of him sailing solo around the world. This book is part sailing story, part adventure, travelogue, coming–of–age, romance (he meets a woman along the way and she leap–frogs to his next port, and they take side–trips all over Australia and Africa). It’s a great story in itself, but even more wonderful because it is true.

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A Splendid Madness
Thomas Froncek
From the back cover:
“One of the most dangerous of all mid-life crises is the suddenly blooming love affair between a landlubber and a boat. In his instructive, sometimes very funny book, Tom Froncek tells how he not only survived but conquered many perils and surprises to make himself into a capable, happy sailor.” – John Rousmaniere
“A Splendid Madness is a splendid memoir of one man’s polite obsession with wind and water. It’s not only a fine primer on how one comes to terms with the mysteries of sailing, but a beautifully rendered account of how, moment by moment, as folly yields to wisdom, the luckiest of us manage to fall in love with something timeless and life-changing – the heart’s truest desire. If you love to sail – or simply love someone who does – you’ll treasure this tale.
From the book:
“Anyway, at bottom I did not believe that my fascination with boats was entirely frivolous. To discover new ways of seeing the world, to savor Nature’s abundant gifts, to feel connected to the primal elements of wind and water and weather, and through them to feel my spirit and my imagination enriched and strengthened – these were far from being trivial pursuits. They were as essential to my spirit as eating and breathing.”
“I arrived back on shore tired but happy. My first extended day of cruising rated an A+. I had handled the boat and the weather well. I had also taken on two new tests toward mastery and passed them with flying colors: anchoring and napping. At last I could consider myself fully qualified for an overnight.”
I say, nicely done, quite nicely done.

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Steve Callahan
Callahan made an ocean crossing from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean the hard way — 5 days out his sailboat sunk and he completed the trip in a deteriorating rubber raft. A classic, much–read ocean survival story.
When he was near the islands, just hours from being washed ashore, he was rescued by some fishermen in an open boat. After crossing most of the Atlantic ocean in a little rubber raft, alone for 2 and a half months, and so emaciated and weak he could barely move his arms, still, he was somewhat disappointed he didn’t “finish” his solo crossing. That’s the spirit that makes this such an enjoyable read!

Berzerk (My Voyage to the Antarctic in a Twenty–Seven–Foot Sailboat)
David Mercy
This is another of those books that is much better than you expect it to be!
In 1998, 21 year–old Norwegian Jarle Andhoey and crew sailed a 70’s era fiberglass boat (an Albin Vega) to Antarctica and have been talked about among sailors ever since. The young captain has been called everything from “a crazy Viking“ to reckless, foolish, and irresponsible, but others greatly admire him for his spirit and courage. His boat was small — 27 feet long, about 4500 pounds, and no head (bathroom) — but he sailed it from Norway to Cape Horn (from the top of the world to the bottom), and then through a Force 12 storm (a hurricane) on the way to Antarctica, and then among the icebergs for two months, literally fending them off with his feet. Many would contest his self–appraisal (“Crazy, but not stupid”), but you have to admit, the “crazy Viking” has more spunk and spirit than the total of many tens of thousands of regular people. David Mercy — who did not know how to sail — signed on as crew within ten minutes of meeting Jarle (pronounced “Yar–la”), and then went around the docks scrounging up gloves and appropriate foul–weather gear. He wanted an adventure, and he got it! Through several incidents where he was sure he was about to die, he grew, and the ending of the book is very satisfying.
David Mercy’s writing style fits perfectly with this tale: he vividly describes images of the “South Pole” ocean and the ice, and he efficiently, effectively describes the evolution within himself because of the journey. Of the former, here’s a brief example: “Outside in the cockpit, the world provided a marvelous view: the orange–red–blue glow of the sun as it set on one side of me and rose on the other, simultaneously. The rain stopped, the sky opened, and the evening took on a cool metallic–blue calm. Seabirds fluttered about in the night as the sky kept opening like a flower in bloom, revealing rainbow shades of color never before imagined.”
Oh ya, this is well worth reading!

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Cape Horn
Bernard Moitessier
From the book:
And now I could suddenly hear a new note in the singing of the bow, another sound underneath the song of a happy boat: ‘…give me wind and I shall give you miles…’
I could hear it more and more clearly: ‘…you want to get home quickly . . . give me wind . . .’ I could hear it on deck, I could hear it coming from the end of the bowsprit as I was sitting on the pulpit, sometimes for hours, watching the bow throwing out the spray. I could hear it as I lay on my bunk . . . It was the voice of the bow wave, and I could hear it as plainly as I could hear the dolphins, I could feel it in my bones: ‘…there are several routes home . . . I am a fine boat . . . but don’t choose the wrong one . . . give me wind and I shall give you miles . . .’
From the back cover:
“This is a book about the mystical communion, with a boat, with the water and the weather, with the creatures of the sea . . . I’d sooner read Moitessier than any other nautical writer alive.” – Jonathan Raban
What more need I say?

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Desperate Voyage
John Caldwell
John Caldwell had no sailing experience when, in post–war 1946, he found himself in Panama with no ships heading toward Australia and his bride. Eventually he decided that the only way he was going to get home was to sail a small boat there himself, so he picked up a 29–foot wooden boat and set out on a 9,000 mile journey. He pretty much sailed into history: his name is known worldwide, and his book about the journey is still in print after 50 years. He’ll make you laugh, too — the guy who told me about this book said that in several places it made him laugh out loud, and sure enough, it did the same to me.
Note: see also Mary’s Voyage
From the Back Cover:
One of the classic ’How I did it on a shoe–string in an unsuitable boat, knowing nothing about sailing’ books….A good read and hooray for the days when people could do this sort of thing without attracting condemnation. — The Island, Spring 1999
[An] astounding tale of courage and adventure….an engaging, well–written story that combines elements of romance with incredible adventure, farce and foolhardiness. If ever there was an argument for the benefits of sail training, this book cements it. Riveting stuff. — Sailing Today, December 1998

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My Old Man and the Sea
David Hays and Daniel Hays
A father and son sail a 25–foot boat 17,000 miles for the main purpose of experiencing a voyage around Cape Horn, arguably the most lethal waters on the planet.
This is a cool story, told in turns by the father and the son, each from viewpoints on the opposite sides of the twenty–some years between them. Like all good adventure stories, the adventure itself — in this case, the sailing — is only the base, the platform for the story written between the lines. This book describes well voyaging on a small boat (they moved about the inside of the heaving boat by grabbing rails and pushing against bulkheads, sort of like “faster–motion astronauts in a zero–gravity capsule”), but it also describes what it can mean to be a father and son and a family.

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Joe Richards
In 1938 Joe bought a wooden Friendship sloop that was already 60 years old with dreams of sailing to a quiet Caribbean island.
This is a great book — repeatedly, some of the episodes of the story come up in conversation here on our sailboats on the Chesapeake Bay. What Joe did was rebuild his boat and sail it down the coast from New York, and whether or not you sail, you can probably relate it to the process. Here’s why: “An old dream is a tough thing to kill. It can hang on. An old dream about an island is all but indestructible. . . . If you’ve got the dream, chances are you’ve got a boat. It’s a sign of the malady. . . I’ve got Princess.”
Joe is an interesting guy: part able–bodied seaman on steamers, part poet and writer, part New York artist (I love the evocative, minimalist style of his illustrations), part carpenter — a no–nonsense man who will make you laugh and remember your dreams for your life.

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The Log of the Mahina
John Neal
A young man sails an Albin Vega all over the Pacific. “For Neal his log becomes more a journal and less a log, a recounting of his impressions of what he saw and who he met. The result is a book without affectation . . . an honest, simple record of one man’s adventure. With stops that include the Marquesas, Tuamotus, Tahiti, the Societies, the Cooks, Samoa, and Christmas Island, plus falling in love, tearing up his rudder, and getting home, Neal has a lot to tell. What he does cover serves as both a guide and inducement for anyone with a Pacific cruise in mind, either as plans about to be fulfilled or dreams of some future date when, like Neal, it seems the time to try something new.” — SAIL Magazine

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Advice to the Sealorn
Herb Payson
A collection of “straight–scoop”, believable advice from a veteran cruiser, who incidentally is a humble and funny man. Herb Payson, probably most famous for his sailing book Blown Away, gives advice on many topics of cruising by sail, all of it written with the friendly, humble attitude of this snippet about a fan he met in a foreign anchorage: “Yeah,” he continued, “I read your book Blown Away — laughed a lot — and when I was finished, I figured, ‘if that asshole can do it, so can I.’”

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By Way of the Wind
Jim Moore
One day Jim Moore came home to his wife of two months and declared, “We’re going to build a boat and sail it to the South Pacific!” (At that point in their lives, neither he nor Molly had ever set foot on a sailboat of any size.) She replied, “Did you remember to bring home some onions?” If this is the way you and your spouse chart your lives, or if you wish it were the way you do things, you’ll love this book.
If you’re contemplating re–building a boat and going on any kind of cruise, this book is useful not only to give you a feel for what you’re in for (work– and reward–wise), but also as an example of a good frame of mind to emulate.

    Some examples:

  • all he knew of refrigeration was “that it was cold and good for beer”, but he read up on it and installed a system that worked reliably for years.
  • “I am fairly certain that Swan would have been completed far earlier had it not been for a few of my friends, one in particular being Darold Brown. . . Darold and I often worked on technical problems of construction together . . . we often focused on the problem through the bottom of a wineglass. These research and development periods . . .”
  • “If you are interested in learning celestial navigation, which isn’t all that difficult, forget all of that stuff your high school teacher told you about the planet earth being an insignificant speck in the galaxy. Copernicus was wrong. The earth is, and I wouldn’t steer you wrong, the absolute center of the Milky Way and probably the universe, and all heavenly bodies revolve around us. The people who wrote the Nautical Almanac know this. They don’t cloud the facts by suggesting the earth revolves. The say the sun rises and the sun sets, pure and simple. It goes around to the other side and shines where the Chinese live and then comes back around to us. It’s a simple and fair system, and if you study the art of celestial navigation I strongly suggest that you look at it in this manner. Besides, it makes you feel much more important.”

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Flirting with Mermaids
John Kretschmer
A sailboat skipper who made over 100 deliveries — including doubling Cape Horn in a 32 footer — recalls various sea adventures which are, of course, on multiple levels of meaning. You can’t make up this stuff!
From the foreword:
“What I will always wonder about is how John has been able to keep his sense of humor. As things fall apart on all sides, while he dodges gunfire on the Arabian Sea, jumps into mid–ocean to wrap garbage bags around a leaking stern tube, and mediates nasty crew problems, all while the weather gods are beating him to a pulp, there is always that slightly smart–aleck, sanguine person telling us in self–mocking tones how he managed to stay the course.”
And from his Introduction:
“Although I am closing in on 40, I’m still more than willing to pit my wits against the guiles of the mermaid’s song. I am an incorrigible flirt and too far offshore to turn back now. This is a book about conjuring sailing schemes and delivering sailboats, from world class yachts to barely afloat hulks, all over the world. It is a book about living a passionate, adventure–filled life on your own terms and accepting all the consequences of such a life. The only way I know how to write such a book is by telling a few sea stories.”

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Maiden Voyage
Tania Aebi
The true story of an 18 year–old woman who sailed a 26 foot boat around the world, solo. Although she had sailed before, she had never sailed solo until the day she pushed off from the dock for this voyage; hence, the triple entendre of the title.
This should be required reading for all young women! This young girl faces her fears and rises to a huge challenge, and does it amid the fanfare of world media attention. She tells her story frankly, of how the first day she went only as far as around the corner, out of sight from the television crews, dropped anchor, and cried all night. Like all the best stories of adventure, what you get from it is not a sense of what little you’ve accomplished by comparison but how your personal, inner voyages — though on a totally different route — are similarly as challenging and heroic, and the glimmer of recognition that you, too, are capable of finding untapped courage.
She did not, however, earn the official record for youngest woman to solo circumnavigate. She says that she knows she did earn it, but because she had a passenger for a few hours on a westward daysail between two islands (and — my words — some cranky, sniveling nitpicker reported it), she was not allowed the official honor.

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Mary’s Voyage
Mary Caldwell, Matthew M. Douglass
One of the most successful sailing stories ever written is Desperate Voyage by John Caldwell. Now, almost sixty years later, his wife Mary tells her own inspiring story.
Born in England, Mary immigrated with her family to Australia where she spent her early youth on a farm. As a young woman, she served in the Australian Air Force. During the war she met Tex (future husband John Caldwell), a young cocky American who became the inspirational mainspring for her adventures. In 1952, after living in California for several years, Mary and John and their children became the first family to attempt a voyage around the world on a small sailing craft using only a sextant and dead reckoning to guide them across thousands of miles of ocean. Mary was pregnant at the beginning of the voyage and already had a toddler and an infant son in tow. Months would pass without sight of land. She gave birth to her youngest son in Tahiti, weathered constant seasickness and survived frightening ocean storms, several hurricanes, and a tsunami. Mary and John finally settled in the Grenadines where they built the world–renowned Palm Island resort. Mary’s story of endurance and fearlessness is remarkable and inspiring.

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Two Against Cape Horn
Hal Roth
A man and wife sail their yacht down the coast of Chile and around the legendary Cape Horn. If you want to visit another reality here on Earth, read this book. The Roth’s descriptions of the rugged land and harsh climate, coupled with their story of taking a yacht through it all just for the experience of it, will remind you that no, the way of life common in industrialized nations is definitely not the only definition of living a human life. PS — Some of the photos are amazing: one glance and you know you’re “not in Kansas anymore.”

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By the Grace of the Sea
Pat Henry
Let’s see . . . when your business has gone bankrupt, your teenage daughter is spreading her own wings, and you don’t know what else to do, why not sail solo around the world to become one of the first women ever to do so?
Henry invites you along with her, not just over the oceans but also through the inner voyage. So many sailing books talk mainly of routes and landfalls and fun; Henry includes doubts about whether continuing toward her goal is the best decision for her and struggles to finance the completion of that goal — can you relate to that?
From the back of the book, Caribbean Compass writes, “Her openness about her life should inspire others to make their own way in the world, however they define it. Her message resounds: If I can do this, anyone can.”

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Logs of the Dead Pirates Society: A Schooner Adventure Around Buzzards Bay
For several summers, a schooner full of young students sail around Buzzard’s Bay. The two things I liked most about this book were the descriptions of the various sailing conditions and the background history of the Buzzard’s Bay area and New England. It’s not an “inspiring adventure” sort of book, but well worth reading.

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Narrow Waters
Dee Carstarphen
Join a relaxed, middle–aged couple on a hand–illustrated journey down the East Coast’s ICW . . .
This is a great book to preview your ICW trip, or to inspire one! There’s the story — a light narration, really — and the capable drawings of the natural world of America’s coastline from Virginia all the way down to Florida’s Everglades and Keys and even a little bit beyond, out to the Dry Tortugas. If you have young nieces, nephews, or grandchildren and you want to give them a better understanding of what you’re planning to do (or have done), this is a great little book.

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Sails Full and By
Dom Degnon
The term “full and by” means that the boat is going downwind, with the wind from astern and filling the sails “full”, and “by” means that the sails are not trimmed for ultimate performance but instead with a little slack, a little slop to accommodate slight changes in the wind. In other words, “full and by” means easy, relaxed sailing. The author uses the term to summarize his 7 year navigation. Why 7 years? He says, “Sloppy navigation.”
He begins the book like this: “Listen! If you are reading this to find out the secret of successfully sailing around the world, here it is: Pack your bag and go. Really, it’s as simple as that. If you choose to read further, do so because you are into redundancy, for everything else that follows will lead you to the same conclusion. Start now and avoid the rush. Those of you with a compelling need for order in your lives, believe me when I tell you that everything that follows, the pages and chapters that all lead to the conclusion “pack your bag and go,” is inextricably related. Events may seem disparate and the connections between them obtuse, but it all relates in the end. Be on the lookout for the subtle connections, those cosmic flashes of insight that give underlying meaning and substance to the mundane happenings of life.
This is a good, intelligent, and fun book — there are pages that will make you laugh out loud!
From the back cover:
…a lively and inspiring account of a seven–year circumnavigation and of personal growth. — Cruising World, October 1995
…like a fresh breeze after a calm, Sails Full and By is a grass–roots adventure in the tradition of Mark Twain and a pleasing read. — SAIL Magazine, September 1995

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Sea Change
Peter Nichols
Nichols set out to cross the Atlantic in his fine little wooden boat. The only significant problem was the leak . . . This is more than a story of voyage interrupted by the boat sinking out from under the sailor; it is full of reflections about sailing, the history and lore of ocean voyaging in small boats, and bigger thoughts about navigating through life. Nichols is intelligent, educated, and articulate — this is a good read!

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The Boy, Me, and the Cat
Henry Plummer
This little book has been around for about a hundred years, literally. In 1912–1913, a man, his son, and their cat sailed a 24 foot catboat from Massachusetts to Florida and back. This is interesting on at least four levels: the story, the adventure shared between father and son; the sailing accomplishment; the images of the natural East Coast from a century ago, so much less–developed than today; and the glimpses of American society that are just a few short decades over the generational bounds of common memory.

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Cork Boat
John Pollack
A quiet but interesting adventure of building and voyaging a boat almost entirely of wine bottle corks.
If you’ve ever attempted a creative project that didn’t immediately have the support of your friends and family, a project that made you yourself wonder if you had lost your mind, then you’ll love this book!
John Pollack was a presidential speech writer who, after a change in the White House administration, lost his job and raised his spirits by resurrecting a boyhood dream of building a usable raft of used bottle corks. Enlisting the help of many senior government aides to collect and assemble corks in a Washington, D.C. garage on weekends, he built his boat, took it to Portugal, and traveled down a river in the original “Cork Capitol of the World.”

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Seasoned by Salt
Jerry L. Mashaw and Ann U. MacClintock
A man and a woman, each from their perspective, tell their story of a common dream: taking a year off to sail the Caribbean. If you’re thinking of cruising the Caribbean, or dreaming of someday cruising the Caribbean, this is a helpful book. Unlike some other sailing narratives, this book feels like it was written for you, to give you a feel for what it is like, what it might be like if you did this (as opposed to simply telling the specifics of one person’s particular trip.) Plus, without being distracting or overbearing, the authors give you a bit of history and background of the different islands.

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Ya Gotta Go to Know
Chris DiCroce
What makes his little book different from most others of this subject is that he is quite honest about how scary it is to take a leap of faith, even if you’ve spent years working up to it. He writes about the many sleepless nights worrying about the whole idea and the specifics of their plans, about how the majority of friends and family thought they were some kind of crazy, and so on, and he does it in such a way that it nudges your emotions and is not just filed away in your theoretical, intellectual understanding of it. If you have a dream of changing the path of your life, whether your dream is of a boat or a business or whatever, these pages will show you that it is okay to be scared, okay to doubt yourself, and okay to follow it through.
Is this book perfectly well-written? No. Is it full of heart, do you feel that you would enjoy the author if you randomly met him in person, like if you just happened to plop yourself down next to him on a cross-country airplane ride? You bet! When you read this book, do you get the feeling that it’s going to be quietly popular, be brought up by all kinds of people in many conversations about following your dreams? Ya, I think it just might.