Monday, July 25, 2011

A World of my Own (Robin Knox-Johnston)

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to be lent A Voyage for Madmen by a friend, and tremendously enjoyed this amazing read. A World of my Own is the personal account of one of the participating sailors, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who would go on to win the race and become a legendary figure of British sailing. Sir Robin shows an extraordinary determination to continue the race against all odds, even after some mechanical failures which many would have considered critical enough to warrant abandoning the race altogether (he finished with no engine and lost the use of his self-steering gear half-way through the voyage, among other minor disasters). Psychologists who examined him before he set off found him to be “distressingly normal”, but reading through his book it quickly appears that he is nothing short of an extraordinary man. His deeply rooted, steadily grounded personality and unfailing optimism and calm in even the most dire conditions can only inspire admiration. His insightful story-telling makes this first-hand account of the race a very enjoyable read. A book I would highly recommend to anyone who has ever dreamt of sailing into the sunset.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cape Horn to Starboard (John Kretschmer)

I discovered John Kretschmer a few months ago through the delightful account of his life as a sailboat delivery skipper in Flirting with Mermaids. Cape Horn to Starboard is his first book, written by a much younger and seemingly a lot wilder man, and offers a funny and inspiring account of his first few years as a rookie sailor, as well as a gripping recollection of his epic (should I say heroic?) rounding of the Cape of the Capes the wrong way around (i.e. westwards) in a 32-foot cockleshell named Gigi. To do it justice, the said cockleshell was a Contessa 32, and is actually a legend of British shipmaking, still considered to this day as one (if not the) most seaworthy boat of its size. Nevertheless, one can only admire the bravery of these two men who took on an incredibly difficult and dangerous voyage, which undoubtedly changed them for life. More than a sailor, John Kretschmer is also a talented story-teller, and his good-natured personality and humorous outlook on life make for a very entertaining read.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Race Against Time (Ellen McArthur)

Even long before I took a keen interest in sailing, Dame Ellen McArthur had always been one of my role models. She is one of very few women out there who lead a truly inspiring life, and her extraordinary bravery seems to know no limits. Her first book Taking on the World was a wonderfully inspiring account of the first few years of her career as a professional sailor, and recounted in a very moving way her teenage years and how she had come up to sailing. I came across that book at a particular period of my life where, having just relocated to a different country, it resonated in me in so many ways that it left me a very long lasting impression; to this day, I still consider it as one of the most inspirational books I have read. Race Against Time is (unfortunately, I should add) an entirely different style of book altogether. I was expecting a little bit more distance and reflection on the profound human experience that undertaking a solo round the world race must be, and instead was faced with a rather dull, groundhog-day-like account of an otherwise epic voyage. Most of the text in the book was lifted from Dame Ellen’s logbooks and email communications during the race, and consists essentially of a collection of bad storms, mechanical failures, worse storms and even more spectacular mechanical failures, which very much contributes to making the written material dry and a bit too devoid of emotion for my liking. This is not the kind of book that will transport you away from your armchair, rather it will make you sink into it in a deep snooze… but to be fair it contains some truly impressive pictures of the southern ocean’s fury which will inspire the fear of god in even the most unadventurous landlubber. A good book to borrow and flip through, rather than to buy and keep.