Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “sailing”

BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review #18: Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz

Blue Latitudes was an engaging, informative read that touched on so many things I enjoy.  Sailing, history, world cultures, philosophy, religion, science – they’re all in there.  The author, Tony Horwitz, is an American journalist living in Australia.  Becoming interested in the story of Captain James Cook, he sets out to visit many of the places where Cook was the first Westerner to arrive and try to understand the man behind the legends.  Along the way, he discusses Cook’s journals and the writings of others travelling with him, as well as the responses of the indigenous people he encountered.

 The Captain Cook he presents is a man who achieved great fame in his day, but today is largely forgotten and tossed aside in a sea of political correctness.  Cook was born into extremely humble circumstances in northern England, but through luck, hard work, and the occasional astute sponsor, rose to a high rank in the British naval system.  At the time, this was an extremely unlikely story, as England had not long outgrown feudalism.  Given a ship, the Endeavour, he was tasked with mapping the transit of Venus across the sun in the Pacific Ocean and then to continue on in search of a southern continent.  Along the way, he visited Tahiti and many other Pacific Islands and was the first Westerner to map the Eastern coast of Australia. In many of these island nations, he is now considered a villain and blamed for opening up their lands to outsiders.  However, Horwitz points out that in approaching locals, Cook tried to communicate, tried to avoid harming locals and tried to prevent his men from passing their venereal disease to the island women.    He paints a sympathetic portrait of a reserved but fair man.

 He looks at situations from both sides, that of the indigenous peoples as well as the sailors.  The indigenous people didn’t know what to make of several hundred strange looking men with no women, in a boat taller than they’d ever seen before, who suddenly appear on their shores.  Are they looking to settle?  To fight?  To trade?  Are they outcasts from their own homes since they have no women or children with them?  Meanwhile, the Western sailors expect to find islanders, but since the sailors are generally uneducated and living in a brutal and oppressive culture, they aren’t exactly the most open-minded people to go adventuring.

 In addition, Horwitz also talks about his own travels to many of these same places, journeys which range from banal to hilarious to soulful, and generally involve copious amounts of alcohol since it is a sailing related book.  Writing about the misery involved in serving as crew of a week on a reconstruction of the Endeavour made me question my own desire to do something similar – sounds dreadful.

 I finished the book with a great admiration for Cook, as well as sympathy for everyone involved, sailors and islanders alike.

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BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review #10: Before the Wind: True Stories about Sailing by David Gowdey

Before the Wind is a collection of works about sailing, put together by David Gowdey.  It includes divers works ranging from poetry by Buckminster Fuller (did you have any idea he wrote poetry?!) to an interview with Gary Jobson, one of sailings premier skippers.

One of my favorite pieces was a surprisingly humorous excerpt from a book by Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail singlehanded around the world, starting in 1895.  In it he discusses repairing a decrepit sloop and setting off in her for the Azores. I also enjoyed the piece by Clare Francis, a great female sailor.  She writes about sailing alone across the North Atlantic, including a close encounter with icebergs.  And not to be missed is the account of Shackleton’s sail in monster waves to save his men stuck in Antartica.

Although much of the writing uses technical nautical terms, I don’t think a non-sailor would find it problematic to follow.  A non-sailor might want to skip the pages on preparing for an ocean voyage, but in general, the writing is easily accessible.  The pieces seem chosen with care to show the excitement and beauty of sailing, to try to explain exactly what it is that draws a person to the sea in a boat.

It was really inspiring to read the words of so many great sailors and find out what they found beautiful or frightening.  I really loved reading how these people felt when they were alone in the middle of a vast ocean.

BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review #08: The Memory of Water by Karen White

If The Memory of Water by Karen White were being pitched as a movie, it would be described as Charlie St. Cloud as chick lit by Pat Conroy with a soupçon of Nicholas Sparks.  This is a book that attempts to glorify the South Carolina shore by repeatedly mentioning pluff mud and sees no higher relationship than the eternal, sacred, vitally essential bonds of sisterhood.  Woe to us women travelling through life without a sister.  I decided to read it because it came up in a list of fiction about sailing and because I find I often enjoy Southern literature, even though the South itself frankly terrifies me.  (I should have read the reader reviews first, as most of them panned it.)  

The basic synopsis is that Marnie, a special ed art teacher, returns to her childhood home on the beach in South Carolina to help her traumatized nephew and in doing so, vanquish her own demons.  Her sister, Diana, is presented as being like her twin, when in actuality they are 3 years apart.  They were close as children with a psychotic artist mother, who wound up taking the girls out sailing in a storm and vanishing, leaving Marnie petrified of water and running for the desert.  Diana has followed in her crazy artist mother’s footprints, down to taking her young son out sailing at night in a storm.

There were way too many inconsistencies and illogical plot points.  For instance, I thought at first that Marnie and Diana were twins, by the way their childhood was discussed, but no, they were 3 years apart.  The timeline for their history makes no sense – Marnie is presented as a fearless sailor until age 12, when due to her crazy mother she develops a fear of water, yet 15 or 16 years later, her high school friends still only think of her as this fabulous sailor.  If she stopped sailing at 12, wouldn’t the people who knew her at 14, 15, 16 etc know that? “Hey Marnie, you were such a great sailor, too bad you stopped and didn’t sail at all in the majority of time we knew you.”  Why would they have voted her most likely to win the America’s Cup her senior year of high school if she hadn’t sailed in 5 or 6 years?

The plot point about their mother taking them sailing in a storm was bizarre as well.  When first presented, it was that they were children when it happened, which was reasonable and believable.  But for a 12 and 15 year old who have grown up sailing to get suckered like they did – no.  Sorry. And Diana talks about how much she always hated sailing, but other times how much she loves it.  I know she’s crazy but I think this was just the author forgetting what she had written previously.There’s a special twist ending, that becomes obvious at approximately page 15.  And the ending is preordained, and not in a good way.

Overall, the book was predictable and messy, and needed a good editor to shape it up and tighten up the glaring holes in the plot.

And I haven’t even started on the sailing.  Oy vey!  After finishing, I read the notes from the author and found out that she isn’t actually a sailor.  Yeah, I noticed.  Turns out, she isn’t from South Carolina either, but since I’m not, that lack wasn’t as distracting for me.  Authors, it turns out there is a reason you are advised to write what you know.

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