Sunday, July 22, 2012

Blue Water, Green Skipper: Book Review

This book is described on the front cover as "A Memoir of Sailing Alone Across the Atlantic." My main issue with the book is that it is nothing of the kind. Truth in advertising!

Stuart Woods is apparently a bestselling author although I confess I haven't read any of his books before. In 1976, as a relatively inexperienced sailor, he sailed in the OSTAR solo transatlantic race. (The book was originally published in 1977 and is now being re-published.) This book claims to be his story of the race.

When I was asked to review the book I must admit I thought I would enjoy it more. I am a single-handed racer too (although in a somewhat smaller boat than Stuart's). The idea that someone would learn to sail in dinghies and then immediately take on the challenge of a transatlantic race appealed to me. If things had taken a different turn in my life I could imagine myself doing that.

I did find the first few chapters fascinating, and highly amusing in parts, as our hero learns to sail in dinghies on the west coast of Ireland. In the process he manages to make all the same mistakes that all of us did. He starts off in Mirror dinghies and goes off to the Irish National Championships where he and his mate won the prize for being the oldest and heaviest crew.

Then he discovers the joys of cruising and racing in small yachts, and when his grandfather dies and leaves him some money, Stuart hatches the idea of buying a yacht and entering the OSTAR.

So far so good. But, for me the book got considerably less interesting from this point on. This book is NOT about racing in the OSTAR. Only the last 40 or so pages are about the actual race. From the point where Stuart hatches the idea of entering the OSTAR to the day when he actually crosses the start line of the race there are about 200 pages of how Stuart prepared for the race. I found this section very dull.

They say that cruising is just another word for doing "boat maintenance in exotic locations." Well, if you believe this book, racing in the OSTAR is all about doing boat maintenance in not very exotic locations. If you are interested in all the things that can go wrong with a boat and how to fix them, then I guess this book might appeal to you.

Stuart orders a boat. Stuart goes sailing on some other boats. Stuart goes sailing on his own boat. Stuff breaks. The boat leaks. Stuff gets mended. The boat still leaks. More stuff breaks. More stuff gets mended. The boat still leaks. Then Stuart pulls something in his back and is in excruciating pain! I have to confess I actually enjoyed that bit. Not because I took any pleasure in Stuart's pain but because it was actually something I could relate to at last. Human interest! Much better than broken gearboxes, failed navigation lights and all the problems he had with something called a Dynafurl.

In the acknowledgements section at the start of the book, Stuart says that he believes he has mentioned everyone who helped his project in the text of the book. Too right he did! That's another problem I have with the middle 200 pages of this book. Name after name of people and companies who worked on his boat or gave him a sextant or helped him fix that damned Dynafurl. The whole bloody section reads like an acknowledgement section at times. And who reads them?

So I was excited when Stuart finally solved most of the issues with his boat and crossed the start line of the race. I love races. Strategy, tactics, close tussles with other competitors.

And so it was just after the start. But soon our hero is on his own in the middle of the Atlantic and stuff starts to break again. His engine won't start which apparently is a major problem in a sailing race like this because without his engine he can't charge his batteries. And without his batteries he can't use his VHF radio or his navigation lights, or his instruments or other quite useful stuff like the stereo system.

Then stuff started growing in his drinking water. Then his eggs went bad. Then his radar reflector fell off. One of his shrouds came loose and had to be reattached.

Then while he was playing with the bloody Dynafurl again he broke the forestay. Uh oh. More frigging boat maintenance ensued - something to do with stopping the mast falling down involving a Barlow, a pad-eye, a deck-eye, a reefing line, a clevis pin, a split pin and a very large screwdriver. I didn't understand a word of it, but it all sounded very exciting if you're into that kind of thing.

Eventually our hero reaches Newport and crosses the finish line. Phew!

So sorry, not my kind of book. If you are into stories about what can break on a boat and how to fix it you might like it more.

It's probably too late now but I do have one suggestion for the author. He seems to be a very charming chap, and from time to time he mentions in passing that he calls some lady or other and she drops everything and comes and stays with him for a few days while he works on his boat or hassles other people to work on his boat. I lost track of how many times he did this with different ladies because, as best as I can recall, all of the ladies had names beginning with A. We never get much detail about his relationships with these ladies but I was always intrigued to know more.

So this would be my advice on how to make this a better book: Less boat maintenance. More sex.


-kristjan said...

"Less boat maintenance. More sex."

I am for that.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

When it comes to maintenance, women tell me, "It's not about the size of the tools, but the skill of the mechanic who's operating them."

Does that help?

O Docker said...

It sounds like he had the organizational skills required of a single-handed ocean racer.

He was going through his little black book alphabetically.

Tillerman said...

Brilliant. Trust O Docker to solve the mystery of the A team.

Tillerman said...

I am strongly of the opinion that this is the secret of life.

Tillerman said...

As long as it's big enough to get the clevis pin in the shackle eye.

Dan said...

I remember this book. I read it soo after it arrived in the public library. And for some reason it is in my personal library. I think my sister gave it to me.

The one thing I remembered was that he did not like someone telling him what to do on one of the boats he raced on. Better to race alone and only argue with yourself!

Anonymous said...

.thanks for sharing

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

You mean, people who race together on other boats, argue? Wow!

Tillerman said...

I never argue when I'm racing.

meech said...

If I receive an inheritance for yacht purchase (very unlikely) I will now know that #1 on the list is that the boat needs to have a track record of very low maintenance. I assume they all have big enough bunks for the other activity. ... reminds me of something I once read about Issac Assimovs stories that they didn't have enough romance.

Tillerman said...

All joking aside, I think the real reason that I've never wanted a boat longer than 14 feet is the same reason that I hardly ever enjoy books or blogs about ocean racing or cruising - I just have no interest in boat maintenance. And the people that are into sailing larger yachts and writing about those experiences all seem to have a passion for boat maintenance. They have to or they wouldn't be able to do what they do. Tracking down a fault in their electrical system or fixing a leak in the head seems to give them a huge thrill. I'm just not wired that way.

I think I'll go for a sail now.

-kristjan said...

Looking for head and electrics on Hobie 16, can you help?

Anonymous said...

Read 'Left for Dead' - about the Fastnet race - put me off 'big' boating for life...!

Joe said...

Thank god I only have to worry about the cup holder!

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