"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Steady as she goes... in the godforsaken sea (book reviews)

I love being on the water. I always dreamed of living on a houseboat and finally did that, for a few years, in DC. Then I lived on a lake for several years, where where I could swim 24/7. Sailed a little, too. I've loved body surfing in the Mediterranean (when a storm brought in some waves), Hawaii, South India's western coast, and the Atlantic off Assateague Island and Nag's Head. I ran rivers for decades, in rafts and canoes, in several states, starting when I was a kid and my father bought a couple of surplus Army rafts, pretty much pioneering the sport in northern California. But since I've lived here in the mountains, I haven't done any of that, except for a couple of guided tours -- a jet boat ride in the Rogue River's Hellgate Canyon and a lovely raft trip on the upper Klamath. Southern Oregon does have beautiful rivers and some of them are even being set free, with the removal of dams.

And now all the bad news - radiation from Fukushima poisoning whales, the giant toxic plastic soup in the middle of the Pacific, and of course the huge dead zone now from BP in the Gulf... I almost can't think about water anymore, it's so depressing. Here are a couple of books I was able to enjoy in more innocent times, having to do with human adventures on water. These are ones I reviewed in SLJ. Maybe I'll add more later. Most of my adventures were far tamer than any of these (though I did nearly drown twice and suffered a badly broken leg once on rafting trips), I saw enough to appreciate what these people experienced, and their stories are well told.

In this anthology, women writers render in vivid and often moving terms their stories of shipwrecks, busy harbors, big oceans, and small boats. 

Some traveled alone, while others had families or partners. 

One gloried in her work as a mechanic in a noisy engine room, while another rowed long distances alone in silence along the coast, reveling in her strong muscles. 

They were novices or lifelong sailors, captains or crew, aboard to make a living or to realize a dream before settling down. 

One woman learned an important lesson when she made a youthful error in judgment during a yacht race. Another made a naturalist's journey to the Sea of Cortez. Yet another worked on an Alaskan fishing boat. 

Some writers swagger, while others muse; each essay is well written, in a unique voice. Most are original to this volume, though a few are reprinted or excerpted (one rather abruptly). The 20 essays, and the fine introduction by the editor, cover such a wide range of experience that it seems at first that the only thing they have in common is water (and that the women all lived long enough to write about their experiences in or on it). 

But running through all of the selections are threads of quiet courage, an often stunning originality, self-confidence, presence of mind, and a degree of vitality that should appeal strongly to readers of all ages.

Godforsaken Sea: The True Story of a Race Through the World's Most Dangerous Waters  by Derek Lundy.

Arguably the most extreme sporting activity of any kind, the Vendee Globe is the "Everest of sailing races." In this four-month, single-handed circumnavigation, the competitors follow a hazardous route down through the Atlantic to the bottom of the world, around Antarctica, and back again. 

In the "godforsaken" Southern Sea it is difficult just to survive, let alone race. In continuous gales unimpeded by land masses, hurricane-force winds whip up waves several stories tall. Freezing temperatures, poor visibility, icebergs, and sleep deprivation compound the challenge to the sailors, who hurtle through these waters at top speeds in lightweight 60-foot boats. To stay in the race, competitors must not accept help with repairs or stop for supplies.

Lundy relates the suspenseful tale of the 1996-97 race, in which there were a string of disasters, several thrilling rescues, and one competitor lost at sea. Radical new boat designs were put to the test and humans were pushed beyond what would seem possible (one even performed emergency surgery upon himself).

The author writes with such skill that even non-sailors will appreciate the conditions and feats he describes. He is equally adept at showing the personalities, motivations, and gifts of the men and women drawn to this challenge, and brings these unusual individuals to life. Musing on the meaning of it all, Lundy extends the perspective beyond the world of sports, and gives readers plenty to think about. This fine work of journalism should have broad and strong appeal.

I'll probably be adding more links and related reviews to this post later.

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