Friday, November 7, 2008

Circumnavigation Routes, Part 4

Chasing Sunsets: A Practicing Devout Coward's Circumnavigation by Lawrence PaneBefore we left for Mexico, I placed an order for the book recommended to me by "Melissa" in a comment to the first of these Circumnavigation Routes posts, Chasing Sunsets: A Practicing Devout Coward's Circumnavigation by Lawrence Pane. While I was at it, I also ordered Hal Roth's How to Sail Around the World: Advice and Ideas for Voyaging Under Sail, which I have wanted since browsing through it in a bookstore a few years ago.

Vacations are great opportunities for "power reading" and I had planned to spend many hours reading Chasing Sunsets. The book tells the story of the Pane family, Lawrence ("Laurie"), wife Carole and son Ryan, who set sail on their circumnavigation from Marina Del Ray, California in March, 1996 aboard their 1987 Mason 53 center cockpit cutter, Dolphin Spirit, and arrived back home in April, 2002. It sounds like a great premise, but I found myself starting to lose interest only sixty pages into it, for a number of reasons.

The book lists Carole and Ryan as co-authors, and the narrative is liberally sprinkled with their comments, as italicized asides in their own words. I found this format to be distracting, especially since many of the comments added little to the story aside from a slightly different perspective on what Laurie had just presented. Carole's comments tended to create a less than positive image of her personality. She was a reluctant participant in the adventure and lets the reader know this, repeatedly. I found myself thinking: you're doing something most people only dream of; you're doing it with your family, which includes a husband who is a safe, competent sailor; you're doing it on a large sailboat that features every conceivable convenience; and you're doing it while sparing no expense. What is the problem?

Another complaint I have is that the Pane family's voyage seemed unrealistically luxurious, way beyond the financial reach of most people and therefore difficult to relate to. The nine-year-old, fifty-three foot, totally tricked-out sailboat? Laurie mentions that it was paid for before the trip began. He politely doesn't mention the price, but a boat like that must have cost at least $500,000. Six years without substantial income? Laurie estimates that the trip cost about $40,000 a year in expenses, or $240,000 for the whole trip. It all adds up to a lot of money. I would rather read a story about people closer to my own means, people who are sailing their dream in a modestly sized boat while being as self-sufficient as possible, people like Hal Roth, whom I will get to shortly.

Even without the comments by Carole and Ryan, the narrative tends to read like a travelogue, with too much "we did this and then we did that" to provide a compelling storyline. After the first two chapters, I started flipping to the back of the book to check the appendices and the color photographs. There I found some good concise information: answers to frequently asked questions, covering everything from the threat of piracy to the best places visited; a complete equipment list, including spare parts; and a comprehensive bibliography listing all the pilot guides and other books referenced during the voyage.

As I read the appendices, I recalled that "Melissa" had referred to Chasing Sunsets as a great reference for planning a circumnavigation, and I can agree with that. When the time comes, I might check the book for information about such details as the best anchorages in Tahiti, but for now, I am setting it aside.

How to Sail Around the World: Advice and Ideas for Voyaging Under Sail by Hal RothHal Roth's book, despite its title, is not a step-by-step guide for sailing around the world. Instead it is a collection of twenty-nine short articles detailing the knowledge that Hal and his wife Margaret have gained over a lifetime of sailing. It begins with the dream of traveling the world and then outlines the advantages and economy of doing it in a sailboat. Hal makes it all seem so romantic and so possible. He favors providence over preparation, encouraging the reader to get out there and sail, not to sit at the dock fretting over endless equipment and to-do lists.

Simplicity naturally leads to thrift. For example, Hal sails without refrigeration and rarely uses his boat's diesel engine. But he doesn't skimp on safety, and there are several chapters on "storm management." I didn't read the book straight through but rather jumped from chapter to chapter as interest dictated. One of my personal cruising concerns is about how to handle the necessary paperwork for clearing in and out of foreign countries. Hal dedicates an entire chapter to the process, with plenty of real-life examples. He concludes with a chapter entitled "The Dream and the Reality," some final thoughts and advice on the sailing life, including the admonition to "have some fun every day."

While both books made me daydream about sailing away, only Hal Roth's book made it seem like a practical undertaking, an adventure that could begin right away instead of an expensive fantasy for some distant future. Excellent advice and an encouraging tone make How to Sail Around the World a book that every sailing dreamer should have on his shelf.

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