Sailing to…

“… a mere pebble on the fringes of a vast flood of change which has spilled across the media headlines and alters the perceptions of half the world almost from day to day.

The author was referring to his voyage in the above quote.

The Book of the Week is “Sailing to Leningrad, A Voyage Through the Baltic” by Roger Foxall, published in 1989.

The author– an Irish sea captain– and a fluidly changing crew (who were picked up or dropped off in various territories) of four to six people, including his wife and son, sailed a small yacht, starting from south western Ireland, around the Baltic Sea in the summer of 1987.

It might be recalled that a mere three decades ago, the world was changing for the better. A throwaway line of an ad for a financial institution of two decades ago is a nostalgic dream dispenser: “For the swift and sure, the rewards have never been greater.”

In the mid-1980’s, Foxall saw the changing political winds. He was the first captain from “Britain and Ireland” to get permission from the government of the former Soviet Union in about seventy years, to grace the coasts of that once mighty empire. The voyage took the sailors to thirteen countries spanning 4,400 miles.

There were hazards on the coasts, such as (explosive) mines, boulders and shipwrecks, as well as adverse weather to contend with; never mind paperwork, phone calls and bureaucracy in dealing with a range of different embassies and governments in requesting to dock at all the different ports on the itinerary, and in requesting to come ashore. Securing equipment and supplies, and purchasing yacht insurance, were also part of the years-long trip-planning process.

The author had read the logs of two different ships that had sailed in the same area around 1860. Of course, they lacked the labor-saving, damage-preventing and comfort-giving devices mariners enjoy in modern times. Even into the 1970’s, winter was a dangerous time to travel in the northern latitudes. According to the 1980’s author, a 35,000 horsepower machine had been invented that could break ice more than two feet thick.

However, modern technology has its drawbacks. Nowadays, phones and the Web make users hypersensitive to what everyone else is doing and where they are– all the time. For the captain, there was no point in worrying about his wife and son when he was away from them and couldn’t communicate with them. But currently in the United States, just hearing about people who have fallen ill is a much more traumatic event than it used to be, with all the pervasive, fast and furious propaganda.

Anyway, during their voyage, the captain and crew met friendly northern and eastern Europeans. The author described the different cultures they encountered. The Finns, who took great pains to disassociate themselves from Russian identity, fed the captain and crew goat cheese pastries and smoked reindeer meat. When the crew stopped by Helsinki, the sailors met people who lived on the same block as the prime minister of Finland. It wasn’t a big deal to those Finns; they didn’t even have extra security in the vicinity. Inhabitants of Poland took their sailing very seriously, ranking it just under (European) football.

Read the book to learn of the sailors’ adventures.