An Ocean to Cross

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The Book of the Week is “An Ocean to Cross, Daring the Atlantic, Claiming A New Life” by Liz Fordred with Susie Blackmun, published in 2001.

The author was born in 1953 in Southern Rhodesia. By the late 1970’s, she and her husband were both wheelchair-bound, due to a horseback-riding accident and an auto accident, respectively. Gluttons for punishment that they were, they decided to pursue the husband’s idea of building a boat with their personal hands, customized for them, and sailing it across the Atlantic Ocean. Many people who cast doubt on their dream had no clue how persistent, creative and resourceful this couple was.

The two were able to cut through some bureaucratic red tape in their home country because there were so few people of fair skin, including them and their then-leader, Ian Smith. But they encountered numerous delays for various reasons, including lack of money, lack of experience in boat-building and sailing, and government regulations. Their native Rhodesia was in the midst of political turmoil, and they needed sailing-practice in a challenging geographic location.

So they moved their craft to the South African coast, where they had to deal with South African customs, and submit a mountain of paperwork for various other reasons, including financing their boat-construction and supplies through: a bank loan, getting articles on their story published, and attracting sponsors. A series of guardian angels provided assistance through the whole laborious process.

Of course, they underestimated how much the entire project would cost and how long it would take; just one example– they allocated four days, with the help of family and friends, to drive their multiple vehicles to transport the boat (which was still a work in progress) to the Royal Cape Yacht Club in Cape Town South Africa, their launching place. Read the book to learn about: how long it really took, the details of their whole ordeal, and their learning-experiences and growth; from start to finish.

A Storm Too Soon – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “A Storm Too Soon, A True Story of Disaster, Survival, and an Incredible Rescue” by Michael J. Touglas, published in 2013.

This suspenseful story recounted the abbreviated May 2007 voyage of three Darwin-Award candidates who began to sail from the northern coast of Florida across the Atlantic Ocean to Gibraltar. Hazards included, among others– sudden, unexpected storms, spilled contents of container ships and inaccurate maps (due to recently washed-away sandbars).

“Every screw, rivet, line, seam, porthole, and the rest of what makes up a sailboat has to hold under the assault of the seas.” Unfortunately, the entire contents of the captain and crew’s 55-foot sailboat had a difficult time staying afloat, when an unseasonable squall broke a window that immediately let in 80-foot-high waves and 80-knot wind gusts. Miraculously, the life raft stayed intact. However, the various tools they had for sending distress signals to the Coast Guard were less than ideal, for different reasons.

Predictably, the three men were at high risk for drowning, harm from sharks, dehydration and hypothermia. In a case like this, rescuers who approach them via C-130 plane and helicopter, risk their lives in numerous ways. First, the plane searches an area equivalent to the needle-in-a-haystack cliche.

Read the book to learn many more details, and the fate of the participants in the above story.

North By Northwest / My Old Man and the Sea

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The first Book of the Week is “North By Northwest, A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaska Waters” by Captain Sig Hansen and Mark Sundeen, published in 2010.

Born in the Seattle area in 1966, Hansen was of Norwegian ancestry. He was mentored in fishing for a living by his grandfather, father, and the Norwegian fishing community. His older male relatives had been sourcing seafood for decades. The community had been growing in the upper Midwest in the United States since the early 1800’s. It was a lucrative, male-dominated career– a subculture bearing a resemblance to military life in certain ways:

  • Teamwork was required of five or six men who lived in close quarters, doing rigorous physical work under life-threatening conditions at all times at sea;
  • There were numerous ways to: become seriously injured, and / or suffer serious financial losses rather than reap huge financial gains from selling expensive seafood;
  • The crew consisted of a hierarchy whose entry involved initiation rites in the form of practical jokes that were not always harmless; and
  • Even during the off-season, the men’s drinking fostered male bonding that allowed them to mitigate the emotional stress of their work, and maintain their relationships in the old-boy network.

After high school, Hansen apprenticed as a deckhand on his father’s boat. The men were away at sea from nine to eleven months of the year, using “pots” (large, unwieldy cages that trap the seafood) to catch: red crab in the Bering Sea and near Nome in Alaska and near Adak, blue crab at St. Matthew, and opilio crab at Dutch Harbor.

In the 1980’s, the fishermen were allowed to carry boxes of live crabs in the plane cabin on Reeve Aleutian Airways. When starting their winter fishing season, if they were extremely lucky, they could complete their flight from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor in Alaska on an icy twin-prop plane. They booked it months in advance, arrived at the airport in the wee hours of the morning, and prayed that the weather would cooperate.

Read the book to learn a little history about seafaring in general, including the context of the following quote:

“That winter he was killed by Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay, his body torn apart and burned.”

and much more about Hansen’s life and times in his community. By the way, he appeared on the reality TV show, “Deadliest Catch.”

The second Book of the Week is “My Old Man and the Sea, A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn” by David Hays and Daniel Hays, published in 1995. Father and son alternately described, beginning in the new year of 1985, their adventures at sea– sailing (with no motor) on a tiny yacht for fun from New London, Connecticut southward thousands of miles, and eventually, around the tip of South America from west to east (the less dangerous route). They began testing their boat in fall 1984, sailing through the Panama Canal, and the Caribbean Sea.

As they well knew, all kinds of discomforts and life-threatening dangers awaited them. That was the challenge of it. Even with all of their experience in purchasing the boat, making it seaworthy (over the course of two years), maintaining their (then-primitive) communications and navigation equipment (which required them to pack thousands of items for every possible scenario they might encounter), they still suffered injuries, seasickness, hangovers, etc. When sailing along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts, the chart warned them to watch out for “… unexploded mines, rocket casings and torpedoes, and chemical warfare dumpings.”

On their voyages, they met with visiting family or friends to celebrate Jewish holidays such as Yom Kippur. They attended a service at a synagogue on the island of Jamaica. The ark and dais were at opposite ends of the sanctuary, on a floor comprised of sand (representative of a desert).

Much later, when they arrived at a port in the Galapagos Islands, local law allowed them to pollute the water there for only three days; then they had to ship out. The authors described the area thusly: “In the name of white rice and virginity, Western man spent a good two hundred years raping, robbing, and leaving neat diseases here.” It was rumored to be a gateway to Atlantis, and the approximate population was three thousand.

The onshore entertainment consisted of the American movie “Blade Runner” whose soundtrack was poor quality, and whose reels were screened out of order, but the native people in the theater were undemanding.

The authors related that it is easily conceivable that about a hundred men could have made the sculptures on Easter Island over the course of a few decades, thus blowing speculations of alien-artists out of the water.

Read the book to: learn additional info about the authors’ adventures at sea (including their crazy pets), about previous trips made by them and others, see sample pages of their log, a diagram of their boat, and much more.

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.

From Raft to Raft

The Book of the Week is “From Raft to Raft” by Bengt Danielsson, originally published in 1960.  This ebook recounts the suspenseful stories of two voyages of a small group of men on a raft in the South Seas.

The author found he enjoyed the seafaring life, so he met up with his older brother to live it. In late 1956, their thrill-seeking led them to engage in the ultimate survival challenge by teaming up with a few other men to attempt to sail from Tahiti to Chile in a raft they built themselves, like Thor Heyerdahl had done in 1947. Danielsson described how they fared on that trip and a second one, and related an element crucial for survival at sea when things go wrong:  “Our safety depended… on agreeing and co-operating fully, and if, for example, Jean and Hans refused to take watches [do a shift navigating] the end would be disaster for us all.”

Another aspect of a sailing expedition was that if untoward things happened and the crew members decided to express their dissatisfaction through a mutiny, the captain usually had an ace-in-the hole. He could remind his men that there were documented laws vesting him with the authority to severely punish them when they got back to shore. Unfortunately, although he was put in charge by the captain who had fallen ill, Danielsson was on an informal sojourn, so he had no power to threaten his underlings with any consequences if they went on strike.

In the late 1950’s, nautical navigation and wireless-radio technology left a lot to be desired. Their supplies rapidly dwindling, the men tried to head for the closest South Sea island they could. At one point, it was actually fortunate that prevailing winds pushed the men’s raft away from a particular island called Starbuck. For, unbeknownst to them (which the author found out later)–had they landed there, they would have encountered unbearable screaming of seabirds, extreme heat and blinding sunlight.

Read the book to learn how the men fared on their journeys.