- by Carol Standish
Fair Wind and Plenty of It
(Rodale, 392pp, $23.95)
When Rigel Crockett returned home to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia after a year and a half circumnavigation of the globe in the square-rigged barque, Picton Castle, his father embraced him, saying over and over, “What a thing you did, Rigel. What a thing you did.” Rigel and his family are boat builders and sail makers and have lived by the grace of the ocean all their lives. His dad knew in his marrow what an incredible achievement his young son had accomplished. For the rest of us, Rigel Crockett increased that achievement by writing quite a wonderful book about his experience.
From the perspective of a salty 23 year old just out of college in the process of identifying his life’s work, the opportunity to sail the globe as part of the working crew under captain he admired was the grand prize. With all the enthusiasm and trepidation of youth, Crockett pours himself into the job as well as the off-time recreational pursuits the trip offered. With a curious mind and an adventurous spirit, Crockett honed his sailing skills, sweated and strained, risked life, limb and ego, had his feelings hurt, pined for his shore-side girlfriend while contemplating a relationship with a female crew member, tried surfing, trekking, diving, fishing, drank a lot, smoked some dope, got tattooed, made friends with crew and native hosts, got mugged, rescued a kitten and kept a journal among other things.
The book is much more than a coming of age narrative. The Picton Castle visited some of the most exotic spots on earth, the Galapagos, Pitcairn, Bora Bora, Fiji, the Solomons, Darwin, Australia, Bali, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa, to mention just a few of the 69 year old ship’s ports of call. Crockett is as eager as a puppy to dive into each new culture and soak it up, so as a travelogue the book is full of quirky detail and off the beaten track personal experience. But he is also thoughtful, even introspective about the variety of life he is absorbing. In the Tuamotu Archipelago he visits a sailing cargo ship wrecked on the reefs in 1906. He later writes, “Adventure travel is a sort of commerce, but seeing this ship that had sailed because she had to made me wonder why we imitated her, when clearly we didn’t have to.” He then extends the thought into a brief discussion of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time which he had just finished reading.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Fair Wind is the utter frankness with which Crockett writes. Although there are interpersonal bad patches aboard ship over the course of 18 months Crockett never whines. Without guile or guises, he speaks his immediate mind, expresses his immediate feelings whether he’s screwed up his job and feeling shame or contemplating the overwhelming awe of the night sky. The experience has certainly built his character but he brought a lot with him.