Three Ways to Capsize a Boat|
An Optimist Afloat
Broadway Books, 192pp, $12.99
In preparation for the coming boating season, a little humor is in order, or in the case of this book, a whole lot of humor. Chris Stewart is a multi-talented individual with a special aptitude for taking on the preposterous without blinking an eye. A former rock band drummer and sheep farmer (does that combination tell you anything) Stewart finds himself in the late 1980s, out of work and living with his sister. When an old acquaintance asks him if he would be interested in a job skippering a sailboat in the Aegean for the coming summer he jumps at the chance, goes for an interview, is charmed by and charms his future employers and gets the job. Next step: learn to sail.
Serendipitously, an acquaintance has a sailboat and needs a crew. Stewart's first sail ever, is a parody of the Marx brothers, but perseverance furthers and Stewart decides to take instruction. His instructor is Tom Cunliffe (future author of the classic Hand Reef and Steer and many other boating books). Stewart is a quick study and he’s off to Greece for the summer. But this idyllic job--which he performs joyfully and without major incident--is a mere preamble. Stewart falls in love with sailing and the sea and his account of his summer in Greece is rich, lively, deeply appreciative and full of self-deprecating humor. So far so good.
Still flush from the life changing experience on the Aegean, Stewart is a sitting duck when his former instructor, Cunliffe, asks him if he would like be a crew member on a proposed voyage that would re-trace the 10th century Viking voyage from Norway to Iceland to Greenland to Newfoundland. Our hero jumps at the chance. (Do you see a possible problem here, like maybe latitude?)
Stewart's account of the months' long voyage is harrowing but he never fails to find humor in dreadfully dire circumstances. Perhaps the fact that Cunliffe's four year old daughter is unfazed by the extremely bumpy ride is the inspiration for Stewart's retreat into nonsense rhymes about going to sea in a sieve. The comic relief is welcome even if the reader doesn't want the book to end. (Cunliffe has also written an account of this voyage called Topsail and Battleaxe - A Voyage in the wake of the Vikings but that sounds like a winter read and summer sailing weather is coming on fast.)