Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: Sea Legs by Guy Grieve

This is one of those "we  took our family including children away from the life ashore, living in a yacht and sailing around the Caribbean" books. The plan was for the couple and their two children to explore those islands, then sail across the Atlantic back to Scotland, but they didn't, and the failures are what makes this story interesting.

Armed with little more than a day skipper certificate they let their house and flew off to the island of Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles to their new home, a 41 foot Hans Christian yacht. It was to be a tough beginning.

For a start it was a difficult port, close to the dangerous waters of Venezuela, the air full of mosquitoes and community unwelcome. Forget these stories of eternal friendships made in the cruising community; here there are sad faces and histories, people trapped in unseaworthy boats without money or hope.

Then to head in the direction they wanted it was basically upwind and everyone but the author's father-in-law got terribly seasick the moment the bow poked its head outside the harbour.

The learning curve was as they say steep. In fact the requirements on the skipper came faster than he'd like, resulting in a prang at one harbour, bashing into another yacht causing it damage. From there led to disputes with its vengeful owner and remote insurance companies.

The tourist images of unspoilt waters and friendly locals were unrealised, with aggressive local sales people, rip off merchants, wasted taxi drivers, unwelcome night time visitors and an encounter with all too likely real pirates.

As you'd expect the boat required all sorts of repairs, draining their savings, so that by the end the credit card was fully loaded and the father-in-law had to be tapped to pay the diesel.

By the time they'd sailed up to the good old USA they'd come to a realistic conclusion: the cross-Atlantic passage wasn't the place for their family including two young boys. They and the mother flew while Guy was joined by a friend he'd made on their travels to sail home double handed.

It wasn't an easy crossing, with ghastly storms, huge waves and a knock-down.

I wasn't that surprised that at the end of the book they family had sold the yacht and returned to their house on the island of Mull.

Too many of those sell-up and sail-away books paint a rosy picture that won't be realistic for all. If anyone is thinking of doing just that I'd really recommend you read this book to get a balancing picture.

Family life in a small boat, far from the stability of home, isn't all cool drinks at sunset in a bay of crystal clear waters.

I'd rather risk icebergs than real pirates any day.


Tillerman said...

I suspect this book is nearer to reality than a lot of the "follow your dream" stories.

It has struck me that many of the "sail around the world" blogs that I have started reading have petered out for all sorts of reasons - financial pressures, family needs, health issues and various problems with the cruising lifestyle.

And the ones that are still going end up writing about the pleasures of changing the light bulb in the head or what kind of soap they like best!

JP said...

Indeed, though it does work in some cases as per the Lisa Copeland books. But it requires a clear focus and/or plan (we sail this route then return to land), with everyone involved signed up.

I suspect there is a replacement set of new cruising blogs we should be looking into.

BTW, how many pedants does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: none, as you replace light bulbs.

Tillerman said...

Ha ha!

I have begun to realize that most people who set out to sail around the world from Europe or the east coast of North America, never actually get any further than the Caribbean. And I can understand that. The Caribbean is a delightful area and a wonderful place to cruise.

I have subconsciously started to classify cruising blogs into two groups based on whether or not the writers eventually transit the Panama Canal and start to cross the Pacific. There are a couple of the latter on my blogroll right now - Tamarisk and Evenstar (a former Laser sailor from Rhode Island no less).

JP said...

Thanks for those tips - I've just updated my blog roll (again)