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Book Note: Stuart Woods, Blue Water, Green Skipper

I read this book about 28-May-2017. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 1977. This note was last modified Wednesday, 31-May-2017 15:01:33 PDT.

This note does not contain major spoilers for the book.


Non-fiction (as much as a memoir ever is), and his first published book. This seems to have launched his fiction career, too.

This is the story of his taking up sailing seriously in Ireland (where he's supposed to be working on his novel, in between working two days a week in advertising), and in two years going from 10-foot dinghys to racing a custom-built yacht single-handed across the Atlantic.

If I'm reading this right, he'd been in advertising for 13 years, making his experience there practically "Mad Men" vintage.

I'm appalled at the amount of trouble he had with his custom-built boat. Things that to me reek of major design flaws he accepts fairly calmly (and the fix involved basically fixing the design, not just patching something).

He clearly had at least two very close calls during the race, rescuing sails swept overboard (despite being lashed down). Turns out masses of water can exert really large amounts of force. That's something casual sailing won't actually teach you; it takes being out there for extended periods in bad weather.

Two people died in the race. It was the first time anybody had died in that race, but single-handing a sail-boat across the Atlantic does strike me as insanely stupid. That first bit where they have to stay awake for 48 hours (to get out of the busy sea near the starting point) is also absurd. Apparently even back then there was pressure for the race not to be run any more by people who felt it was too dangerous. For myself, I don't care all that much if people with this much experience kill themselves off; if they don't understand the risks by the time they qualify for this race, that's their own problem. If rescuing them puts the rescuers at serious risk that might be a concern, but that doesn't seem that likely (or that much more likely than with larger crews). And the other boats they might hit are generally so much bigger that they're not at risk, so no problem there. Woods makes an argument that it's important to allow people adventures, and while I don't have much of that urge myself, I think it may be true. This may be one of the better ways (compared to say the mess that climbers are making of Everest and vicinity).

Myself, I've been on a sailboat in a lake once. Oh, actually I did conn a sailboat (under power at the time) in San Francisco Bay briefly once decades ago also. Yeah, not evaluating anything in this book based on expert knowledge of my own.


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David Dyer-Bennet