There is a worm burrowing through my mind, excavating tunnels through the old dross, the petrified notions, and leaving barren tunnels, voids to be refilled – and quickly, lest my thoughts collapse like a worm-riven pier, or a tunnel beneath the Thames, for having lost too much of their structure. “Destruction breeds creation…”* This is true, and if you’re willing to work for it, the shipworms of mind and of material can be put to use to build you a better boat (more accurately: to force you to build yourself a better boat), a second boat co-equal if not identical to the one you had originally planned to sail, but which festered in the harbor of the middlin’ years.
Do you know of the Ship of Theseus? Do you know Theseus, the heroic son of the sea god Poseidon, renowned navigator of the wine-dark inland seas, as well as of the Minotaur’s dark labyrinth? Well navigators of the waves, as the navi in their title suggests, need a ship. Theseus’s ship was so wracked by storm & reef & battle that his court boatwright, the leading boatwright in all of Athens, was always replacing this plank or that, here a thwart, there a thwart, gunnels, cleats, & lines. Being a foresightful fellow, this unnamed boat meister always removed the soon-to-fail plank or cleat before it succumbed utterly to use and abuse at the hands of Theseus’ crew. Over a span of twenty odd years, he managed to collect – and eventually re-assemble – every single original part from Theseus’ ship. On the day the final original trenail was driven into the last-plucked original plank harvested from what had been that ship which Theseus sailed out of Athens’ harbor on his first faring against the piratical depredations of several notorious brigands, the boatwright thought to himself, “I now possess, honor, and cherish, The Ship of Theseus. Thank the Gods!” Across the harbor from where this old, but newly re-assembled ship was floating at her mooring, there was another man ready to set off again under the power of sails and his banks of rowers. Theseus stood on the deck, directing his crew: Raise the anchor, and let my ship sail. And all aboard were proud to take their places on the next voyage of the most famous and well maintained of all ships, The Ship of Theseus.
Every Philosophy 101 course spends a day or more trying to discern, which is THE Ship of Theseus? What does identity entail? Who has the better claim, the frugal boatwright or the Master of the Aegean?
I lost my ship, but some would argue that I could never lose what was never mine. Now S & I must decide if we’ll be aiming at a reproduction – inevitably scaled up for long-term, long-distance, cruising – of my Grandfather’s boat, or if we’ll invest in a new-to-us second or third hand boat. Our finances will most likely force us to the pragmatism of buying a boat the same way we afforded our little parrot: used. Between now and the time when that decision must be finalized, we have much to research, and many sailing lessons to get beneath our belts.
And without further adieu, here are the books:
The Most Important Book
Pride of place on this list goes to Robin Graham’s adventure tale, The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone, co-authored by Derek Gill. This book was first published in 1973, two years after my birth. If I can find the inscribed copy my parents gave me, I’ll have a sense for how long it took them both to discover the book, and to realize it would be a good gift. Most likely it was given before they realized their colossal mistake and began working to counter my voracious appetite for books, bibliophillic lumbricoid that I was. It’s possible they moved into a larger house simply to prevent the building from tipping over. As an adult, I have worked, perenially, to cull my collection and pass books to family, friends, libraries, and neighborhood kids, but my books still outweigh all our other household goods – combined. My folks were very happy I found a woman they could pawn me and my library off upon. Mom, God rest her soul (because I certainly didn’t), packed my books when I went off to college…she didn’t pitch them, but she got them prepared for their eviction. S swears she must die before me so she isn’t left sorting through the titles. For my kids, the library would be a strange inheritance, like a core-drilled sample of my mind, lumpy in the sense that I often read a few dozen books on a subject before another catches my attention, mostly worthless or curious at best, though with the odd first edition having, unbeknownst to us all, gone asymptotic in value. Find that needle, kids, a perhaps, too, a good read while you’re searching. The dollar value is nothing compared to the worlds of potential these books opened – so many that, according to many who think they know me, I’ve missed the real world going by. In reality, I’ve been making worlds while most of my peers have their worlds created by others, zombies at worship in front of their televisions. Elsewhere I’ve mentioned that once hooked on reading as a kid, my parents fought against my addiction in various constructive, but ultimately less fruitful ways: send him to camp; toss him in a pool at dawn; make him take piano lessons…no, trumpet lessons; make him play soccer; ballroom dancing?…nope, can’t get him out of the oak tree in the front yard; make him join the Boy Scouts. They paid my brother to read, and somehow he convinced them that he did. I was quite jealous of those quarters – think of the books I could have purchased without have to mow lawns, pull weeds, and mulch! Suffice to say, my brother made it through college with the unfaltering belief that an epic was bound in yellow and black, and was typically forty pages long. My parents coin tricks worked another wonder for that other son: the boy Croesus become a man, and his destiny is not yet fulfilled.
Give books to children should be a universal dictum. Give The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone (along with a copy of Rascal) to every kid you know. Sow the seeds of wanderlust. What’s not to like? Cats ahoy, fresh flying fish, Storms, wreckage, sharks, natives, fellow travelers, a poisonous shell, a beautiful young woman, sailing yarns, more storms, survival against all odds, and five years or so later he’s back around to his home port.
A caution: when I first read and reread this book, logging it into memory, I entirely missed the clear proselytizing that is in the version I recently bought to re-read, which is The Boy Who Sailed ‘Round (note: not Around) the World Alone, and promoted above the title with this blurb: The International Best-Selling True Story Now in Youth Edition. The early version I read was a “Golden” book and this one is published by World Books, so it’s possible that the 1973 version was lighter on religion than the 1985 version; I’ll report back if I can find my original copy (because I’m not buying one at $100 a pop). In either format, this is a “juvenile” book, but it’s a fun & worthwhile read for any adult as much as any kid who you might be trying to sway from the straight and narrow path most of us follow: birth, taxes, death. Given that I sailed every summer with my Granddad, I had a partial understanding of what Robin was up to, and up against, in his little 24′ S/Y Dove, though I couldn’t imagine taking a boat of comparable size out to sea. I dreamed of oceans and forty years later I have become increasingly enamored of one particular sea. If I sail the Caribbean for two or three years, that will be a good start. A late start. Maybe I should have read less. Nahhh….
Other books we’ll explore here as I have time…
An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Anne Vanderhoof
The Spice Necklace by Anne Vanderhoof
Sailing Alone Around The World by Joshua Slocum. When our family spent a week in the British Virgins, the owners of the cottage that my father rented had a copy of Slocum’s book and it was recommended, by George! George being my ancient Aunt’s husband and fellow traveler, both at that point at or on the cusp of being nonagenarians. I scratched a note in my journal and bought the Illustrated Edition when we got home, the one introduced by Geoffrey Wolff. Now I need to make time to read it, especially since everyone seems to reference it.
BYOB: Bring Your Own Boat (Caribbean Island Hopping) by Captain John Wright
Off The Grid by Captain Mark J. Reinhardt. Spare me. Spare yourself. At a certain level, I’m glad that my seventeen bucks are helping this guy to live off the grid. Spending on this book reminds me of S’s “homeless” bags that she stows in all our cars, adults and driving youth. These bags have a day’s worth of food – granola bars, protein bars, crackers – along with a fresh pair of socks and all the dopp kit stuff a homeless person could wish for if they wanted to get cleaned up in a shelter or at the river’s edge. In other words, the homeless bag is well intended charity, be kind to the less fortunate, save your soul by saving others, etc. Buying OTG has the same sort of feel. Or maybe trying to pawn this off on my super-ego as ‘it was charity’ is the ego’s way of compensating for my id’s momentary lapse of reason. Maybe I’m just sucker, born some moments back, and Mark’s tempting subtitle found, in my landbound soul, an easy mark. He got me at How I Quit The Rat Race And Live For Free Aboard A Sailboat. I’m halfway through – I paid for it, I have to read it – and have made one note, perhaps the note that will save S and me someday: Buy Urethane Caulking (for plugging holes below the waterline). I get it, the premise behind the book – Mark sees God’s hand in the arc he’s traveling, and that should have been the book he wrote and advertised; there are faith-oriented publishers, with ethical editors in their employ. Unfortunately, when I’m on the prowl for snug budget sailing tips, I don’t need to read the disjointed stories about his cigarettes, beer, foolish shennanigans, and alcohol tinged lapses of judgement (even if I can give the nod to appreciating the serendipities which befall him), all of which seem, so far, to give a wide berth what he promised, i.e., a book that will teach the reader how to live on $5,000.00 per year while traveling the world. If Mark had an address where you could send him tinned food and warm beer, the postage spent would be a better use of your funds than buying his book. Give Off The Grid a wide berth, but don’t begrudge the man for writing what he felt he had to write. It’s entirely possible that he’ll save you from the sea someday. LOL. Yes, OTG is going on the free pile at the next neighborhood yard sale. If I bundled it with the Pardey’s Self Sufficient Sailor, which I won’t, the two books would perfectly cancel each other out, the negative and the positive, anti-matter and matter, the resultant cataclysm leading to the annihilation of this eon, the Brahmins’ promise. Mea Kalpa, Mea Kalpa. Sic? Probably.
Self Sufficient Sailor (Third Edition) by Lin and Larry Pardey
*See, I goofed that lyric fragment, shortening it dramatically, and without realizing I did it until I checked. The Chili Peppers evidently wrote it out more like this: Destruction leads to a very rough road/But it also breeds creation. Sentiment is the same, but my elided version wouldn’t have functioned lyrically.