Monday, January 29, 2007

Review from the Winnipeg Free Press, Jan 28/07

Winnipeg Free Press

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

Dream trip Interesting

4,800-km journey also a tough, tiring voyage

Sailing Away from Winter: A Cruise from Nova Scotia to Florida and Beyond

By Silver Donald Cameron

Douglas Gibson/M&S, 320 pages, $35

Reviewed by Margo Goodhand

CAN there be anything more appealing than a title like this in the middle of the Prairies in the middle of a dark cold spell in January? Shiver our timbers, indeed.

Maritime author Silver Donald Cameron dreamed of making this year-long, 4,800-km cruise to the Bahamas and back for 30 years before he finally realized, at the age of 67, he'd be foolish to put it off any longer. When he finally set sail July 21, 2004, he discovered he was charting a pretty familiar course. Hundreds of Canadians make the pilgrimage every year in search of summer. He sailed with his wife Marjorie Simmins and their trusty dog Leo the Wonder Whippet. The further south they got, however, the more they found themselves in a veritable flotilla of winter-weary Canucks.

Theirs is a particularly interesting journey because they take the Intracoastal Waterway, a winding, interconnected system of canals, inlets, bays, sounds and rivers that provide a sheltered route from Norfolk, Va., down the U.S. coast to the Florida Keys. You can travel 1,800 km through "The Big Ditch" and never enter the open sea, Cameron says, and you also pass through some of the most beautiful and historic cities in the U.S. -- Beaufort, Charleston, Savannah.

The only catch is the couple kicks off their voyage in Nova Scotia -- north of Canso, in fact. And they have about 1,600 km of open sea to cover before they get to Virginia. And they're travelling with the aforesaid 13-year-old wonder dog, which takes up a considerable amount of ink in this book because it is on its last legs, apparently, and one of their biggest concerns on board.

"Cruising books lead you to imagine idyllic sailing, exotic foods, snorkelling, snoozing, and sun-downers in the cockpit," writes Cameron, who has penned numerous books, both fiction and non-fiction, on Maritime subjects. "But few writers admit that such days are sandwiched between intense attention to the forecasts, the navigation and the diesel engine, and long trudges through small-town streets, carrying heavy burdens of food, dirty clothes, and motor oil."

Cameron can't be accused of glossing over the mundane realities of the trip. We read a lot about how hard it is to find a barber shop, Leo's early-morning pees (he has to disembark, for some reason, before he can go, which makes for some anxious times for dog and crew), their good meals, their bad pizzas, their search for an O-ring and other sundry boat parts. In fact, the detail sometimes bogs down the narrative.

But overall, this is interesting reading for any armchair traveller who is even remotely interested in the East Coast. Cameron meticulously chronicles each step of the way, vividly bringing to life, for example, the couple's exhilaration as they putt past the Statue of Liberty in New York's famous harbour. And you learn interesting tidbits about Chesapeake Bay (18,700 contorted kilometres of gorgeous and historic shoreline); about the "treacherous" New Jersey coastline (who knew?); about the balmy Bahamas and the enduring legacy of the American Civil War.

Cameron's adventures also underscore the danger attached to a trip like this. He runs into a wharf, dodges lobster traps, survives a hellish 24-hour storm, and suffers through a whole gamut of mechanical breakdowns. And he is an experienced sailor with a good vessel.

He's honest enough to admit at one point that he just wants to go home. "This was supposed to be fun," he tells his wife. "But it's just bloody hard work, frightening and miserable. Fuel problems. Electronic problems. Diabolical tides and contrary winds... The hell with it."

Luckily for us and him, she talks him out of it. And at the end, their friends remark on how much younger the couple looks -- tanned, fit, and trim. Even the dog is perkier.

"The voyage had changed us," Cameron writes. "Only now did I realize that I had, in a sense, sailed away from old age and gained a new sense of freedom."

Free Press deputy editor Margo Goodhand is still decades too young to contemplate such an arduous adventure.

No comments: