Friday, March 30, 2007

Thumbs-down review from Canadian Geographic

Sailing Away from Winter is reviewed in the current issue of Canadian Geographic. Into every life a little rain must fall, and this review is a cold shower. Ah, well. You can't win 'em all. Here's the review:

Sailing Away from Winter: Canadian Geographic review by Allan Casey

Silver Donald Cameron is one of Nova Scotia's more prolific contemporary scribes, running the gamut from playwright to novelist and newspaper columnist. Even if you are not native to his beloved Cape Breton, you probably know his salty byline. "Silver," he explains, because there were too many Donald Camerons in Canada. But his hustle to survive as a freelance writer never left the lifelong sailor time to make the kind of epic voyage worthy of his dreams.

He proposes to sail down the Eastern Seaboard and out to the Bahamas — epic enough. But there are complications. His wife Marjorie wants to come along but worries the trip will be the death of the aging family dog, Leo. If Leo does keel over en route, will recrimination bloom in the tight quarters of the 31-foot Magnus? Above all, Cameron is getting to be an old dog himself — now pushing 70 — and unsure he's still up to the rigours of life aboard.

I've gone to literary sea with everyone from Joshua Slocum to Dame Naomi James, and I was eager to ship out under this seasoned raconteur-captain, to see where his "old-manand- the-sea" plot might take him. Unfortunately, Sailing Away from Winter is a tedious blur that never arrives at the thematic destination it promises.

Despite the title, Cameron seldom sails at all but, instead, motors south via the Intracoastal Waterway, a.k.a. "The Big Ditch," the most well-beaten path for yacht cruisers on Earth.

Moreover, as the author himself complains, cruising leaves little time for discovery. Cameron seems trapped in an endless quest for groceries, boat parts and a place to let an old dog pee.

The story ends up being about crowded marinas too much like one another and cruisers too much like the protagonists. "The truly disquieting thought," writes Cameron, "was that I was just another aging bourgeois, diligently pursuing a fake adventure with the odds stacked heavily in my favour."

We never do learn mate Marjorie's views on the voyage or even the fate of poor Leo the dog. The tale ends abruptly in the Caribbean, the trip home unexplained. One wonders whether the real story begins there. Perhaps a sequel will reveal all.

—Allan Casey
Allan Casey is a boatbuilder and a freelance writer in Saskatoon.


John said...

Silver Donald: Having read of some of your trip, excerpted online for the Herald (and me, of course) I was surprised to read the review. I was quite taken with your account of the trip, albeit in a shortened version for your pieces, and in fact passed some on to an acquaintance who is also (like yourself) a boating guy, and lives on his boat through the summer. That said...the review...YIKES!
John Johnson (

Aloha27 said...

A review coming from such a sage as a boatbuilder in Saskatoon. (Wonder if he uses genuine sealskin bindings?)

I believe a fair comparison would be me saying I was a wheat farmer from Nova Scotia.

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