Monday, May 5, 2008

Cruising World review by Myron Arms

Sailing Away from Winter by Silver Donald Cameron($26; 2006;McClelland and Stewart, Is there still adventure and white-knuckle danger in a passage from Atlantic Canada to the white-sand beaches of the Bahamas? The answer for this intrepid Canadian sailing couple and their geriatric dog, Leo, is a resounding yes. As they wander down the length of the Eastern Seaboard, celebrated Canadian author Cameron and his wife, Marjorie, travel more than 3000 miles, surviving a series of near catastrophes and meeting a cast of unforgettable characters along the way. Winter is a must-read, both for those who've already made such a journey and for those who dream of doing so.

Myron Arms Cruising World March 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

Review by Halifax writer Rob Dunbar

Sailing Away from Winter


Rob Dunbar

After reading the first page of Sailing Away From Winter I immediately realized that I had forgotten what a good writer Silver Donald Cameron is. Unlike many sailing adventure books, Cameron shies away from writing a glorified log book but rather makes the reader feel that he is in the cockpit of “Magnus” and experiences the joys of sailing in a fair wind on a sunny day to the unending frustration of a finicky and somewhat unreliable diesel engine that is maintained by a bilge dwelling scurvy crew of evil Norwegian trolls.

While slipping southwards from his homeport of D’Escousse, Silver Donald makes port in such historic Nova Scotia locales as Canso, Halifax, Lunenburg and Yarmouth and then onward to crossing the Bay of Fundy and entering our beloved neighbour, the United States of America. Here we learn that not many Americans on the New England Coast are fans of President George W. Bush as evidenced by many bumper stickers “Needed: One florist to send two Bushes to Iraq”

One common thread in Cameron’s many works is his love affair with Cape Breton. During the entire southward voyage Magnus pursues long time friend and fellow Cape Bretoner’s Jim and Carol-Anne Organ, of Port Hawkesbury, aboard Seaduction. In the Abacos the crews of the two Cape Breton vessels rendezvous after cruising more than 3000 miles away from their beloved island. If there’s one thing about Cape Bretoner’s as the song goes “ One thing I know wherever I go there’s always friends from back home”.

From a sailor’s perspective I found that Cameron’s latest work can be used as a reference book for those of us planning to navigate the Intracoastal Waterway while keeping company with the family pet, a travel guide of good marinas to stay at and those to sail by and maybe most importantly a guide for diesel engine repair. As any seasoned cruiser knows: The sailing is the easy part of the cruise, it’s knowing how to fix things that really count.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fine review in The Working Waterfront of Rockland, Maine, March 2008

Welcome To The Working Waterfront

Sailing Away From Winter: A Cruise from Nova Scotia to Florida and Beyond
by Silver Donald Cameron
Reviewed by DAVID D. PLATT

Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
Soft cover: 368 pp.
$17.95 U.S., 2007

Getting There is 99 Percent of the Fun

Cruising books are a genre, like biographies, self-help books or stories about vampires. A few cruising books (Joshua Slocum comes to mind) are so good that they become classics. Many are truly forgettable, and a small number are pretty good. Sailing Away From Winter falls into this last category. As I began reading it I told a friend, “Cameron seems to be an average writer I never heard of with a story that interests me.” So I read on, and after a while I was really hooked: Cameron’s a very good writer, as it turns out, and he has told his tale in a particularly interesting way.

He begins with the important elements of the cruise he has planned: the boat, his wife, his dog, his destination. A newspaperman and columnist for several Canadian papers with at least one earlier book under his belt, Cameron has planned his trip from the Maritimes to the Bahamas, he says, for 20 years. But until he and his crew start out in 2004, circumstances haven’t allowed him to realize his dream.

“A boat is a basket of dreams,” he states at the outset. “When you acquire a boat — or more accurately, when you are captured by a boat — dreams flower as inevitably as dandelions on the lawn.” Cameron’s dreams are of warm waters, coral reefs, a particular place in the Bahamas and the route one might take to reach such a place. He recounts various conversations with his wife, whose role in this story reminds me, at least, of Alice Trillin, the late wife of New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin. Like Alice, Marjorie Cameron is the long-suffering but game co-conspirator in the author’s venture. Both wives indulge their husbands, and in so doing allow the husbands to expose, ever so gently, their crazy inner-man selves. The tolerant but practical traveling companion can become a travel writer’s cliché, of course, but Marjorie remains interesting and individual to the end of the book.

Leo is the Camerons’ dog, an elderly whippet who seems headed for the finish line as the story opens, but who (with considerable help from skipper and wife) rises to the occasion and makes it to the Bahamas. The best tales about Leo have to do with his bladder, which requires trips ashore at regular intervals. Usually we get there, but there are adventures from time to time.

The boat the Camerons select for their adventure is called the Magnus, a Viksund MS-33 center-cockpit, ketch-rigged motor sailer. She is named Pumpkin when Cameron first visits her in Detroit, and after being shipped to Nova Scotia and rebuilt (by Cameron and friends) she’s re-named for seven Norwegian and two Swedish kings whose shared name meant “great” and who variously fostered domestic peace, law and order, cultural flowering, etc. “My kind of man,” Cameron writes.

The style of this narrative is discursive, by which I mean that Cameron stays on topic — his voyage down the coast from point to point — only until he’s compelled to take a detour. And so we learn about Scandinavian kings, the British-French struggle for North America at Louisburg, Civil War battles, boat construction, engine issues, marinas, the 2004 U.S. presidential election, past cruises, food, small town life and dozens of other topics as we move south via the Intracoastal Waterway to Florida and eventually Hope Town, Cameron’s dreamed-of destination in the Bahamas.

OK, I admit it: I’m planning just such a cruise myself for next year, which is why a friend gave me this book for Christmas. Reading it has given me a more realistic (and detailed) picture of what I can expect. That’s the selfish reason to read the book — a pleasurable task that I have now completed. But I recommend it to any armchair traveler, even if he or she has no intention of stepping aboard for 285 days.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Appearances at the Halifax International Boat Show

I'll be appearing next weekend at the Halifax International Boat Show, reading from Sniffing the Coast on Saturday at 3:30. The newly released DVD, Cape Breton's Bras D'Or Lakes: A Sailing Tour with Silver Donald Cameron will be projected (without the sound track) on a screen behind me.

I'll also be signing and selling books and the DVD at the Atlantic Boating News booth on Thursday and Friday from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM, and on Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fine review in the Calgary Herald

Sail away with Silver

Yvonne Jeffery, Calgary Herald

Published: Saturday, February 02, 2008

If you've ever had a hankering to find a boat, hoist its sails and point the bow south, Silver Donald Cameron has some advice for you.

"Go," says the author, who's well known to folks from the Maritimes. Based in Cape Breton, Cameron -- who gained the "Silver" moniker years ago from his shock of white hair -- has written warmly and well about the sea and the coast for much of his career, notably the bestselling book Wind, Whales, and Whisky.

In Sailing Away from Winter, just released in trade paperback, he makes a journey that he's dreamed about for three decades, sailing from Nova Scotia to the Bahamas.

"It's one of those things -- there's always a reason not to go," he says on the phone from a blustery Nova Scotia. "But life is really uncertain and it's short. Here it is, the wind is howling and the snow is flying horizontally. Three years ago, I was somewhere around Florida waiting for a wind to get across to the Bahamas."

He pauses long enough to laugh. "Where did I make a wrong turn?"

Indeed, the siren calls of conch shells and tropical breezes linger long in the imagination, sending the sun's warmth through icy Prairie winds and snow-covered roads. The idea of following Cameron's lead to the south is more than tempting.

"When you get a boat, you get a licence to dream," Cameron says. "I got my first boat in 1973, and started reading voyaging books and thinking about long-distance cruising. In a sense, the dream started there."

It didn't move from a "back-of-the-mind" idea to something more urgent, however, until he realized that if he didn't make the trip a priority, time would take it from him. So he bought a 10-metre, 1973 Viksund motor sailer, fixed it up and convinced wife Marjorie Simmins that this really was a good idea.

On July 21, 2004, with Cameron in his late 60s, he and Simmins set off on the great adventure with their BFD (Brave and Faithful Dog), Leo the wonder whippet, himself an elderly 13. With Leo in mind, they opted primarily for short, close-to-shore hops between overnight ports, plotting a route down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), the coast-hugging, canal-kissing way to avoid the open Atlantic.

The result is an honest, often wry account of what goes wrong and what goes right when you depend entirely on wind, weather and a troll-plagued engine. (That's how Cameron explains problems that grumble along despite time and expertise being lavished on them -- trolls from the boat's Norwegian origins, hitchhiking to warmer climes.)

As a reader along for the ride, you find yourself sailing past the Statue of Liberty, willing the engine not to choke in the middle of one of the coast's busiest, trickiest stretches of maritime traffic. You misjudge a channel and ground the boat in Norwalk, Conn., and get way too intimate with the quirky fuel system and the cranky electrics.

But you also meet Norwegian ponies on the banks of the Sassafras River in Maryland, find friends and kindred spirits in almost every port, fall in love with Savannah, Ga., make the dodgy and exhilarating dash from Florida to the Bahamas and finally discover "champagne" cruising in the Abaco Islands where sun, sand and snorkelling wait.

As a travelling companion, Cameron offers a witty, unpretentious and particularly Canadian perspective, calling it as he sees it, whether it's weed-choked canals and wake-producing steamships or flying fish and a warm Bahamian welcome.

Would he do it again?

"I probably would do the ICW again, if the circumstance arose," he says. "We enjoyed it much more on the way back than on the way down -- it was a much more relaxed trip. On the way down, every single day you're going into new territory, and you're kind of apprehensive all the time."

Of course, the solution he's really leaning toward is simply being there again -- buying a boat down south and living on it for the winter.

"It's very pleasant . . . you're always on the waterfront, you're part of a little community that moves and changes all the time. I like the fussing around with the boat -- I'm not somebody who easily lies idle, and that doesn't change when I go on vacation," he adds.

That's definitely to the advantage of readers.

-- 30 --

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Dinner presentation to the Canadian Power Squadron

This Saturday, February 2, I'll be showing my slides and reading selections from Sailing Away From Winter to the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Power Squadron. The event takes place at the Armdale Yacht Club in Halifax, starting at 6:00. For more details, call Dave Hickey at 497-8299.

And an early heads-up: I'll be at the Halifax International Boat Show again this year, reading from Sniffing the Coast, my newly-reissued book on cruising in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The presentation will be at 3:30 on February 23, but I'll also be selling and autographing books -- and also selling my video on Cape Breton's Bras d'Or Lakes, which has just been re-released on DVD.

A lovely blog entry

Here's a lovely blog entry by Marie Chantal, a Toronto reader. Her blog is here:

Marie writes:

I found the perfect book for a spot of armchair travelling. Sailing Away From Winter is about the cruising adventures of a Canadian couple, Silver Donald Cameron and his wife, Marjorie Simmins. They live in Nova Scotia, in the village of D’Escousse on Cape Breton Island. In 2004, they set sail south from Nova Scotia to the Bahamas in their 33′ Norwegian motor-sailer Magnus; with their loyal and faithful dog, Leo the Wonder Whippet.

Now you may be wondering who would ever call their son Silver, so perhaps I should explain! Donald Cameron is such a common name in the Maritimes that when Don settled on Cape Breton, he came to be known as Silver Donald because of the colour of his hair!

Leo is a Wonder Whippet because at the start of this tale, he is thirteen with congestive heart failure and arthritis. Despite his health problems, he takes to the cruising life and is always eager to explore new ports and meet new people. He sounds like such a sweet dog. Over the course of his journey he finds a new exuberance and zest for life.

The book is a delightful tale of the pleasures and traumas of undertaking a voyage of more than 3,000 nautical miles on a journey that lasted 236 days; at the end of which they reached Little Harbour on Great Abaco Island and spent the evening at Pete’s Pub, which is a palm-thatched bar on the beach.

It is also about the people Don and Marjorie meet on their journey and the strong and lasting bonds of friendship that are formed. There is a special bond between those who venture into the great unknown and overcome their fears, especially amongst those who venture offshore and across the open ocean.

To quote a passage from Don’s book:

“The morning dawned bright and still, already warm. The wooded shores lay dark against the clear blue sky, the water crystal-green below the boat and turquoise in the distance. A couple of sleek dolphins browsed easily among the anchored boats, their foreheads rising as they breathed, their dorsal fins slicing the water, mammals like ourselves, symbols of elegant adaptation at the interface of sea and air. A light wind ruffled the water.”

If I close my eyes, I can smell the ocean and feel the warmth of the sun on my face. I can feel the gentle swaying of the boat at anchor and enjoy the silence of the early morning. How I wish I was there! One day, perhaps.