Books by Daniel Spurr

Released: June 1, 1998

A low-key family adventure finds mystery and meaning on the mighty Mississippi. In August 1995, Spurr (Steered by the Falling Stars, 1992) set out to retrace the voyage of French explorer Robert de La Salle, the first European to traverse the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Like La Salle's 17th- century journey, Spurr's is beset by missteps. One wonders how the editor of Practical Sailor magazine could be such a bumbler: He buys Pearl ("without a doubt the homeliest boat I'd ever seen," Spurr recalls) only a week before his planned departure, leaving little time for much needed repairs—or for pinpointing how far he can go on a tank of gas (a critical calculation on the service-starved lower Mississippi). From his Rhode Island home, he drives to Chicago with 7-year-old son Steve, towing the 20-foot boat on a jerry-rigged trailer, burying its propeller in a truck's radiator while backing into a McDonalds. Despite the slapstick start, Spurr salvages meaning from the trip. He's searching for "pre-America," looking for a glimpse of the virgin wilderness that greeted La Salle. He gets a steady dose in the awesome power of the river itself, and, more fleetingly, in the rare stretches of wilderness on the banks unmarred by settlement or industry. He forges a rather predictable bond with Steve and daughter Adria (who boards in St. Louis), and satisfies, anticlimactically, his "two decades' quest for tangible proof of La Salle's presence in North America, for an artifact of any sort that I could actually get my hands on . . ." with a side trip to visit Lee Politsch, keeper of the Ellington stone, a tablet believed to have been carved by La Salle in 1671. A curious flatness robs Spurr's account of the grand adventurousness his trip seems to promise, leaving instead a sense of melancholy at the mess America has become. (25 b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1992

Spurr, a former Cruising World editor, sets sail aboard a 33- foot fiberglass boat on a yearlong cruise of the Intercoastal Waterway that becomes a voyage of self-discovery. The author starts out north from his home port of Newport, Rhode Island, with his new wife, Andra, and his children from a previous marriage—Peter, 12, a victim of cerebral palsy; and Adriana, 16, for whom the boat was named. Spurr's ``harbor- hopping'' of the East Coast is highlighted by his natural history of the lobster and of the eerie Isles of Shoals, ``inhabited only by gulls and Unitarians,'' and by an encounter with a customs agent who is relieved to learn that Spurr's flag of Texas is not ``Monrovian.'' While snowbound in Salem, Spurr and his wife find that she's pregnant with a baby neither wants. Returning to Newport to reprovision and pick up mail, Spurr learns that Peter, who by this time has returned to Michigan to begin school, has been hit by a train and killed. The boy's death haunts the resumed cruise, while the gradually welcomed pregnancy provides an obvious counterbalance. Spurr offers wonderful descriptions of sailing the polluted waters around Manhattan; of being lost in a snowstorm and of observing ``sea smoke'' in the Great Dismal Swamp Canal; of running aground at Islamorada, Florida, and drawing a crowd of advisers and local reporters; and of celebrating Christmas in Key West. By the arrival of summer and a newborn baby boy, Spurr has sailed on to the Bahamas. Captures the essence of sailing, from the ``mind-numbing'' boredom of becalmed seas to riding out a storm in a cabin like the ``inside of a tambourine.'' Read full book review >