Chronicle of a failed attempt at a new world rowing record, taken on by a truly motley crew.
In his early 60s, Wilkins’ (In the Land of Long Fingernails: A Gravedigger in the Age of Aquarius, 2009, etc.) visit to an old friend was transformed into an adventurous undertaking. His friend had grand plans to row across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to Barbados with 13 others in a custom-designed and -built boat, chasing the world record of a 33-day crossing. The author decided on the spot that though he had never actually rowed before, he wanted to join the adventure. After months of obstacles for the entire excursion as well as hard training for himself, Wilkins successfully stepped off the Moroccan coast and into a voyage he had underestimated. The author doesn’t just wax poetic about the joys of rowing, as some readers may expect. Instead, he is starkly—though still poetically—honest about the trials of a trip he calls “something botched and bastardized, something at times almost Biblical in its run of torments and dark forces.” In fact, the pain, arguments, sleeplessness and general hardship make up the bulk of the narrative. The magic of Wilkins’ storytelling is in the fact that none of the misery makes the journey seem any less enticing. And while he is as blunt about the deficiencies of his crewmates as their expertise, he never shies away from examining his own faults. This honesty has the effect of lending the rest of his observations credibility. While Wilkins does have a tendency toward flowery language when parsing his experiences for meaning, he tells his tale with gusto.
Ignore the occasional grandiloquent language and simply enjoy a story of trial, error and, ultimately, achievement.