A live-aboard sailor recalls five decades and 300,000 nautical miles at sea in this debut memoir with an environmentalist edge.
Forsyth admits that he’s partial to the idea of escape. For starters, he escaped working in the cotton mills of Lancashire, England, by going to university and then joining the Royal Air Force. When his squadron was disbanded, he escaped England for Canada, emigrating in 1957 with his future wife, Edith. Soon, sailing also became a form of escape in itself. He and Edith had their first taste of it in 1961, chartering two bunks on a 78-foot ketch sailing around the tropics. After crewing on a number of other vessels, the couple purchased their first boat, Iona, in 1965. The memoir then documents the building and captaining of Fiona, a 42-foot cutter upon which Forsyth would do most of his travels. There were many breathtaking voyages, including two global circumnavigations and trips to the Arctic and Antarctic, the Baltic Sea, and the Panama Canal, among others. The memoir is also a tender love letter to Edith, who died in 1991. The tone of the book is likable from the outset; Forsyth is knowledgeable, earnest, and endearingly modest given the magnitude of his achievements. His sense of understatement is typified in his account of meeting the prime minister of Tonga: “As I sauntered up in my scruffy shorts and t-shirt, the Prime Minister was handing out long service medals to local officials. Despite my appearance, I was invited to the official luncheon, which was already laid out on the grass, covered with lace to keep the flies off.” Yet beneath Forsyth’s affable raconteurship lies a vital message, as during 50 years of sailing, he’s witnessed an alarming change to the environment: “I have often wondered which societies that I have visited by boat would be able to survive in a post-fossil fuel age.” This is a lovingly compiled work, with charts and photographs that effectively complement the narrative. It will be a joy for anyone familiar with deep-water sailing and an inspiration for those eager to try it.
An intrepid, educational, and thoroughly enjoyable voyage.