Novelist and amateur sailor Foy (Creative Writing/New York Univ.; Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence, 2010, etc.), who sees technology as a distinctly mixed blessing, chronicles his journey up the New England coast in a rickety boat without satellite guidance.
In a poetically written, occasionally fragmented account, the author traces his attempts to emulate with more success his great-great grandfather, who died when his ship went down in the frigid waters off Norway. Before taking off on the brief sail from Cape Cod to Maine described in two chapters, in which the author nearly falls off the ship during high winds and reluctantly uses GPS to navigate to shore through the fog once he has reached his destination, he undertook some other navigation-related adventures. He got lost in “a casual sort of way” on his way to NYU’s biology lab to explore how cells make their ways to their proper positions; encountered “the dark heart of GPS” at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado; and hitched a ride with a Haitian boat captain who steers by the stars. Later, he headed off to Norway to try, with questionable success, to find the spot in the ocean where his ancestor’s ship went down. Attempts to work in his feelings about the recent death of his brother take the book off course, and speculations about the connection between the increase in the number of Alzheimer’s cases and the more frequent use of GPS are far-fetched. The author’s work is most successful at its most visceral: the feeling of “slaloming around lobster trap buoys, like a plane lost in clouds,” or the sight of life jackets, “hung like orange fruit in the rigging.”
Armchair sailors will enjoy the vicarious thrills of Foy’s brief journeys, and even those with no intentions of abandoning their smartphones will find something to ponder in his speculations about the challenges of gadget-free navigation.