A Canadian physician debuts with an emotional but sometimes pedantic memoir of his adventures traversing the Pacific in a 37-foot sailboat.
In August 1994, Patterson, “absorbed in self-pity” occasioned by an unhappy love affair, purchased a vessel called the Sea Mouse in British Columbia. Just 29 and recently discharged from the Canadian army, Patterson (who had no previous sailing experience) impulsively set sail for Tahiti—a longtime dream—in company with a onetime sheet-metal worker named Don (a more experienced sailor), whom he’d only recently met. In 18 swift chapters, Patterson tells of his preparations to sail, of his sometimes terrifying experiences on an unforgiving ocean, of his brief sojourns ashore in Hawaii, Palmyra, Penrhyn, and, finally, Tahiti. He then flies back to Canada to earn money to finance his return voyage. During this working hiatus, he impulsively (again!) invites three new acquaintances (one a lovely woman with whom he develops a tenuous romantic attachment) to go to Tahiti and sail back with him. These folks make it only as far as Hawaii, where they elect to fly home, and Patterson makes the final passage alone. His safe arrival ends his book. Patterson’s strong narrative is most effective in its self-deprecating accounts of his sometimes feckless, sometimes perilous efforts to learn how to sail while sailing. “I’m gonna be okay,” he tells himself, “look at all this lovely rope I have.” His flashbacks to his army service and to his medical experiences in remote Hudson Bay communities are also effective, often moving. His observations, however, sometimes border on the banal: out on the lonely open ocean, he writes, “our minds turned inward.” Sometimes deadly, too, are his long paraphrases of and quotations from works by other seafarers like Bruce Chatwin and Joshua Slocum.
Patterson’s voice is fresh, witty, and intelligent—and he could get by with a little less help from his friends.