FIRST CROSSING: A Personal Log by Malcolm & Carol McConnell McConnell


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Across the northern Atlantic Ocean in a 30-foot fiberglass sloop--with lots of storms, crises, marital tension, and introspection. Malcolm, a novelist (Just Causes, Matata) who does the narrating here, sees his 40th birthday approaching in 1979--so, despite shaky finances and Carol's cautious reluctance, he's determined to fulfill his longtime trans-oceanic sailing ambition. With loans and publisher-advances, the couple manages to buy their sloop, refurbish it in Brooklyn, and outfit it--though not with a ""proper radio,"" just emergency equipment. After a rather smug adieu to Brooklyn (with its ""mean and hopeless lives""), they head out to sea, almost immediately encountering near-collision terror: ""On our first night at sea I'd let the boat drift south right into one of the world's most crowded shipping lanes. Foolishness, inexcusable incompetence, compounded by a bad attitude."" There's also a fierce gale, danger from metal debris, an electrical fire, a mysterious leak (eventually revealed as a fractured scupper pipe), a scare from a whale. Moreover, the nautical crises bring out the worst in Malcolm--who channels his anxiety into hostility towards Carol. (""Where was all this sudden anger at Carol coming from?"") Their incompatability--he's ""kinetic,"" she's ""stoic""--is highlighted. Still worse, after making a threatening gesture at Carol with a winch handle (""Nineteen years of marriage. . . and never, never once before, had I raised my hand to her in violence""), Malcolm even feels like going home: ""In ten days we would be back in the world of numbers and flashing lights, of rutted streets and deeply unhappy people thrashing their years away in some immense, interlocking, but invisible ergotic frenzy we choose to call postindustrial civilization."" But they do go on; Carol has her therapeutic say about men turning into ""macho adolescents"" under stress; there's an idyllic stopover in the Azores, then on to the Iberian coast (with residence in Greece the final goal). And Malcolm assures us at the close ""that the interior voyage we each had made as a woman and a man had been much more important than the miles of salt water. . . ."" Unfortunately, however, that interior marital voyage seems superficial and spotty in the narrative. Weak, too, are Malcolm's ecological meditations--which seem as naive as the couple's disdain for ordinary Americans. Still, when not straining for social or psychological reverberations, Malcolm describes the voyage with crisp, detailed professionalism--and armchair sailors will be generally, if not steadily, engrossed.

Pub Date: Aug. 29th, 1983
Publisher: Norton