In a new edition of a book first published in 1999, the National Book Award–winning author recalls a “watershed” year in the early 1990s when he seriously took up sailing, a sport he had abandoned when he was in his 20s.
At the time, Philbrick (Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, 2016, etc.) was a stay-at-home dad working on a book about Nantucket, where he and his wife and two kids lived, while his old, “dirt-encrusted” Sunfish, the “VW bug” of sailboats, leaned against the house. Deciding to spiff it up and get back on the water, the author set a goal of competing in the 1993 Sunfish North Americans, to be held the following July “on a man-made lake in Springfield, Illinois.” To get back in shape, Philbrick hauled the boat to one after another of Nantucket's many ponds and, during the winter, rented a boat to compete in a regatta in Florida. The narrative is wryly honest. The author performed respectably in Florida and Illinois, but he didn’t blow the competition away in any last-minute comebacks. Instead, he took pleasure—and pain—in the experiences of sailing on a regular basis. He describes with infectious joy the experience of catching a stray bit of wind or surging over the waves in a harbor, and he relays with astonishment the luck he feels at having survived some questionable sailing choices. Since much of his sailing was done under adverse conditions—in water so cold that he had to break the ice to sail or in air so still that races were postponed because boats couldn't move—readers will feel lucky to share the experiences vicariously. The author keeps his chapters short and punchy, and his obscure sailing terminology to a minimum, while revealing much about his connection to a supportive if sometimes-skeptical family.
An amiably witty book about sailing that will appeal as strongly to the uninitiated as to the addicted.