THE OCEAN WAITS by Webb Chiles


Email this review


After circumnavigating Cape Horn (Storm Passage, 1977), Chiles decided to circle the globe in an open sailing boat, starting with the Pacific; in The Open Boat he got as far as the New Hebrides, where he and his little yawl Chidiock both got smashed up. So here, after recuperation all around, Chiles sets out again, quickly reaching Australia, thus completing ""the first crossing of the Pacific Ocean in an open boat."" Then, after cruising around the Australian toast (sea snakes, echoes of Captains Cook and Bligh), it's on to ""the East,"" heading west. First there's Bali--where Chiles, joined briefly by wife Suzanne, finds a disappointing lack of exotic splendor: the place is ""noisy, dirty, crowded, poor, and overrun with motorcycles."" (And ""Balinese women under the age of eighty cover not just their breasts but everything else as well."") On to Singapore, miraculously surviving whirlpools, squalls, and shipping traffic. Next, after a few tolerable musings on turning-40, Chiles heads into debris-filled Malacca Strait--drifting for days until finally reaching the Bay of Bengal (thanks to a monsoon). But then it's exhilaratingly clear sailing across the Indian Ocean, ""the longest open-boat passage of all time"" (47 days, 4000 miles), with landfall at Aden. That's the end of Chiles' good luck, however. A rough time in the Red Sea follows; when he manages to reach Port Sudan, there's news of his beloved grandmother's death--so he files home. . . only to discover that Suzanne is leaving him for another man. And, after a suicide attempt, Chiles returns to Port Sudan, unwisely sails over to Saudi Arabia, and spends a few days in two Saudi jails--before heading back to California. ""I had lost everything I valued""--wife, grandmother, boat, freedom. ""All my dreams had been destroyed. Dispassionately I asked myself, Have I been destroyed too?"" This overheated soul-journey material, unfortunately, is more embarrassing than affecting--since Chiles gives it so little depth or background. (A final photo caption is particularly mawkish: ""I will sail on. Somehow."") But the sailing sequences, as in his previous books, are lean, wryly detailed, often vivid. (""My world was divided into four horizontal bands: Chidiock's white hull; a blue strip of sea; the rust-colored mainsail; another blue strip, of sky."") And, with a generous array of photos and hand-made maps, this won't disappoint Chiles-voyage veterans--even if they'll want to skip over those heart-on-sleeve lapses.

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 1983
Publisher: Norton