: New: Book Report: A Voyage for Madmen

In the late 1960s, someone single-handedly sailed around the earth. This inspired a newspaper to sponsor a race for someone to single-handed-sail around the earth without stopping at port for repairs or resupply or anything. The paper didn't think to set up some kind of qualifications for this: if you could scrounge up a boat, you could enter the race even if you'd never sailed across a lake before.

So a few sailors with the right combination of skills, life-risking, ship-owning, loneliness-tolerating signed up. And some more folks signed up: folks who didn't know much about sailing but thought "how hard can it be?" Oh yeah and like the title says: "Madmen".

It's a strange book: you're reading about folks struggling to reach this audacious goal. But you're not really rooting for them to succeed. For most of them, you're rooting for them to figure out "This was a stupid idea. I should put into the next port I can find."

Sailors who haven't experienced ocean storms don't know what those are like. Yacht-makers who make coast-hugging boats might think "oh how bad can those ocean storms and waves be? I'm sure that one of the usual boats will be just fine. And if it's not, surely this captain will look at the specs and tell me. They wouldn't take the boat out if it weren't safe, right?" Folks hoped for the best, but it was never going to be okay.

One of the participants was a know-it-all engineer. He had some clever ideas on how to better-design trimaran sailboats for single-handed sailing. Good news, right? Except he totally underestimated the difficulty of ocean sailing and so he thought it was a good plan to test these gadgets for the first time in this around-the-world race. I don't care how good your sailboat-righting-gadget idea is; you don't want to test it for the first time having been knocked down in the middle of the ocean far far away from any coast guard or other ship or human or… Gah, ugh. This book was a long cringe: hoping the protagonists despair (but not too much).

If you want to read just the story of a race participant who survived and only went a little crazy, read The Long Way. But if you want to read a bleak tale of dangerous failure, A Voyage for Madmen is pretty gripping.

Tags: book maritime

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