Thursday, January 14, 2010

How NOT to Learn to Sail

I've reviewed some nonfiction by Gary Paulsen here in the past, and thought I'd try one of his novels this month. But I ran out of time. I meant to read Harris and Me. It got wonderful reviews, and I know I'm going to like it when I do get to it. In the meantime I'll review his nonfiction, Caught by the Sea: My Life on Boats.

It's a short book - 103 small pages, and the subtitle is somewhat misleading. Paulsen doesn't really give us the full story of his life on boats. He tells how he bought his first sailboat and taught himself to sail, and a little about other boats he's had, trips he's taken.

"...learn to sail.
No problem...
How hard could it be?...

... by the end of the first day I had still not left the harbor and was tied up to the courtesy dock... True, the trip had been a series of calamities punctuated by terror, and I had only come a total of about three hundred yards from my home dock.

But still, I had traveled, and I was in a different place and had gotten there by sailing..."

That's from the chapter, "First Boat." In "Lost at Sea" Paulsen writes, "But it was never really dangerous. I was never at risk except from my own idiocy. It's true you can drown in a cup of water, but you really have to work at it, and the same thing was true of my experience. Looking at it one way, I was working at destroying myself, and the boat worked equally hard at saving me. Had I done nothing but crawled down inside the boat and sucked my thumb -- which had occurred to me -- I would probably have survived just fine."

Actually it was dangerous sometimes: "The wind hit the boat with a demonic shriek, screaming, roaring, driving spray into my eyes and blinding me. I felt the boat go over on her beam and slide sideways. I was thrown off the boat, hanging in my lifeline and harness on the down side, dangling across the deck and in the water, disoriented, upside down, then right side up, the wind a wild howling filling my ears, my mind, my soul, and with the sudden onslaught of wind came the waves.

They were true monsters, steepsided, galloping, twenty, thirty feet high, almost vertical walls with breaking tops that caught the boat and held her down on her side with me in the water, clawing to get back on, ripping my nails, cutting my hands, now fighting to live, not obey the call of the sea, nothing noble or high-flown now but just to live, get on the boat and live. Even while I fought I remembered the tales of boats found sailing on their own with their owners...hanging off the stern dead in their harnesses because they couldn't get back on the boat before hyperthermia stopped their ability to function and they drowned."

The book is too short. I liked it, but I wanted more. Paulsen kind of leaves you hanging at the end - "That night I decided: Someday I would try the one great passage of the sailor's world. Someday I would try to sail around Cape Horn."

Fine. I'd read it that story too.


Ms. Yingling said...

There's some Paulsen I like and some I don't. Interestingly, during this past week, all three copies of my Voyage of the Frog have been checked out for a realistic fiction unit.

gonovice said...

I've reviewed a few of Paulsen's here, and am thinking it's time for some Walter Dean Myers, another guy who does fiction and nonfiction well. Not sure which to do yet...