There is a strange force within sailors which causes them to retreat to the water on boats when that water offers scant refuge, guaranteeing neither safety nor security. Author Thomas Froncek knows this phenomenon well. In his latest book, A Splendid Madness: A Man. A Boat. A Love Story. Tom tells how he discovered sailing and its joys when middle-aged, long after his brief introduction as a youth. His book — not so much about sailing as it is about the relationship between a man and his boat — talks of the responsibilities and rewards, the challenges and the addiction of boat ownership.

Like so many before him, Tom is drawn gradually to his splendid madness. Candid and observant, he recounts his learning curve and the little revelations about boating and about himself. In doing so, Tom reminds sailors of their own paths and similar experiences when they were smitten. These events are sometimes humorous and sometimes discouraging, but in total they are rewarding, drawing the sailor irresistibly back to the boat.

“Yes. Yes!” sailors will exclaim as they read this book. “It was like that for me too!” By putting his finger on his own pulse, Tom Froncek has recorded other sailors’ heartbeats, as well. He describes his own experience and, in doing so, details how the rest of us were drawn in, mesmerized, by sailing and sailboats.

Must one be a sailor to read this book? Not really. In fact, those who live with sailors without understanding them might be well served by Tom’s insights. Others who simply wonder what it’s all about might also find this book interesting on an intellectual level. However without the passion, they surely will go away agreeing only that sailors are indeed possessed by a madness . . . one they, thankfully, do not share.

Sharing Tom’s passion, however, and coming to sailing in middle-age as well, I found pleasure in each achievement, his daring for farther distances and longer cruises, the bonds he formed with his first boat, and the joys and frustrations of boat ownership. Sailing, like life, is about making passages, after all. I found pleasure in accompanying Tom Froncek on his.

A Splendid Madness By Tom Froncek (Sheridan House, 2004; 210 pages)