In Volume 6 of C.S. Forester’s Hornblower saga, the hero cuts out a captured British cutter, the Witch of Endor, in Nantes harbor to complete his escape from the bowels of Napoleonic France down the Loire River to the welcoming arms of the blockading British fleet. In this book, Watterson recounts his and his wife Margaret’s similar escape from the inland waters of Ohio to the sea (Florida Keys) on their own, ironically French-made Witch of Endor, a Beneteau 30.
While the Pardeys and Palleys write wonderful books about their full-time cruising lives, there are few sailors who can hope to emulate them. For many of us, the eastern shore of the Atlantic beckons, but the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake is reachable. Stephen is writing for us.
This book describes a trip from Lake Erie, through the Erie Canal, down the Hudson River, day-hopping down the Jersey coast, and the Intracoastal Waterway to Key West and back. The author and his wife are in their 60s and have owned sailboats for about 10 years. They are clear about their modest cruising goals, stating several times that they are not overnight sailors. As a result, the trip is described in the form of relatively easy daysails from point-to-point. Also refreshing is the frequent acknowledgment of the place of nervousness, or downright fear, in the life of the amateur cruiser even in such seemingly mundane activities as entering a strange marina. Stephen’s careful explanations of such things as, “A boat changes direction by swinging the stern from one side to the other while moving ahead,” and “Yanmar is a maker of sailboat diesel engines,” show that the non-sailor, or absolute novice, is also part of his intended audience.
The day-trip pace and the number of stops makes this book an excellent companion to the traditional cruising guides for the various areas covered. Especially in terms of such long-term stops as Boot Key, the author paints a good picture of the social and cultural environment that evolves in a cruising anchorage. However, much of the book is derived from the couple’s family newsletters. Readers who are not enamored of this writing style may find parts of the book tough going. The chronological and linear, rather than thematic, structure seemed to me to result in a choppy, at times turgid, narrative flow.
On the whole, this is a good book for a sailor’s collection. It provides a realistic view of the coastal cruising experience fitted into the constraints of real life and a good description of various legs of the trip. I found the Erie Canal description to be especially interesting as I was preparing for the same trip. On the other hand, I would not pull this down from the shelf if I were looking for a good sailing yarn to wile away a cold winter night.