An Inexplicable Attraction: My Fifty Years of Ocean Sailing

by Eric B. Forsyth (Yacht Fiona, 2016; 400 pages; $24.95 print, $7.19 digital)

Review by David McDaniel

269,161! That’s how many nautical miles Captain Eric B. Forsyth has sailed over the Earth’s oceans, 247,362 of which were aboard his custom-finished Westsail 42, Fiona. Astonishingly, most of these miles were accumulated after his retirement from the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Imagine, two circumnavigations, including one eastabout loop following the old clipper route around the southern capes; two successful trips to Antarctica (four attempts were made); two trips through the Arctic Circle, including a circumnavigation of North America via the Northwest Passage; a spin around the North Atlantic as far south as Fernando de Noronha off the coast of Brazil; and numerous cruises to and along the coasts of Maine, Greenland, Iceland, the Azores, Falkland Islands, Shetland Islands, Caribbean Islands, and the Baltic Sea. For this sailing background, Captain Forsyth is a recipient of the distinguished Cruising Club of America’s Blue Water Medal. This book is a narration of his voyages to remote regions and foreign lands aboard Fiona. Pictures of his exploits are sprinkled throughout to carry the reader along.

Forsyth begins with a description of his early days sailing with his wife Edith (to whom he dedicates this volume) aboard one of their early boats, a 35-foot steel sloop named Iona. He and Edith made numerous cruises along the New England coastline, eventually sailing Iona to Bermuda and back. But it was aboard their next boat that Captain Forsyth would sail the world over, favoring the high latitudes. Edith came up with the name Fiona when first she laid eyes on the hull and remarked, “My God, it’s another f’ing Iona!” And such is the wit and humor laced throughout this amazing tale of time spent blowing across oceans. Sadly, Edith would not sail with her husband for many more sea miles, as she succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1991, as Forsyth explains in the opening sections.

What follows is a genuinely amazing tale, as Captain Forsyth sails Fiona through some of the most remote regions of the globe with crew that come and go like the wind. By chapters, he recalls ten different long-distance cruises and his experiences with crew members, cultures, bureaucracies, geographies, wildlife, and weather encountered along the way. What’s more, he re-tells his adventures in a straight-forward and witty style, as if he were sitting next to his reader at the club bar with only the occasional glance at Fiona’s logbook for reference. His book is an accurate depiction of life aboard a small sailing vessel, offering glimpses of far-away lands and cultures witnessed by an extraordinary sailor.

Forsyth’s final three chapters provide insight into his practical thoughts on bluewater sailing and environmental concerns. They’re reminiscent of Bernard Moitessier’s prophetic insights penned from a life spent floating and sailing.

Ride along, this book allows the reader to feel as though they’re a part of Forsyth’s crew. And what a journey it is!

David McDaniel grew up in Florida, swimming and fishing from his family’s Boston Whaler in the warm coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Once surfing grabbed his attention, he learned to sail a Hobie 16, the perfect vehicle for finding surf breaks on secluded barrier islands (and for learning valuable sailing lessons he’s retained to this day). David currently lives in Southern California with his wife, Minyoung, and two stoked children, sharing his love of the water with them. The family races their Sabot and Lido 14 in Marina del Rey and regularly crews on a variety of sailboats as they chase adventures across Santa Monica Bay and points beyond.

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