Sailing Wondertime

by Sara Dawn Johnson (Sara Dawn Johnson, 2018; 330 pages; $16.95 print, $5.99 Kindle edition)

Review by Ann Hoffner

“People have told us how lucky we are, to get to sail far away. My typical response is to say luck has little to do with it, that we’ve worked so very hard, made many difficult decisions, and given up so much for so many years to get to this place on the Earth. But on nights like this, under a sky full of stars and our spinnaker full of warm trade wind pulling us deeper into the South Pacific Ocean, I see how very lucky we truly are to be here together.”

Anybody who’s cruised in places where families gather—Georgetown, Bahamas, for example—has encountered sailing children. Experiencing something wonderous (such as sailboat cruising) in the company of a child induces added wonder—which makes the title of this book, also the name of the author’s boat, pretty apt. Sailing Wondertime is a cruising narrative distilled from the author’s blog posts and recollections of a voyage with her husband, Michael, and daughters, Leah and Holly, that begins in 2011 in Seattle, spans Mexico and the islands of the South Pacific, and ends in New Zealand.

I sailed across the Pacific as a family of two (three counting the cat) and Sara’s retelling of her adventure resurfaced memories of that great ocean. As I’m preparing to head back out, I was especially eager to review this book. And because Sara manages the family adventure with a blend of cruising on a budget and heeding the latest communications technology, it appealed even more. Wondertime, a Benford 38, is thus outfitted relatively simply, with only the equipment necessary for safety and communications, and then filled with the food, books, and toys to make life livable.

Long-distance cruising boats are self-contained units and the children of Wondertime make a complete world that is growing and changing along with the scenery and their own chronology. By the time they reach French Polynesia they have their sea legs and an appreciation for life at sea as an existence in and of itself, something I re-experienced at landfall after each extended voyage.

I’ve read books about cruising with children before, but I found Sailing Wondertime interesting because much of Sara’s content derives from posts she wrote while onboard the boat. Some chapters are reminiscences, but many are descriptions of what’s happening at the time of writing. This approach imparts an immediacy to the book’s narrative, as the writer knows no better than the reader what’s going to happen next. I also found it interesting that Sara and Michael cruised before having children and reading Sailing Wondertime I got the feeling they needed to keep following the dream both despite and because of their daughters.

Wondertime and her crew don’t encounter horrific storms or upsetting situations ashore, or if they occur, Sara edits them out. Rather, this is a voyage as it should unfold, and for readers who like cruising for its own sake, it excites the memory banks and leaves one with Sara’s own unsolved question: What to do next?

Ann Hoffner and her husband, photographer Tom Bailey, spent 10 years cruising on their Peterson 44, Oddly Enough. They sold the boat in Borneo, returned to the US, and bought a Cape Dory 25 in Maine. Ann is a long-time contributor to sailing magazines, most often writing about weather events on passage and places she’s been.

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