Rarely do I really enjoy a cruising memoir that melds a family story with descriptions of white-knuckled adventure. I also tend to identify with solo sailors or the male half of a cruising couple, being the captain of my own cruising boat. Yet Kim Brown Seely is an accomplished travel writer with a way with words and her professionalism extends to her writing about sailing, even though she is a rank amateur when the cruise that makes Uncharted starts.
Seely sets her book in the conventional empty-nesting many parents go through when their youngest child leaves home. Kim and her husband Jeff’s feelings about their children and their emotional changes as they seek to make a new life without them are on the surface for the reader to comb through. That they happen to go through this separation a few weeks into a cruise into a practically uncharted place makes the title a double entendre.
Not many places sailors can go are still truly wild and virtually uninhabited. My husband, Tom, and I sailed in one: the Kimberley region of Northwest Australia. It is one of my favorite cruising grounds, even though an Australian called it “just a bunch of dry red rocks.”
The northwest coast of British Columbia is another. Kim and Jeff have a 54-foot Moody that they clearly are learning how to handle. When Tom and I were buying, fixing and selling sailboats to make money to go cruising ourselves, we looked for boats done up by couples who planned to set off cruising as soon as they retired. It was well known that of those who’d never sailed before, a high percentage would never leave the dock or would be back quickly with their well-equipped boats on the market. The Seelys buy one such boat, and a few years later sees them tying the boat into a slip in BC and flying their youngest son to the US east coast where they shepherd him into his dorm room and then fly back to resume what turns into a truly memorable cruise, for the couple and, at least as important, for us, the book’s readers.
Kim’s goal for this cruise is the Great Bear Rainforest, home to an elusive animal known by natives as mooksgm’ol for white black bear, the spirit bear that lives on a few islands in a watery wilderness stretching north beyond the upper tip of Vancouver Island. It’s isolated, unreachable except by boat or plane, beyond cell phone range, and, as the Seelys find, subject to blank spots on nautical charts, a disconcerting phenomenon I recall from the Kimberley where we relied on “mud maps” drawn by previous sailors travelling on catamarans that bore little resemblance to our 6-foot-4-inch deep-legged Peterson 44.
The rainforest coast is a maze of islands, fjords, bays, and channels where fog, warm water, hidden rocks, and rain define a strenuous type of cruising marked by intense experiences in nature and among the occasional people encountered in villages where a big sleek blue sailboat always stands out.
In the time of COVID-19, I’m not sure Americans could even travel to Canada, but coastal cruising is more realistic than setting off across whole oceans and Seely’s book reignites an interest in that for this particular sailor who spent years thinking that a world circumnavigation was the only true adventure the sea could offer.