From the Cockpit of the Rubaiyat is a book that speaks to the amateur sailor in those of us for whom sailing is a passion beyond logic and yet who, in all likelihood, will never venture forth upon the world’s great oceans in a solo circumnavigation or crew in the America’s Cup.
In a collection of essays – part yarn, part memoir and sea tale – Donald Rothschild shares with us his experience of returning to sailing at age 50 after a long hiatus devoted to family and career. It is this love of the sea, of sailing, and the boats we sail in, that the author celebrates, whether piloting his spanking new Catalina 22 down the Potomac River, cruising the Chesapeake Bay in a restored Pearson 365, or exploring the waters off Newport on his beloved Rubaiyat, a classic Sam Crocker 1984 Stone Horse.
And like the poet Omar Khayyam, whose quatrains from The Rubaiyat introduce each chapter, Donald calls upon his readers to join him in the adventure of life, the joy of living it in the moment, preferably on the water, preferably on the boat of our choice.
While often humorous – the author has the good fortune to be able to laugh at himself when at times his sailing skills are less than expert – he can also be quite reflective, as when he reminds us that “sailing is not a contest of man against nature, but rather man’s concession to the necessity of being in harmony with nature and the universe.” And so we gladly follow along with him on his journey.
We applaud and delight in his sailor’s “logic,” a species of familiar reasoning whereby, having determined the Catalina 22 is too small for cruising the Chesapeake, he feels called upon to buy a larger boat. Nor are we unduly surprised when in time he comes to realize the Pearson 365 demands even bigger water, and so sells his home to move to Rhode Island and gives up his job to find another.
While I recommend this book as an honest and, at times, insightful look into one man’s sailing experience, it is a work primarily destined for the already converted. It both benefits and suffers from its very nature: the sea tales of an enthusiastic amateur sailor seeking to share with the reader the joys and tribulations, successes and miscues of a sailing life. And while Donald can be a fine spinner of yarns, he seems at times, to be straining for effect. He repeatedly reminds us how important his sailing life is to him, but often fails to make it come alive, to allow us to “feel” the people and places and boats that constitute the texture of his voyage. The book could benefit from a tighter, more organic inner structure and better editing. There are too many clichés, misspellings, grammatical errors, and too inordinate a use of adverbs for someone conversant with the magnificent Persian poetry of Omar Khayyam.