Eric and Susan Hiscock’s cruising books are manuals for aspirations and ideals as much as technical manuals for world cruising. Whether we splice our own wire rope, repair our own sails, or navigate our boat out of its home bay, we read the Hiscocks to dream about “what if?” as much as “how to?” I Left the Navy is a remarkable precursor to their more famous cruising books, not for any sailing lore or skills but as inspiration for those of us landlocked by our everyday lives.
Unlike the Pardeys, who set sail during the postwar golden age of small boat voyaging, the Hiscocks came of age during a much bleaker era. Published during World War II, I Left the Navy tells of Eric’s medical discharge from the Royal Navy, his humbling string of odd jobs in a depressed wartime England, and ultimately his opportunistic return to sea.
Eric finds work in a fiberboard factory and as a farmhand on a friend’s estate. Though their labor is backbreaking, the Hiscocks find happiness in restoring a farmhouse and planting a garden. Eric describes every task precisely, whether it is lubricating a tractor, digging a furrow or harvesting the corn. This manic attention to detail and instinct to understand the purpose and workings of any process will be familiar qualities to any diligent sailor.
Although he and Susan are still years away from their famous voyages, Eric finds find his way back to boats. He is entrusted with editing a monthly yachting magazine and then finds a job shuttling boats around Britain for the Navy on occasional trips away from the farm. Although he works below decks as the engineer, he derives rich satisfaction from being on the water and serving his country.
I Left the Navy was not written as a sentimental memoir about a simpler, earlier time. Eric wrote this book in the moment, surely a frustrated young man wondering how his life would turn out. But the Hiscocks’ now-legendary practical skills, attention to detail, and careful planning are evident throughout all their youthful struggles. It is the good fortune of all of us that eventually the Hiscocks found a different life that inspired generations of bluewater and weekend sailors.
Used copies of this short book can be found for $15 to $30