Author Mary McCollum lived the dream. She retired from her teaching career, sold her home and belongings and moved onboard her boat. And she sailed. Unlike many navigators who map out their route in great detail in advance, Mary took her time, letting weather, seasons, and simple intuition dictate the course she took as she sailed solo aboard Mighty Merry Too across the Pacific Ocean.

Mary’s conversational style of storytelling quickly draws the reader in — as if she is telling her story face to face, or allowing one to read her diary. One can certainly imagine sitting down for a beer or cup of coffee with this navigator/grandmother, while in animated conversation she shares her adventurous tale. When asked where she got her confidence to embark on such an endeavor solo, more than likely she’d quote her father: “Anybody can do anything once they set their mind to it.” Mary believes these words to be true, as is evident in her steadfastness and ability to continue on, even when she meets with obstacles and unpleasant circumstances along the way.

Researching and finding her perfect boat for solo cruising, a 24-foot Dana, she orders one and waits. Finally taking delivery of the vessel in Seattle, Washington, she sails Canadian waters and explores the San Juan Islands. She decides to sail from San Francisco to Mexico, then to South America (Ecuador), the Cook Islands, New Zealand and numerous points in-between and beyond. Along the way, Mary treats readers to descriptions of the sights and the people of the regions, tells us about the fellow sailors she meets, and relates lessons she learns along the way.

Unlike other navigation books that begin with the embarking on a planned cruise, Mary starts off by revealing a lot of back story in order to explain why “a little gray-haired grandmother” would have the desire to sail solo across the Pacific in the first place. Readers are given a detailed account of her parents’ immigrant beginnings and lives; a history of her childhood; sailing beginnings; her own marriage, divorce, career and family life, and, ultimately, an explanation of how she made the decision to make sailing her life.

Some readers might find themselves wondering when the author is going to get to the sailing part of her story. Although family members and friends who know Mary may appreciate all that led up to her journey, the majority of those who regularly read sailing accounts could do with a much more condensed version.

Those who do read on will find a pleasantly surprising ending, which led me to wonder if a sequel to Mighty Merry Too might be in the works…

Mighty Merry Too by Mary McCollum (Merry Publishing, La Crosse, Wisconsin, 2007; 199 pages)