Tinkering WW II veterans and refined husband-and-wife teams dominate the literature of cruising’s post-war golden age. These pioneers proved that small boats could safely cross oceans, serve as homes, and offer a lifestyle disconnected from civilization’s pressures. But what about the rest of us? We have kids, jobs, and the need to get somewhere and eventually get back to work. We probably also do not have extensive ocean-cruising experience.
Mike Saunders, in The Walkabouts, tells us of his family’s protracted evacuation in the early 1970s from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to England as the remnants of the British Empire fall away. The Saunders cruise a leaky 32-foot wooden ketch, with a wife, four children, toys for a year, and a homemade windvane down the east coast of Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, to South America, and up to England. Walkabout is an honest, detailed view of life afloat: torn sails, seasickness, spilled food, and fighting children in addition to inspiring landfalls, wonderful personal encounters, and the satisfaction of the voyage. Some sailors might frown at their seamanship, but the Saunders family lived the adventure and proved that a family ocean cruise is within reach of everybody.
Resourcefulness takes on a new meaning in the Walkabout. The Saunders’ vessel was the only seagoing sailboat available in the country. Those accustomed to grabbing parts from West Marine and calling ahead to our marina via cell phone can barely relate to the difficulty in locating fittings, berths, and workmen. The Saunders expect their young children to tough it out, letting them get doused by the ocean to teach them a lesson and setting them free in the harbor for entertainment. One can imagine a visit from the child welfare office today to rescue children from such “irresponsible behavior.”
The Saunders lived the dream of the average weekend sailor. They had a mission, sold everything, made the voyage, and had the family experience of a lifetime. Their whole story, including the mishaps, frustrations, and discomforts — in addition to the triumphs — may inspire you even more than the cool predictability of the better-known masters.
The Walkabouts: A Family at Sea by Mike Saunders (Stein & Day, 1975; 284 pages)