Monday, May 15, 2017

Penelope Down East: a review of a gentle sailing book

Penelope Down East: Cruising Adventures in an Engineless Catboat Along the World's Most Beautiful CoastPenelope Down East: Cruising Adventures in an Engineless Catboat Along the World's Most Beautiful Coast by W. R. Cheney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This isn't your ripping yarn of nautical struggles, near starvation or wild adventure- it is much gentler than that. Cheney has a modest boat of lovely proportions and these are collected essays from his cruises around some of America's most notable sailing destinations. His cat boat 'Penelope' has no motor and this determines his comings and goings as he responds to the weather, choosing this way over that on a whim, or more correctly, on the hope of a puff. It is the craft of this very thing that sets him apart from most of the people with whom he shares the water. He takes great pride in the skills required to forego automatic propulsion, and he is open and honest in recording his lapses and his very minor humiliations, but equally frank in revealing that little devil (present in many sailors) who simply can't resist the opportunity to show a bigger, flashier boat the charms of Penelope's stern from an increasing distance.

I don't think I learned much about Maine as an outsider, although many of the names are familiar in lore and in the names of various famous boat designs. The charts provided were very small, but in any case I wasn't hoping for a geography lesson, just to read of the daily tasks and minor challenges faced alone in these waters, and to glean something of the sensation and the emotional quality of his wanderings. These are the things that cause you to put the book aside for a moment and just feel it all with him.

This isn't a story, or even an adventure. It is a contemplation of all that is beautiful and solid and craftsmanlike in sailing simply and skilfully, and giving yourself the best chance of really appreciating the water and it's edges before these places are all developed into blandness.
I will put this copy in our boat, to be dipped into when the moment seems right. After the first reading, any chapter will take me somewhere.

View all my reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment