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A Mile Down: The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea Hardcover – 1 Oct 2015

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: William Heinemann (1 Oct 2015)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0434021954
  • ISBN-13: 978-0434021956
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By keithmuscott on 21 May 2011
Format: Paperback
In Turkey David Vann had the idea of buying a boat that was big enough to take parties around historical sites in the Mediterranean. This would be his ticket to financial security and a rewarding lifestyle. His 'day job' had been lecturing in creative writing at Stanford and Cornell universities, without the reassurance of a fixed contract. He had also sailed his 48ft 'Grendel' in the Sea of Cortez whenever he could find the time. Vann was no weekend sailor. He held a US Coastguard 200-ton master's licence and had sailed more than 40,000 miles offshore at the time this book was published (2005).

He soon found the 'right' boat in Icmeler (near Bodrum), courtesy of larger-than-life Seref, who was soon to become his project manager - and later, his Nemesis. 'I am Seref, pronounced like the good guy in one of your westerns', he said. This proved to be misleading. The big steel yacht weighed 110 tons and measured over 90ft in length by 21ft 6ins beam, but was basically a bare hull that Vann took on without much capital to support the venture. It was love at first sight, an impulse buy, the first of many decisions he makes that have the reader silently screaming, 'No! Don't do it!'

This is a book to start when you have given yourself a little elbow room to finish it - no good opening it the night before your only daughter's wedding. She'd never forgive you. Lots of books are described as 'unputdownable', but this one is the real deal.
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By Cloggie Downunder TOP 500 REVIEWER on 26 Feb 2014
Format: Paperback
A Mile Down is the first non-fiction book by award-winning American novelist, David Vann. In it, Vann narrates the events that lead to him buying a steel boat hull in Turkey with the purpose of outfitting it to use for an educational charter business. In giving up his steady job at Stanford to take on this risky venture, Vann sees parallels to his father’s life, and later wonders if he, too, will be reduced to committing suicide when things go badly. Vann’s narration is interesting from the first page, and leads the reader through several exciting climaxes. His frustration with the various tradesmen he has to rely on is palpable, and his naïveté in entrusting his project to others whilst unable to maintain adequate vigilance over it will have readers shaking their heads in disbelief. The unscrupulousness of certain tradesmen, crew, petty officials and even rescuers will leave readers gasping, yet the generosity of family, various friends, investors and even an insurance assessor are equally amazing. Van’s prose skilfully conveys the feel of each scenario, and he is occasionally the master of understatement: “…Nancy….looked worried. I guess being fifty miles from land in thousands of feet of water at night in stormy conditions being yanked through the water at nine knots by a bunch of incompetents while we had a crack in our hull somehow gave her cause for concern.” Vann illustrates in dramatic fashion how a dream combined with reliance on others and adverse weather events can quickly lead to a downfall. He turns the story of a failed venture into a gripping page-turner.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 24 reviews
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
David Vann's "A Mile Down" 25 May 2005
By Patricia N. Williamsen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Why do men go down to the sea in ships? The power of the ocean has long compelled men to go, hearing in the windy sea a siren offering the secrets of fame, sustenance, fortune, romance. Author David Vann went down to the sea to forge a career, to free himself forever from "the endless treadmill of middle-class labor." To accomplish his dream, Vann commissioned a sleek sailing ship in Turkey and sold educational charters to ancient ports in the Mediterranean Sea. He then embarked on a voyage so riddled with misfortune and danger it could only exist in another man's nightmares -- his ship is hopelessly flawed. But when his boat sinks, "A Mile Down" in the Caribbean, David Vann finds the key to a mystery that has haunted him for many years. "A Mile Down" is more than an adventure story; it is a memoir of discovery and reconciliation written to inspire even confirmed landlubbers. If you read only one book this summer, make that one book "A Mile Down."
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Drowning out a shout 5 July 2005
By K. Hug - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Near the end of A Mile Down, an angry charter agent shouts, "I am ashamed of the name David Vann." By then, the reader has arrived at an understanding of Vann that causes the hateful shout to fall on deaf ears. David Vann's memoir puts the reader at his side for two years as he pursues his dream of owning and operating a 90-foot sailboat. From Vann's words and actions, the reader becomes acquainted with a dreamer and a doer. No one is more critical of Vann than Vann himself. Yet, time after time, friends and associates come to his aid, freely giving of time, talent, and money. It is the cumulative sound of these silent voices that drowns out the shout of the charter agent. David Vann is somebody . . . somebody whose dream can be embraced. His craft (the sailboat) goes a mile down in a freak storm, while his craft (as a writer) allows him to go a mile down to discover enough truth about himself to sail again.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Good adventure, poorly evolved personalities 23 April 2006
By Mr. C. Doyle - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a gripping tale of a dream turned to nightmare with blow by blow accounts of storms, disasters and rescue at sea. As a simple adventure tale it leaves little wanting which explains its popularity.

David's father was a dentist. Tired of looking at yellowing enamel, he built himself a fishing boat, things went wrong with the venture and he ended up taking his life. This happened when David was 13 and left its mark.

David goes to Turkey, falls in love with the idea of owning a huge fancy yacht and deludes himself into thinking he can make this work. But rationalization seems to be a major facet of David's character.

"I've always worked hard, but the idea of the working life has frightened me since childhood. I had nightmares of adults working hard and endlessly at tasks they did not enjoy so they could continue working hard and endlessly at tasks they did not enjoy. There was not purpose or end point. Work so you can keep working. It seemed a proposition that could easily end in suicide. I wanted to escape this. I wanted to free myself from the working world and have time to write. And I wanted adventure. Grendel could never free me, but this boat could."

You might think from this passage that he had some mind-numbing job as a clerk in a big store. But David was a professor of creative writing at Stamford University, who also owned a 48-foot boat on which he gave creative writing courses. In his internal mental dialogue, the rational side of his brain must be a pushover, especially if he can convince himself that taking on locally-built 90-foot steel yacht is somehow going to give him time to write (well it eventually did, but not till after it sank).

David is not only able to delude himself, he is clearly able to draw others into his schemes without having to work to hard at it:

"During these times a curious thing happened: without quite meaning to, I sold loans for the new boat. I was simply telling the story to people who asked, but the story became a kind of spiel as I learned that these people - sometimes even without my asking - were willing to lend me money."

The book goes quickly into everything that went wrong, the rip-offs the shoddy work, and the creation of a 90-foot vessel full of unseen inherent flaws. While this does not hurt the story, it is in a way a shame, because we do not explore enough of the dream. I had to go to David's website and see pictures of the boat before I got a real feel for that. The pictures, which should have been in the book, show you better than any of his descriptions why he fell in love. This vessel was, in its own way a magnificent-looking superyacht and if he could pull it off he would get it for the price of standard 50-footer. When you are a 35-year old dreamer, it would not be hard to fall in love with the idea of being the owner and captain of such a status symbol.

Clearly the work was shoddy, though probably to normal Turkish standards. None-the-less when you see the photos and figure this huge, good looking vessel cost him only $500 tho, he was not ripped off. All the problems he encountered were, one way or another of his own making. He compounds these by trying to push along with a faulty boat to keep to a schedule set by charter commitments. It does not help that he really didn't have any money to start with. The result is a disaster at sea when the hydraulic steering system (which he had not taken the time to inspect) comes detached and the rudder starts to fall apart.

The result was a hairy rescue in a storm, salvage and bankruptcy. This probably should have been the end of the tale, but the boat proved to be impossible to sell so the bankruptcy court reverts ownership to David and he tries again.

On the second attempt, he almost succeeds, he gets to Trinidad, refits and starts to charter, it is a happier section, he gets married, and things go well. In the final part disaster strikes again, the stern splits and the boat sinks. But while this plays out in the book as a freak storm and more bad luck, it is another disaster of his own making. He decides to take this 90-foot steel giant from Trinidad to the Virgin Islands with only his wife as crew. Now, this is not well built superyacht with every gadget, it is a boat that has been built to a corner-cutting budget, with problems, which has already nearly cost both his own life and that of his friends. Furthermore it does not even have an autopilot. Two people might, in optimum conditions, be able to handle it, but there is no margin for error or bad luck. Neither does he bring on board a couple of gallons of underwater epoxy, which, given the history of this boat, should have been an early purchase, He compounds this error of judgment by heading on a direct route, rather than following the islands where he would have had a chance to stop and rest, or get something fixed if needed.

The book is written well, interesting, a good read, and as an adventure story it deserves to succeed. But I only give it three stars because as literature it fails for lack of depth in dealing with the personalities involved. Even David (and the book is written in the first person) seems strangely absent at anything other than a superficial level.

The book ends on a cheerful note. David is building a big new trimaran to charter in the Virgin Islands with some new investors. (The setbacks have not cost him any of his powers of persuasion), but you almost fear for his safety and that of his friends. Has he really learned anything form his experiences? If so we do not get a feel for it here. Maybe if he survives to write the next book we will find out.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Ctitique of critics 22 Sep 2006
By James D. Oppy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Criticism of "A Mile Down" seems to focus not on the writing or subject matter, which is universally accepted as excellent and engaging, but on the author himself and his character. This seems odd to me. Hemingway is no less a great author because of his many defects of character.

The book is a great read for anyone - sailor or no. I ate it like candy in a few days. Like others, I wished it would not end. I was inspired by the author's resilience, educated by the mistakes, and horrified by the dark side of human nature it revealed. Anyone who has sailed in a storm will understand.

Of the critics of the author's judgment, it is easy to play armchair second-guesser from the comforts of a stable, warm, dry and probably quietly desperate life. Hindsight is always 20/20, Monday morning quarterback, and all that. What I see in this book is one who, living in a glass house, throws stones at that house, and critics' complaints about the author's character ring of jealousy that they themselves haven't dared to take their best shot at their own houses. So they complain that the author's choice of stone is flawed. Horse hockey.

I deeply identified with the author. I too am a hard worker, a dreamer, a sailor, and one not content to settle for second best. I also am like the author in that I make many mistakes. I think our saving grace is the ability to learn from our experiences and remain afloat, buoyed by optimism and an abiding belief that the exceptional can be acheived.

Of course there are mistakes made. That all the ills that befall David Vann are ultimately his "fault" is without question, since had he chosen to remain safely on shore, his boat would never have sunk with him in it. So is the lesson "stay ashore?" Absolutley not.

The lesson, at least for me, is: adversity is not a reason to hide from your dreams. It is an opportunity to advance them, wiser from the the experience. This book is a fresh parable evincing an age-old truth - that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Two exhilarating reads later... 4 Sep 2005
By David H. Fixsen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
and I'm a bit worried to go out on my own sailboat! The way David brings readers along on the journeys is brilliant. I'm looking forward to his next novels making it down to New Zealand.
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