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.