- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (13 Jan. 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0141012862
- ISBN-13: 978-0141012865
- Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2.7 x 19.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 190,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
To the Baltic with Bob: An Epic Misadventure Paperback – 13 Jan 2005
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The historian Macaulay once remarked that the British navy of Pepys' day was staffed by gentlemen and seamen: the seamen were not gentlemen and the gentlemen were not seamen. Comedian Griff Rhys Jones, and theBob of To the Baltic with Bob, would fall, decidedly, into the "gentlemen" category of mariner: enthusiasts, amateurs in the original sense of the word and therefore, naturally, inept sailors. (Rhys Jones pins the blame for his obsession with all things nautical on Arthur Ransome and on his late father, who made the freezing West Mercia boat park the family's home from home.) Luckily for Rhys Jones, his mate Bob is a marginally worse yachtsman. And in this record of a summer voyage from the Thames estuary to St Petersburg, Bob, the ex-hippie entrepreneur with a beguilingly childlike urge to possess Scando-Soviet tat (canned reindeer, Russian amphibious vehicles etc) is cast as Passepartout to Rhys Jones's Phileas Fogg.
The pair are assisted on their journey by Baines, a technical wizard whose abilities, as Jones says, "certainly drew attention to our own deficiencies". Rick, an anally retentive chartsman, is also around until the point at which, like a commissar in a Politburo photograph, he vanishes following a testy disagreement with the author about "Baltic surge".
The wayward sea, estuary and canal route through Holland, Denmark, Latvia, Finland, Russia and the Turko Archipelago--"so topographically complex that it was expedient not to draw it"--results, predictably, in a slew of map-prodding nautical mishaps and encounters with intransigent boat repairers, officials, restaurateurs and Estonian lap dancers. As is to be expected, from one half of television's Alas Smith and Jones (or Snow in My Cottage, as Finnish viewers knew it), Rhys Jones writes very amusingly. The petty on-board squabbles and reminiscences about his boat-blighted youth are funny and, intermittently, affecting. The contrasts he draws between the "practical, modest" peoples of Scandinavia and the swaggering pomposity of ex-imperialist nations such as Britain and Russia are well made. But, at over 400 pages, the book is flabby, bloated by extraneous incidentals and verbatim renderings of conversations of the "oh, do you remember the 1970s" variety. When, on page 370, Griff asks Bob: "Can you even remember Helsinki?" some readers may find, they too, have to think twice before answering. --Travis Elborough --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Griff Rhys Jones was born in 1953. He was educated at Brentwood school and Cambridge University. On the way to becoming a writer he worked as a security guard, a petrol-pump attendant and a television star.
Top Customer Reviews
Sadly the book came as a huge disappointment. Although Griff tries to extract humour from the events of his trip and the eccentricities of his companions (and indeed his own), the combination of his limitations as a writer and the thinness of the material result in the book struggling to maintain reader interest. While I persevered to the finish, the narrative raised little more than a few smiles which is a poor hit rate in over 400 pages. I found his attempts to create drama from the race and the small number of high wind passages positively cringe-worthy due to the unremarkable nature of the events being described.
What was particularly striking was how joyless the whole trip seemed to be. While any cruise will have highs and lows (often dictated by the weather), I was left with no sense that anyone derived any great pleasure or satisfaction from what should have been a fantastic (albeit hardly exceptional) experience. Perhaps this explains why Griff was forced to pay the two main crew members to accompany him.
In short if you want a book that extracts humour from cruising try Michael Green's Art of Coarse Sailing or Art of Coarse Cruising. While they are over 25 years old they are still hilarious. If you are looking for a humourous observational traval narratative then you will get more laughs reading a Bill Bryson book for the fourth time than setting sail with Griff and Bob.
My one criticism of this book (and I believe one of the other reviews mentions this) is the way that Griff does not appear to get any joy from his journey. It seems to be a voyage of 'oh no not another day' type days. This doesn't really detract from the book (especially given its subtitle of 'An Epic Misadventure').
If you like Griff Rhys Jones, then this is a 'must read'. You can almost hear his distinctive tones describing it. I am glad that I bothered with it and hope that Griff goes on to write more.
The book comes alive briefly in the account of a sailing race out of Kiel, but otherwise there is little to recount. The characters are thinly described and unmemorable and there's no feeling of place - they might as well have sailed around the Isle of Wight. The book seems to be like an overextended round robin letter one receives at Christmas from friends who you've lost touch with.
There is a great book to be written about the history, geography and people of the Baltic....I guess we'll just have to wait for Bill Bryson to take up sailing.
Having grown up sailing through these very waters every summer as a kid, I certainly got a couple of good laughs as my old memories resurfaced, but that was mainly from recognition rather than from much wittiness on Mr Jones' part.
In his defence Griff Rhys-Jones does on several occasions question his ability as skipper of "Undina" and whether he really should be allowed into the sea with his boat. This sets the tone of the hapless group of mariners setting out for what is, in their minds anyway, an epic adventure on the high sea. What it gives us, the reader, is a book that becomes mildly addictive as you keep turning the pages to find out who argues with whom next, and whether Bob does ever tidy up the mess he leaves in his wake (sic).
The mental pictures the author conjures up of towns in Germany, Denmark, Sweden and so on are crystal clear and the type of people that the crew encounter really do exist!
For those of us who dream of undertaking such a voyage, this is almost as good as being there. For those who have no inclination to ever take to the sea, it still remains a good, amusing read.
This sits comfortably in the middle ground between Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson travel writing and I hope that Mr Rhys-Jones undertakes another journey in the near future and then finds the time, in between his global voice over career, to write another volume.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I have read this book 3 times now and will read it again. Love it so much. Funny and informative. Easy reading. Cant put it down. And thats even when i know how it ends. Read morePublished 20 months ago by m a oakley
Not as informative as I had hoped and not as funny as I expected. Very irritating to have a travel book without maps.Published on 8 May 2014 by Jeannie
If you are after a good sailing book, with lots of info and a full log, this is not for you.
A very subjective piece of writing which is really disappointing.
This is Griff at his best giving an hilarious romp through this 3,000 mile trip to a regatta in Flensburg and on to St Petersburg. Read morePublished on 23 Mar. 2013 by David Twittey
Bought a preloved copy which arrived in as new condition, for my husband. As he has sailed in this area he has really enjoyed reading it.Published on 2 Dec. 2012 by Kizzy
Enjoyed Griffrhts other book on his childhood and this lived up to my expectations.Great for a light hearted read.Hope he writes another amusing book.Published on 14 Sept. 2011 by denbyfan1
If I were a sailor, which I'm not, or if I understood nautical terms, which I don't, I would have enjoyed this book substantially more than I did. Read morePublished on 23 Nov. 2010 by Ms. Fiona Allen
I found this book a real struggle. I loved the idea and I'm a huge fan of Griff's TV travel-style shows, but this for me didn't have the same flow (no pun intended). Read morePublished on 17 Nov. 2010 by Steve Turnbull - Bude