Alone through the Roaring Forties (The sailor's classics) Hardcover – 1 Jul 2001
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From the Back Cover
"One of the classic small-boat voyages of all time." Jonathan Raban
In June 1942, Vito Dumas set off from Buenos Aires for a trip around the world unlike any previous circumnavigation eastward over the "impossible route," the Roaring Forties of the Southern Ocean: south of the Cape of Good Hope, south of Australia, and south of Cape Horn. His craft, the Lehg II, a 31-foot ketch named for his mistress, carried only the most makeshift gear and provisions; he refused to carry a sea anchor, a bilge pump, or more than one screwdriver, and he had so few clothes that he had to stuff them with newspaper to keep warm. He also sailed without a radio, as carrying one during wartime would have labeled him a spy.
He was the first to complete the 20,000-mile voyage single-handed, the first solo sailor to round Cape Horn and survive, and the first to sail around the world with only three landfalls (in South Africa, New Zealand, and Chile). But what sets this story apart is Dumas's powerful prose, relating elation and depression, hardship and relaxation, and, above all, his unrelenting determination in the face of adversity. The terror of sailing through massive storms without respite from the helm alternates with periods of relative calm when he reflects on the peaceful, enchanting nature of the sea. His trio of landfalls sojourns he called "calm waters where my spirit could rest" add yet another dimension to this beautiful tale. Alone through the Roaring Forties is also a tribute to Lehg II, Dumas's beloved boat. He calls her his "shipmate," and "faithful companion," "an ideal floating house of extraordinary strength and endurance," and had complete faith in her abilities and performance.
First published in 1960, Alone through the Roaring Forties is a classic tale of skilled navigation, seamanship, and great adventure, but it also demonstrates, as Dumas intended, the possibilities of global peace and friendship in a world at war. As Jonathan Raban writes in his introduction, "Dumas chose to see his circumnavigation as a test of his ordinary humanity. There are hurricane-force winds here, and hazardous waves, but . . . it is his reverence for the small things that gives Alone through the Roaring Forties its distinction as a classic."
"Other solo circumnavigators have made the world seem dauntingly larger by their harrowing exploits; Dumas makes it seem smaller. He rides lightly over the vicissitudes of his voyage, perhaps because his mission was to connect up the world at a time when it was tragically divided." from the introduction by Jonathan Raban
The Sailor's Classics recognizes and celebrates the best books ever written about life aboard small boats at sea:
40,000 Miles in a Canoe, John C. Voss
Gipsy Moth Circles the World, Francis Chichester
The Saga of Cimba, Richard Maury
The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall
About the Author
Vito Dumas was born in Argentina in 1900. He was an avid swimmer in his youth, reportedly making a 42-kilometer, 25-hour swim across the Rio Plate estuary from Uruguay to Argentina at the age of twenty-three. At the same time he developed a love of sailing, at least in part, his translator hints, as an escape from difficult family circumstances. Dumas's several ocean voyages began in 1931 with a 74-day solo trip from France to Argentina. Subsequent to his around-the-world voyage, he circumnavigated the Atlantic in 1945-46 and sailed from Buenos Aires to New York in 1955 in a tiny, 2-1/2 ton boat. When not at sea he was a farmer and rancher by livelihood, painter and musician by avocation. He was awarded the Slocum Prize, the most coveted award for ocean voyagers, in 1957. Like many lone voyagers he had definite ideas and idiosyncrasies, refusing to carry a sea anchor, a bilge pump, or more than one screw driver on board. Dumas died in Argentina. Born in England in 1942, Jonathan Raban taught English literature before becoming a full-time writer in 1969. He first lived in America as a visiting professor at Smith College in 1972. A full-time writer since 1969, his books include Soft City (1973), Arabia Through the Looking Glass (1979), Old Glory: A Voyage Down the Mississippi (1981 - winner of the W.H. Heinemann Award for Literature and the Thomas Cook Award), Foreign Land (1985), Coasting: A Private Voyage (1986), For Love and Money (1987), Hunting Mister Heartbreak: A Discovery of America (1990 - winner of the Thomas Cook Award), and Bad Land: An American Romance (1996 - a New York Times Editors' Choice for Book of the Year; winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award; winner of the PEN West Creative Nonfiction Award; winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award). Paul Theroux called Bad Land "a masterpiece," and a recent Kirkus review of Raban's newest book, Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings (November 1999), calls him "one of the English-speaking world's great travelers and travel writers." Raban began sailing in the early 1980s. He has sailed alone around Britain and has spent much time afloat on the coastal seas of Europe. Since moving to Seattle in 1990, he sails a twenty-year-old Swedish ketch on the rim of the North Pacific. He edited The Oxford Book of the Sea in 1992. The Guardian has called him "the finest writer afloat since Conrad." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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It struck me as a very honest account without a lot of making things sound more impressive than they actually are. He talks a bit about getting sick on board, but he accepts that as just part of the challenge. He also talks about getting a tiny bit careless after going so far around the world, and getting put ashore in what must have appeared to be a "novice" mistake. At that point, he was ANYTHING but a novice. It's just the kind of thing that might happen to any one of us, which is exactly what makes this book so appealing to me.
If you want to escape from your land-locked life for a few hours with a good book, consider this one strongly. The chapters are generally fairly short, and the pages turn quickly, because he really draws you in with his writing style. His description of his experience with the waves in the South Pacific still has me spellbound.
I will read this book again and again over the years.
His account of circling the world the hard way
is modest, intimate, and filled with love and joy.
If you want to know what it means to love the sea
and to sail the world alone in a small boat,
you must read these three authors:
Slocum, Guzzwell, and Dumas.
The understated style Dumas has in describing harrowing, life-threatening moments at sea can be tedious. "On the 6th of July my arm was worse. The sea had gone a little, the wind remained very fresh. At 10 o'clock I set down the storm trysail, a sail for foul weather, smaller than the mainsail under which I had set out. This task, hard enough at any time on a moving deck, was doubly awkward with my right arm useless; I was beginning to get worried about the septic condition." Yikes. A useless septic arm in the middle of a stormy ocean? with fresh wind ?? (or as Bob Dylan might put it, 'wild ripping hail'.) The modern reader may get bored with the passive voice and lack of imagery. However, if you can read between the lines his humbling understated account is heroic.