Shakedown Cruise: Lessons and Adventures from a Cruising Veteran as He Learns the Ropes
by Nigel Calder
Adlard Coles Publishing
I approached Nigel Calder’s latest book with the usual trepidation. Once again, the Grand Master of boats and systems had chosen a topic — in this case, his first real seagoing adventure — and put it into book form. It’s hard to get one’s mind around Calder’s world, so thorough is his process and so seemingly omniscient his point of view. It’s useful, certainly, but it’s also intimidating. He knows all things.
This is an extraordinary book, however, since he pulls back the curtain on how he came to be Nigel Calder, takes us back to 1987 when he was a novice — a hippie who wanted to go sailing but didn’t know much about the subject. Calder wrote this book shortly after he returned from his first extended journeys on Nada with his wife Terrie and their young children. But the manuscript sat in a drawer for 30 years only to be “dusted off” this past year and revisited by the author. If the book had been published shortly after the Calder family’s return, the result would have been just another sailing book about a family’s adventures and misadventures at sea. But it’s because we know how the story turns out, that Calder would spend the next 30 years devoted to the subject of cruising boats and attain the status of an expert, that this beginner’s story is so valuable and intriguing.
We learn that sailing is not easy for the Calder family. Each member suffers from seasickness on rough passages. When Terrie and Nigel sailed from Louisiana in 1987, their daughter was only a year old, and Terrie was three months pregnant. What follows is one hardship after another: rough seas, broken gear and near-constant adverse winds. They intended a circumnavigation; they only made it as far as Venezuela before turning back, realizing the dream was simply not worth the trouble. At one point, Calder describes transiting north from Venezuela to St. Lucia. Their infant son is running a fever from infection, their 2-year-old daughter is seasick and vomiting — which soon provokes the same in Terrie — and soon everyone is throwing up. The winds are adverse (of course), and a 2-knot current is pushing them off course. Calder himself is soon sick and barely able to control the boat. The situation gets worse and culminates in a scene that is so awful he somehow finds humor. Again and again, Calder admits to foibles and mistakes, which make the journey sound horrible but also true to life. This is no pleasure cruise, but what emerges is a story and a narrative voice that is at turns thoughtful, funny and brilliant.
After this journey, it’s incredible that Calder stuck with it. His subsequent devotion to his subject and his prolific body of published work are remarkable because of his ability to slowly and methodically work through a puzzle and not become deterred by adversity. Just as inspiring, however, was his realization that, by giving up his dream to circumnavigate and devoting himself to shorter sailing adventures and then writing about boats, he could be an even better father and husband.