I can’t actually remember when I first learned about this crazy sailor guy named John Kretschmer. But I do remember that I instantly liked him. I picked up his book, Cape Horn To Starboard and read it faster than I had read any other book, besides Green Eggs & Ham. John and I met in person that same day I met Mia and Andy… at the Miami boatshow in 2010. I’ve read every book John’s written since then, and find his writing quite engaging, he’s a skillful and experienced storyteller.
His latest book, Sailing A Serious Ocean is another great read. In this one, he tells more wild and crazy sailing stories while also infusing some real useful technical data and experienced based instruction into the pages. He’s managed to give me two things I love – sailing stories and detailed information – all in one book. But he does this in such a matter of fact kind of way, that I don’t feel like I am reading a How-To book, but rather reading long lost journals from a master, the likes of Darwin.
John makes no claims to be perfect. In fact he illustrates his lessons quite often by telling stories of mistakes, and close encounters. Humility of this kind can only come with vast, vast amounts of experience. He shares lessons on storm tactics – one’s he’s tested personally, over and over. He shares thoughts on hull and rig design – one’s he’s sailed personally, over and over and on long passages. He poses realistic questions to consider before buying a boat – the questions brokers don’t want you to ask! He’s got a list of the boats actually out there cruising over the past 12 years. I was happy to see our Norseman 447 made the list a few times. He illustrates realistic Man Over Board techniques – of course, from experience! And wouldn’t ya know it – this person went overboard while relieving themselves over the side – but the cliché ends there. It was a woman.
This book is chock full of precious nuggets. He references a bunch of classic sailing books that have now made it to my must-read list. Each chapter begins with some quotes from John’s favorite authors – it’s obvious he’s read alot of great books. Here are some of my favorites quotes:
Being hove-to in a long gale is the most boring way of being terrified I know
— Donald Hamilton, Cruisies with Kathleen
In the artificial world of his cities and towns, man often forgets the true nature of his planet. The sense of all these things comes to him most clearly in the course of a long voyage, when he watches day after day the receding rim of the horizon, ridged and furrowed by the waves. And then, as never on land, he knows the truth, that his world is a water world.
— Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us
The ocean waits
to measure or slay me
the ocean waits
and I will sail.
—Webb Chiles, from his website
John is such a fantastic storyteller. When I first heard him speak in Miami, he had me on the edge of my seat with every word. The training passages he makes offer a captive audience for his tales, and he’s undoubtedly practiced them many times. His writing is no different. In Sailing A Serious Ocean, he devotes a good portion of the book to a topic everyone loves – storm stories. Again, it is with such humility that he recounts these harrowing, heart raising and educational tales. From the chapter Storm Stories:
This chapter is, with all humility aside, my small, personal version of Heavy Weather Sailing (Adlard Coles). It details my experiences in some of the storms that made my top ten list from chapter seven that are not described elsewhere in this book. What makes my experience unique is that I have dealt with storms in a variety of boats and with very different crews. There are certainly lessons to be learned from my encounters, and more likely than not, they’ve been lessons learned the hard way, or even the wrong way. I seem to learn only from my mistakes and I hope the storm stories that follow will help you avoid some of the same pitfalls.
I really can’t recommend this book enough. We have a pretty strict book policy onboard Rocinante. There isn’t room to keep all the books we love. Most of the hard copy books we have are reference books. Novels and biographies don’t make the shelves, they remain digitized on the Kindle. But this book of stories, has a place on our shelf. It’s a great reference, and one we like to pull out and share with our Morse Alpha students.