Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Two in a Boat

Okay, I lied. I'm writing another review. But this still doesn't mean I'm turning into a reveiwer. For starters, this book is over two years old, and for seconders, I know what I'm like: I'll be writing about seacocks or the spinnaker winches next week.

But for now, my pinprick of a spotlight is on Gwyneth Lewis's boat and her journey on it. I read Two in a Boat after my trip around Scotland last summer, but before I started to write about the interplay between me and my fellow crewmates - how in all that expanse sometimes it's like being locked in a toilet together. Gwyneth's book expands on this. And obviously is much much better.

It's subtitled 'A Marital Rite of Passage'. And this is what makes it different to the other sea adventures I've read - they being by singlehanders. The other big difference is that Gwyneth didn't know how to sail before she and her husband for a round the world trip in the Nicholson 35 they bought for the trip. one of the 'classics' - a solid design that'll look after those on board in big seas (rather like our Sadler 29). And while I started off with little sympathy for her, the quality of observation and relentless honesty at her own ineffectualness and her attitude towards Leighton, her husband, turned me round pretty quickly.

Gwyneth also suffered from seasickness - and not just a few hours of nausea, but days and days of dehibilitation. And while I know how horrendous that is, she manages to turn it into comic material. And then switch from this, to frustration (at her husband's mood swings), to historical facts (about the ports they entered) to the poetic. Perhaps unsurprisingly the latter was my favourite - although only because there was the others in the mix.

Gwyneth makes comparisons between frontal depressions that form the weather and her own emotional pressure systems. They work in a simliar way and the consequence of both is ripe for comparison - one of those things that I can't believe I'd not connected before - which is what makes GL such a great writer, who belies her straight-talking style. There's a brilliant list of man-made ropes midway through that she reconsiders as a list of moral qualities in a potential partner, in which she rates 'resistance to weather' as higher than 'complete kink resistance'.

So much has been written about the sea and us on it that there's a danger of anything more being cliched and worn. Two in a Boat skirts this particular hazard by keeping descriptions of the sea to a minimum and the focus on the human drama on board. Perhaps inevitably there's a lot of fingerpointing (at Leighton), which wore me down a little, as did the blame on the mechanics they employed to fix their continuing engine failure. But then in her position, those things would, wouldn't they?

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