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Desperate Voyage

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Overview

In May 1946 John Caldwell set out to sail from Panama to Sydney to reunite with his wife who he hadn't seen for more than a year. Eager to reach his destination and unable to secure any other form of transport, he had to resort to singlehanded seamanship.

After an ignominious scene in the harbor, where a tangled anchor led him to take an early dip, he spent ten days learning the rudiments of navigation and sailing from a book, before embarking on the 9,000 mile journey aboard ...

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Desperate Voyage

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Overview

In May 1946 John Caldwell set out to sail from Panama to Sydney to reunite with his wife who he hadn't seen for more than a year. Eager to reach his destination and unable to secure any other form of transport, he had to resort to singlehanded seamanship.

After an ignominious scene in the harbor, where a tangled anchor led him to take an early dip, he spent ten days learning the rudiments of navigation and sailing from a book, before embarking on the 9,000 mile journey aboard the 20-foot Pagan. Ahead lay a mission that was to reveal in him elements not only of astounding courage and determination, but also of incredible foolhardiness. Within 500 miles of Panama John Caldwell had already been shipwrecked once and had his boat's engine and cockpit destroyed by an angry shark. Indefatigable, he decided to press on towards his goal.He endured the terrors and discomforts of life on the high seas and enjoyed the triumphs of fighting and winning against the elements.

This is more than an exciting tale of sea-adventure. It is as compelling and unpredictable as a thriller. It is the story, witty and moving, of a man, motivated initially by love, and ultimately by his own fierce determination to survive.

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Editorial Reviews

Latitude 38
A must read for all would-be voyagers.
Sailing Today
[An] astounding tale of courage and adventure....an engaging, well-written story that combines elements of romance with incredible adventure, farce and foolhardiness. If ever there was an argument for the benefits of sail training, this book cements it. Riveting stuff.
The Island
One of the classic 'How I did it on a shoe-string in an unsuitable boat, knowing nothing about sailing' books....A good read and hooray for the days when people could do this sort of thing without attracting condemnation.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780924486203
  • Publisher: Sheridan House, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/28/1991
  • Series: Mariner's Library
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 626,834
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.15 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

John Caldwell went on to graduate from the University of California Santa Barbara. He sailed all over the world with his wife Mary and their two sons. While sailing in the Caribbean he caught a glimpse of his dream island, Prune Island. He obtained a 99-year lease on the island, planted palms, renamed it Palm Island and established his own resort. The rest of his life was spent sailing around the islands he loved and sharing his passion with lucky visitors to his Caribbean paradise.
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Read an Excerpt

Ah yes, the romance of the sea. It seems to hit everyone at some point, even the most hardened landlubber. But John Caldwell's case is a little different. In May of 1946, the end of World War II, this American was trying desperately to return to his Australian bride Mary. Berths were limited at the end of the war, and the earliest sailing date he could manage was 1947...not soon enough. So he bought a 27' cutter in Panama:

"I longed to see my bride again. However, I must admit, as sailing time neared I was gripped more and more with a fever for what was ahead. The adventure of it drew me on like a magnet. In three years of sailing on heavy freighters and oilers in the Merchant Marine, I had never been so taken with the romance of a sea voyage. Suddenly I was rapt in the prospect; my own boat to command at my own will on the southern seas."

Surprisingly enough for a Merchant Marine, Caldwell had no firsthand knowledge of sailing - he did have a copy of How to Sail which he read everyday and "mentally practiced the ritual of getting under sail." He name his ship the Pagan, and with twin kittens as crew, he set off:

"I decided on the spur of the moment not to use the sails since the engine performed so agreeably. I lashed the tiller, and sprang to the bow to ready the anchor in case I needed it. It was tangled with its chain, which was strewn across the fore scuttle.

"I took up the anchor, heaved back on the folds of chain to clear them, and made to lay the anchor beside its hawsehole. The deck tilted ever so slightly I stubbed against the traveller. My foot slipped. I went over, back first, clawing upward. I was under in a second, dragged by the anchor. I dropped it, and groped to the surface. When I could see again, Pagan was a length away, sliding eagerly on toward the moored yachts. The anchor chain was rattling through the hawse..."

In a flash the ship turns on its anchor chain and heads straight for him...

Not at all what he had anticipated when he decided to sail 8,500 miles across the Pacific. The Pagan is later broadsided by a giant tree limb near an uninhabited island, and repaired. Then she is attacked by gales, and the kittens fall overboard (soon rescued) - followed by idyllic days at sea with plenty of flying fish, dolphins and other "animal companions." By August he reaches the Caroline Islands, and a hurricane:

"I lay on my back on the blown decks working with only my hands and forearms in the wind. I took my time; thought carefully over each job before I did it. When I finished, Pagan was bolstered by full shrouds and I was eased of mind. The decks, aheave and awash, didn't seem so bad with the mast safely held.

"The job completed, I made the gross error of sitting up to check it. An explosive wind bent me to a helpless angle. A flurry of bubbling water lifted me bodily and bounced me against the deckhouse and into the shrouds, then whelmed me over the rail on to a churning sea..."

And after that, he runs out of food.

Caldwell himself is immensely appealing and this gives his story added attraction. Seasoned sailors will be astounded by his early naïve assumptions, yet his courage and persistence will earn their admiration. And the rest of us will be equally horrified and captivated.

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Table of Contents

Cutter Pagan
Plan of Pagan
Map of the voyage
About the Author
I. Preparation
II. Departure
III. Practice
IV. Confidence
V. Sunk!
VI. Castaway
VII. Adventure
VIII. Overboard
IX. Malpelo Isle
X. Navigation
XI. Crew
XII. Unenchanted Isles!
XIII. Post Office Bay
XIV. Trade Winds
XV. Devilfish
XVI. Hurricane
XVII. Dismasted
XVIII. Jury Rig
XIX. Lost
XX. Foodless
XXI. Starvation and Land
XXII. Rescue
XXIII. Tuvutha
XXIV. Going Native
XXV. A Sail!
XXVI. Australia
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2001

    A 'one in a lifetime' journey

    The author is a novice sailor stranded in Panama with a desire to reach his wife in Australia. This ambition coupled with a lack of seamanship, a good boat and salty story telling ability offer a read which is humorous and exciting. (The journey is so filled with interesting events that it was rumored to be a fabrication among the boating community...but who knows for sure)?

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