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My Old Man and the Sea: A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn

My Old Man and the Sea: A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn

4.0 1
by David Hays, Daniel Hays, Daniel Hays (With)

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Some fathers and sons go fishing together. Some play ball. David Hays and Daniel Hays sailed 17,000 miles through the world's most feared and fabled waters in a little boat they built together. This is their story.

Alone with nothing but the mammoth waves of the Southern Ocean, the unceasing wind, a compass, a sextant and a pet cat, they voyage down the


Some fathers and sons go fishing together. Some play ball. David Hays and Daniel Hays sailed 17,000 miles through the world's most feared and fabled waters in a little boat they built together. This is their story.

Alone with nothing but the mammoth waves of the Southern Ocean, the unceasing wind, a compass, a sextant and a pet cat, they voyage down the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, past the Galapagos Islands, beyond Easter Island and around their destination—Cape Horn. Father and son narrate in alternating fashion, their voices weaving together an engrossing story of travel, exploration and difficult, dangerous sailing.

But more than a tale of adventure, this is a touching account of a father and son's rite of passage as they assess their complex and evolving relationship. Daniel, out of college and unsure of what he wants in his life, sees his father getting older, more forgetful. David deals with unresolved issues he had with his own father, fearful that he'll make the same mistakes with his son, yet frustrated that Daniel treats him like an old man.

Moving, often hilarious, often poignant, My Old Man and the Sea is a rich and profound chronicle of their voyage of discovery. Every reader will identify with this uplifting story of a father and son who go down to the sea and find each other.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As a child, David Hays regarded sailing around Cape Horn as the ultimate adventure. Now, in middle age, he makes the voyage with his 24-year-old son, hoping to regain a youthful perspective on life. Daniel, just out of college, wanted time to think about commitment to a career. Together, they built a 25-foot sloop, Sparrow, and set out across the Caribbean, navigating by compass and sextant. Sparrow carried neither motor nor radar, only a two-way, short-range radio. Father and son take turns giving their accounts of the 17,000-mile voyage. Their course was through the Panama Canal, then south by way of the Galapagos and Easter Islands. On day 179, they passed the Horn, having made 230 miles in 36 hours without being able to search the sky for sights because of the weather; in return for that feat of navigation, Dan became the captain. It is an engaging adventure, and a remarkable story of a father-son relationship. First serial to Sailing magazine; author tour. (June)
Library Journal
Rounding Cape Horn is to a sailor what Mount Everest is to a mountaineer. Hays, a sailor all his life, as well as the founder of the National Theater of the Deaf, decides to challenge the horn with his son, Dan. They purchase a Laurent Giles-designed 25-foot fiberglass Vertue Class hull and spend the next two years preparing Sparrow for the voyage. Dan sails with friends the first leg from Connecticut to Jamaica, where his father comes aboard. They sail through the Panama Canal, over to the Galapagos, down to Easter Island, round the Horn to the Falklands, up the coast to Montevideo, Rio, and on to Antigua. The narrative is written in diary format with each sailor trading stories and telling his own version of the voyage. The Hayses concentrate on telling the story, which is remarkably free of the heavy emphasis on equipment, technique, and terms that are usually present in this genre. They claim to be the first Americans to round the Horn in a boat smaller than 30 feet. Armchair sailors are sure to enjoy. Recommended for public libraries.-John Kenny, San Francisco, P.L.
School Library Journal
YA-Anyone who loves adventure and journeys to faraway places will surely enjoy this exciting account of a father and son who set sail in their 25-foot boat for a voyage around Cape Horn, site of ``engulfed and shattered'' ships. This engrossing and entertaining journal, alternating between the two men, is a chronicle of happenings on board and at ports-of-call along the way. There are nautical details of interest to would-be and skilled mariners alike; some historical narrative about experiences of earlier voyagers around the dreaded Horn, and, in a lighter vein, numerous descriptions of the antics of Tiger, the beloved cat and companion on the voyage. This is also a story of the loving but often difficult relationship between a father and his grown son, the better sailor of the two. One very much admires the younger man's courage and determination, as on the return leg of the journey, he undertakes to sail the boat home entirely alone. This fascinating book about a dangerous venture should appeal to YAs and perhaps inspire them to set some challenging goals themselves.-Helen Lazar, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.57(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Idea

Indeed our sufferings, short as has been our passage (about two weeks), have been so great, that I would advise those bound to the Pacific never to attempt the passage of Cape Horn, if they can get there by any other route.
-- Capt. David Porter, USS Essex, March 1914


Dad is a romantic. He grew up in a world that seemed open-ended. No one had run a four-minute mile. He learned that Everest was climbed while he was a student, standing through the night in the London rain with his roommate, Norman Geschwind, "waiting for the Queen of England to pass by on her coronation day." Or so he says. That was on his twenty-third birthday, June 2, 1953. That's about my age now. He grew up on Richard Halliburton and read about Admiral Byrd's expeditions as they happened. Lindbergh flew to Paris three years before he was born. Dad's father--and I remember him slightly--was born when there were no cars, and he almost lived to see men walk on the moon. My grandmother on Dad's side is still alive and she can recite perfectly her favorite poem, which she learned before the First World War. The poem is by Longfellow, and he wrote it only twenty-five years before she was born. Dad was too young for the Second World War, but slightly older friends were killed in it. They all believed in that war, an idea that is more remote to me than any of these other things.

When Dad went to college at Harvard, there was a 20, percent quota for Jewish students, or so I've been told. Almost all of them made the Dean's List. His mother once said that when Jews becameaccepted in country clubs and so forth, their rate of achievement would go down. Now they are and it has, according to Dad. My older sister, Julia, followed him to Harvard, as he had followed his brother, Richard. They were all magna cum laude. I know it's good to he magna cum laude, but I don't know why. When it was my turn, I walked out of the SATs (to the pencils-down applause of my classmates), and found that colleges didn't seem to appreciate my excuse: "It sucked." I only got into Connecticut College because, while scuba diving one day, I found a 250-pound anchor that the assistant director of admissions had given up for lost. Now I've just finished college, and I'm not so sure the world is waiting for me. But I can work hard, and since I was sixteen I've worked as a counselor with emotionally troubled kids not much younger than me. I usually know how they feel. It's good work for me, the almost-prodigal son, the dark gray sheep in the family.

Dad's ancestors fought in the American Revolution. Mom's parents came from Hungary. They were promised that there was gold in the streets here, and she grew up poor, in Harlem, in a family where they did things like jump on grapes in the bathtub. The passionate closeness that we have comes from that Budapest side. Mom earned her living as a modern dancer from the time she was fourteen or fifteen. She's confused about how old she is because she faked her birth certificate to get working papers.

I love my father and my mother and my sister very much. That's our family--small, close, usually yelling, totally involved, worried about each other, intense, neurotic, and always trying to make sure that the others are all happy and doing the best possible things. As I remember it, the only place we all seemed to meet was up in the bathroom.

Anyway, this trip with my father really starts one day when I'm sitting in the dining room at college during lunch. Dad shows up--he's teaching a design class there that year. (He says the students are so boring that the only thing that keeps him awake is the nude model posing across the courtyard for the Art 101 students.) Characteristically, he has a twelve-volt battery with him--we're always fixing something--and he charges at me pouring salt from a saltshaker and yelling, "Assault and Battery!" I introduce him to my friends, who then politely excuse themselves.

We had recently sailed Minitaur, our twenty-two-foot catboat, from the Bahamas to New London, about one thousand miles. I've never seen an account of another catboat making an ocean passage. Partly it's because catboats are one-half cockpit and not the best for ocean sailing--big waves can fill and sink them. We lashed in an air-filled waterbed and blew it up to fill most of the cockpit. We also put a bolt through the centerboard, fixing it so that it couldn't retract into its sleeve if we capsized. We ran into three days of Gulf Stream gale but made it home, and swiftly enough. The real problem was her one huge sail. She performed beautifully if she wore exactly the right amount of canvas and we sailed her well. If not, she was a wallowing bathtub. So I spent most of the trip reefing or letting out the reefs on that twenty-one-foot boom. It was maddening work--handreefing on a four-hundred-square-foot sail. We talked about adding a mizzenmast, to convert her to a yawl, which has been done with catboats. That would have cut one hundred square feet from that huge mainsail. But for Cape Horn we wanted a boat that took care of us instead of us taking care of her every mile. It made us sad to think of giving her up, because she was so perfectly beautiful.

Meet the Author

David Hays is the Founding Artistic Director of the National Theatre of the Deaf. He is a graduate of Harvard, with a long career in the theatre in England and America, who holds honorary doctorates at Connecticut College, Gallaudet University, and Wesleyan University. He is the author of a book on stage lighting and is a lifelong sailor. He lives in Connecticut.

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My Old Man and the Sea: A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
dlb333 More than 1 year ago
If you enjoy sailing stories and enjoy stories that explore relationships, this is the book for you. The co-authors alternate chapters which is interesting because it presents each one's perspective of both the events and their evolving relationship. The only drawback is that this sometimes makes it a bit confusing, but it is worth it. This true story contains excitement, sadness, and just plain quiet moments of reflection.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A wonderful book that kept my short attention span until the end. It reveals the different and same ways that a father and son look at their voyage and each other. Further it shows how Dan and his father learned to live and work with together. I now have a stonger yearning to cruise with my father who has never sailed. A.J. Altonen Ashtabula, Ohio