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Some fathers and sons go fishing together. Some play baseball. David and Daniel Hays decided to sail a tiny boat 17,000 miles to Cape Horn and back. This is the often hilarious account of how two men overcame the unforgiving forces of the oceans to accomplish what few had done before them. More importantly, it is a moving story of how father and son overcame the distance between them to find a deeper love and respect for each other.
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.
Posted June 17, 2012
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 2, 2001
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, OhioWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.