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Nichols quits his soured marriage and takes to the sea, there to feel better about himself, to do something well for a change. His self-appointed challenge is a single-handed sail across the North Atlantic in a shallow-draft, motorless, 27-foot sailboat by the name of Toad, a boat in which he and his wife had recently made the trip in the opposite direction. Nichols is a likable soul—impecunious, living by his wits, a sailor's sailor who navigates by sextant and instinct, adapting to the dictates of sea and sky. Meteorologically, the weather is with him; emotionally, he finds choppy seas: The bust-up of his marriage plagues him, memories insistently emerge—the more so when he discovers his wife's five-volume diary and flips through its pages. The diaries afford Nichols the opportunity to reminisce about his vagabond years with his wife, sailing in the Virgin Islands and in European waters, always on a shoestring, always bickering. While his inner journey is in no way as tedious as it might have been, it is a relief when Nichols snaps into the present and takes a look around. He has a knack for rendering his landfalls—the Scilly Islands and the Azores—in sharp relief, and a way of making his voyage feel like something out of time: Nothing more than wind drives his boat (remember, this is the North Atlantic, where a motor often comes in real handy) and reckoning is an art, not a digital readout.
Though Toad springs a major leak and must be abandoned before reaching its destination, one comes away with the feeling that Nichols has indeed acquitted himself well.