An evocative and mesmerizing page-turner, Cold Oceans is the thrilling story of Jon Turk's expeditions to some of the most inhospitable regions on earth. Even after being shipwrecked off Cape Horn, stopped by ice in the Northwest Passage, and beaten back by Arctic blizzards, Turk has continued to follow an irresistible urge to explore.
Guided by his restless spirit and fueled by tales of Elizabethan explorers, Turk first heads off alone to kayak around Cape Horn. But while he is paddling through the rain and mists, a racing storm scuttles his plans. On his next trip, he and his partner, Chris Seashore, attempt to row the Northwest Passage in a single season, but find themselves more often dragging than rowing their skiff through the half-frozen, gelatinous sea. Two years later, he attempts to run a dog team up the east coast of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, making his final camp beneath a wind-varnished iceberg locked into a frozen sea. On his last expedition, he's again joined by Chris (by now his wife) as they paddle sea kayaks along an ancient Inuit migration route from Ellesmere Island to Greenland. Following in the footsteps of old ways, and listening to the land, its people, journey.
Woven throughout the book is Jon and Chris's deepening relationship, and his reflections on the legendary explorers and adventurers who preceded him (Magellan, Frobisher, Amundsen, and others) and the aboriginal people who survived in these harsh lands. Turk writes with grace, humor, and assured knowledge of the Arctic landscape, capturing its beauty, power, vastness, and loneliness. His story is one of love, self-discovery, and his exuberant passion for wild places.
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No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream--alone.
Heart of Darkness
The back porch of the 1890s bar is perched over a narrow slough that washes kelp, cannery wastes, and sea life back and forth with the tides. One Saturday afternoon in 1975 I was drinking beer with a group of Pacific Northwest fishermen and boatbuilders. As the empty pitchers accumulated, the talk veered to sailing, and my friend Craig announced that only people who had sailed around Cape Horn could toast the queen with their feet on the table. Craig wiped the foam off his beard and grinned. Another friend thought that you were allowed only one foot on the table, but no one was sure.
A second tide change reminded me that I had been drinking for over six hours and it was time to go home. I walked toward my apartment, which was one unit of four clustered duplexes that were slowly sinking into a common swamp. A week before, a public health official had flushed purple dye down our toilets to test the septic system, and no one was surprised when the swamp behind our buildings turned purple. Craig went on a midnight foray, stole a plastic pink flamingo from someone's lawn in suburbia, and set it among the cattails in the purple muck. Then he spray-painted THE GETTO on the west wall of the duplex.
I looked at the wall, turned back to town, staggered into the hardware store, and bought a can of fluorescent pink spray paint. Then I returned home and addeda capital H between the G and the E.
I had chosen my lifestyle. As I told the counselor during the breakup of my second marriage, I didn't want a good job, respectable career, house, new car, mortgage, and membership in the country club. I was on a different journey, and I didn't mind living in a few ghettos along the way. But at least I would spell the word right.
As I walked unsteadily toward my sagging front porch, I reflected that my grand journey had taken me only as far as La Conner, Washington, the ghetto, and the 1890s bar. An early evening breeze blew in from the slough, and small purple waves circled around the flamingo's skinny legs. I tried to imagine the huge rollers of the southern ocean.
A few days later I told my friends at the bar that I was thinking about sailing around the Horn.
No one said anything for a few moments, then one man shook his head. "It was just a joke, Man. That's serious shit. I mean, you're not a sailor. Buy a small sloop, sail around the San Juan Islands for a few years, take a test passage to Hawaii, learn about boats, buy a better yacht, then think about Cape Horn."
He was right and I knew it, but I didn't care. I had earned my Ph.D. in chemistry four years earlier. Then I had run away--from my career; from my first wife, Elizabeth, and our daughter, Reeva; and from my second wife, Debby, and our two children, Nathan and Noey. I had intentionally created a huge void to be filled by something else. But what? I had been earning a living writing science textbooks, but the job didn't fill the emotional vacuum. What about a sloping deck, wind in the rigging, spray in the air? I was too excited to plan this expedition over several years, so I drove to Seattle and bought Hussy, a forty-six-foot wooden sloop. On the way home I stopped to visit Debby, Nathan, and Noey. Despite our differences and divorce, Debby and I remained good friends, and she asked me to stay for dinner. We chatted about trivia and I played with the kids, but I didn't mention the yacht.
After dessert, Debby asked, "Did you just fall in love?"
"Well, you're acting different; something happened in your life."
She knew me so well.
I told her about Hussy and my dream. Debby agreed with me that the mechanical details would fall in place if the journey was important enough.
I wanted to hug her and be close again, but her frightened eyes warned me away.
"It's late. I'd better go."
She walked me to the door, but I couldn't find my shoes. We searched the house--no shoes. Finally, Noey, who was three years old, approached. "Well, Daddy, if you can't find your shoes, maybe you'll have to stay. You could sleep with me but my bed is too small. Maybe you'll have to sleep with Mommy."
I knelt down and sat Noey on my knee. She smiled and snuggled. I asked, "Where are my shoes?"
She lifted her tiny hands. "I don't know."
I laughed and asked again, then spoke sternly. Finally she led me to her room and pulled back the bedcovers to reveal the hidden shoes.
What People are Saying About This
"Cold Oceans is the rare book that comes to the heart of what makes men wander. Jon Turk is a visionary adventurer who takes incredible risks and dares to fail grandly--but that is not the point. In this honest and elegant story, enriched with leaping porpoises, an animate landscape, and compassionate portraits of Inuit hunters, we have a glimpse into our own souls: how both love and adventure can heal man, and for Jon Turk at least, bring life full circle."
"Jon Turk clearly reaffirms his own personal integrity and his reader's faith in the waning spirit of adventure. His realizations aobut his sea-level adventures touch higher ground than the Mount Everest exploits recounted in Into Thin Air. A really great book."
KIRKUS REVIEWS, June 15, 1998
A chemist-turned-adventurer retraces the footsteps of polar explorers in some of the harshest conditions the earth has to offer.Observing the tired, sallow faces of his older scientific colleagues, Turk rejected a career in the lab for life on the land. His first adventure'kayaking around Cape Horn in homage to Sir Francis Drake'ends 50 miles short when he's shipwrecked and nearly killed. Next, he and his girlfriend and eventual wife, Chris, tackle the grueling Northwest Passage inside the Arctic Circle, where winter oceans freeze from North America to Asia and summer thaws produce ice floes the size of Texas. They attempt the trek (first completed by Roald Amundsen in 1906) by rowboat, alternately dragging themselves across ice and rowing through open water. They fail; the relationship suffers. Turk doesn't always or altogether enjoy his rugged travels. Still, he values them as manifestations of t
"Cold Oceans is a marvel: a fascinating adventure story, clearly and robustly told, seasoned with science and history. The human relationships give Turk's story a powerful emotional impact. And Turk's modesty is probably unique in the canon of first-person adventure. An excellent book."