On paper, David Lewis's pioneering solo voyage from Sydney to Antarctica in 1972 doesn't sound like much, compared to the myriad of epic, sea-going adventures we're used to nowadays. But just a few pages into this gripping paperback, it's clear his horrific 23 weeks surviving towering waves, driving snow and a ceaseless, storm-force battering in the Southern Ocean can claim a proud place in the pantheon of nautical legend. No radio contact with home, three terrifying capsizes, two dismastings and frostbite left the middle-aged former doctor in mortal dread of his wild surrounds and saw him cowering inside the cabin for days on end. Lewis describes his lonely voyage in vivid prose and makes no bones about his navigational and practical mistakes along the way, or the conviction that gripped him for weeks after his dismasting that he would die on board. Lewis' disheveled arrival under jury-rig in the Royal Cape Yacht Club marina marks the end of an awesome tale as much a page-turner today as it would have been when it was first published 30 years ago.
There can't be many people who, when leaving school, inform their headmaster that they are making the 450 mile trip home in a canoe. While David Lewis's first epic voyage at the age of 17 may have left him feeling a little flat with the anticlimax, his marathon voyage to Antarctica in 1972 was a first for single-handed yachts. A welcome reprint, therefore, which thriller writer Hammond Innes described as the greatest small boat voyage into ice since Shackleton's. Although Lewis acknowledges that many sailors would follow him to Antarctica in faster and smaller craft, he saw his role as a trailblazer and the trip as a means of coming to know himself as he really was. Where better to find out one's strengths and weaknesses than being left without any form of outside support in one of the harshest environments known to man? In doing his research before making the trip, background information provided him with the odd sleepless night after reading of 100 ft waves. His previous yacht having sunk, he was also without essential equipment, not to mention money to buy a replacement craft. Media interest in the venture being strong, he admits in his book that he had to be downright dishonest in some of the things he told journalists, who did not realize, in the late stages of planning the venture, that he was still without a yacht. Frantic activity secured Lewis a yacht, a 32 ft steel sloop designed by Dick Taylor of Sydney.