I can't remember when I first began to follow the racing career of Francis Stokes, but I do remember seeing him in group photos of various single-handed racers. First there was the Bermuda One-Two, later the OSTAR, then then BOC. Usually he was standing modestly at the back of the group, and I liked his face; it reminded me of the amiable, intelligent slightly goofy faces of some of my Yankee ancestors. I noticed that he was entering these demanding events in what most would consider wholesome family cruisers, rather than the usual flat-out racing machines, and yet he always seemed to do remarkably well.
I looked forward to reading his book, and he didn't disappoint me. From the evidence of his writing he's both amiable and intelligent, and anyone who sails alone around the world has to be at least slightly goofy. But he made a graceful, cheerful job of it, and the best part of his book is devoted to that first BOC, which didn't feature the envelope-pushing designs that later came to symbolize this around-the-world singlehanded event. it also didn't result in the loss of life that characterized later events, though several boats were lost and others retired. I had the feeling that to many of the pioneers in this event, the race was less important than the voyage, and this was certainly true of Stokes. He was there to sail around the world alone, and the race was the spice of this dish and not the main course. I'm not a great fan of single-handed racing, but if all the competitors were as sensible, considerate, and careful as Stokes, I wouldn't be so quick to categorize it as dangerous tomfoolery.
His writing has none of the unintentionally hilarious grandiosity that flavors the books of some notable single-handers. He writes so modestly of his achievements that the reader may be fooled into thinking that they are in fact modest, but they are not. He didn't win the BOC, and at that time there were no prizes for second place in class, but he got safely around the world with his boat in one piece. His most significant damage was a cracked spreader base. He writes of the repair in a lowekey paragraph or two, and the inattentive reader might well think that it was no big deal to fire up the Honda generator in the cockpit, haul himself and tools and extension cord up the mast at sea, and there drill and rebuild the fitting.
I couldn't avoid contrasting this book with Hal Roth's account of his BOC. Roth's reputation as a fine sailor and writer is well-deserved; he and his wife survived a shipwreck in Tierra del Fuego, and, incredibly, managed to refloat and repair their yacht. I've enjoyed most of his books, but when he came to pen his account of the second BOC, his writing his full of frustration and complaint. His boat was, Roth said, badly built and poorly outfitted; luck seemed to be against him at every turn.
Stokes, on the other hand, acknowledges his mistakes and misfortunes and takes responsibility for them; there isn't a trace of whiny self-pity to be found in his book. It makes for unusually pleasant reading.
Perhaps more importantly, this attitude made the races, for Francis Stokes, into experiences to be savored and treasured, and not just endured. There's a larger lesson here, and he teaches it very well.
In the 1960s through the early 80s, Francis Stokes, who now lives in Maine, was a New Jerseyian who had a predilection for sailboat racing at sea, mostly alone.
Stokes was never a big name in this sport, never came in first as a single-hander, never was really interested in the sport until he was in his mid-40s. But he says he was drawn to such races because of a bond with Nature that could be achieved only through sailing.
Throughout the book, Stokes remains an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. The book is technically informative, too.
The Mooneshine Logs is a wonderfully moving and insightful account covering Francis Stokes' modest beginnings in ocean racing to his later triumphs in his beloved Mooneshine. Stokes tells of his first transatlantic crossing in 1970 when he sailed Crazy Jane from Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, to Plymouth, England. During the ensuing 15 years, Stokes participated as a single-handed racer in may of the major ocean races of the time, from OSTAR 1967 to several Bermuda One-Two races, to this first BOC challenge single-handed round-the-world race in 1982, where he performed the daring rescue of Tony Lush in the Southern Indian Ocean. Here is a high-quality narrative of sailing races.