Friday, November 10, 2006

At the Mercy of the Sea by John Kretschmer

John Kretschmer, a professional sailor and writer has logged over 200,000 sailing miles including fifteen transatlantic and two transpacific passages. So to say that Kretschmer knows of what he writes would be a gross understatement.

Not being a professional or even amateur sailor myself I was appreciative of Kretschmer using "layman's terms" as much as possible without coming across as condescending as experts often do when they speak to those not as educated in their particular areas of expertise.

At the Mercy of the Sea is a true and rather personal tale of three sailors, including Kretschmer's close friend, Carl Wake, who found themselves caught in the stormy waters of Hurricane Lenny in 1999.

Perhaps what makes this tale so saddening was the unpredictability of Hurricane Lenny-- which defied conventional wisdom, predictions, and a long history of hurricanes and did its own things. The three sailors-- Carl Wake, Steve Rigby, and Guillaume Llobregat followed conventional wisdom and meteoroligical forecasts of the path of Hurricane Lenny in an effort to avert his destructive ways. And because this hurricane was loathe to be tied to the conventions of traditional hurricanes, traveling west to east instead of east to west or even east to northeast and curling up the Atlantic coast. In many ways Lenny was as much a character of this book as Wake, Rigby, and Llobregat were.

Kretschmer does an exceptional job of humanizing Wake, Rigby, and Llobregat. He spends most of his time focused on Wake as he knew Wake as a friend and thus felt more comfortable about accurately describing his friend's actions. Having extensively interviewed the friends and family of both Steve Rigby and Guillaume Llobregat Kretschmer did a respectable job of humanizing them as well, but despite his best efforts both Llobregat and Rigby came across more as supporting characters and Wake came across more as a "lead."

The book is rather pulse-pounding and does for sailing what The Perfect Storm did for fishermen. It's a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish and is as suspenseful as many of the dime-a-dozen pulp suspense novels that can be found in airports all over the nation-- what sets it apart-- unlike those pulp novels, this is real and Kretschmer's writing style allows the reader to taste the saltwater, feel the wind and the fatigue one might experience from solo sailing. And I hope, for my own sake, this book is the closest I ever get to sailing through a category four or five Hurricane.


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