They Sailed Alone

by MacDonald Harris. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1972.

From the Jacket:

From earliest time the lure of the sea has challenged man to set sail on his own, to brave the myserious and unknown, testing his boat and his own skill against the sea's indifference. It is remarkable that totally dependent on himself man has sailed alone across oceans and around the world. The single-handed sailor is perhaps one of the last of mankind to pit his skill, courage, and sheer doggedness against the immense challenge of nature. He does it in utter solitude without help and encouragement from companions.

Joshua Slocum in his 37-foot oyster boat was one of the first to accept the challenge in 1895 when he circumnavigated the world. He was followed by J. C. Voss in his unique canoe; Harry Pidgeon, who was almost a complete novice at sea; Alain Gerbault, whose six-year voyage provided an understanding of himself that would otherwise have been impossible; Ann Davidson, who sailed her 23-foot Felicity Ann bravely across the Atlantic; John Guzzwell, whose 20-foot Trekka was the smallest and fastest boat to sail around the world; Robin Graham, who at sixteen was the youngest to circumnavigate the world, and Francis Chichester, who at the age of sixty-five sailed the Gypsy Moth IV around the world in a mere 200 dyas. Every one of these sailors faced his own individual odds and tackled the sea for his own reasons; however, they fought many of the same battles against loneliness, fatigue, and disapointment, learning much about themselves and their powers of self-reliance and ingenuity in the process.

Even though the perfection of self-steering devices, provisioning, routes, and navigation has lessened the challenge of today's single-handed sailor, the sea itself still waits--offering man an uncertain adventure, a chance to set sail on his own and with the help of the sometimes elusive and mysterious winds to conquer the oceans of the world.

MacDonald Harris captures in his telling the adventure and challenge of a special breed of sailor.

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