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Fair Wind and Plenty of It
by Rigel Crockett
Knopf Canada
392 pages, $34.95

reviewed by Joe Wiebe
posted March 11, 2005

Nova Scotian Rigel Crockett was conceived the day his father laid the keel for his first boat. He was sailing on tall ships at nine years old; by twelve, he was cabin boy of a 120-foot schooner whose Captain Dan Moreland inspired him to want to be a tall ship captain, too.

Several years later, Moreland embarked on an ambitious plan to convert an old, steel steamship into a square-rigger, then sail it around the world with a mix of professional sailors and amateurs who would pay $32,500 for the privilege of crewing the vessel on its eighteen-month odyssey. In 1997, twenty-two-year-old Crockett joined the professional crew of that ship, the Picton Castle, with high hopes: he expected to have a life-changing adventure, and he believed it would be an opportunity to be recognized as a talented, intelligent sailor who makes a unique contribution to the vessel and the voyage.

Fair Wind and Plenty of It is indeed the "modern-day tall ship adventure" it claims to be, but it is also a study of the types of obsessive people that embrace the anachronistic lifestyle of tall ship sailing despite the physical toll it demands and the lack of financial remuneration it offers. The professional crew on the Picton Castle made less than $10 a day over the twenty-three month refit and voyage. On the other hand, they got to sail around the world, visiting exotic locales like the Galapagos, Pitcairn Island (still populated by descendents of the infamous Bounty mutineers), Tahiti, Fiji, and Zanzibar. They travelled through the Panama Canal, ate freshly caught raw tuna sashimi right on the deck of the ship, traded cargo with natives and colonists of remote islands rarely visited by ships of any type, and swam with a giant whale shark in the south Atlantic.

But the voyage was not always so thrilling. Most of the time, it was just hard, slogging work —swabbing the decks, cleaning the head, moving tons of cargo, cleaning rust off and repainting the hull over and over again — performed within a command hierarchy that rivals the military for strictness. Crockett describes it well in a chapter called “Chain of Command,” where he compares it to the army: “Both lifestyles are rigorous and regimented, and require keen awareness to reduce the inherent risks of the trade. Attention to these risks and a common effort towards definite, tangible goals can lead to the formation of rewarding bonds in this community.”

Despite this observation, Crockett details several incidents on the voyage where he himself was insubordinate to his superiors, and acknowledges the consequences of his actions. This honesty helps make this book more than just an adventure yarn. The author holds back little, whether it is his internal debate over remaining true to his girlfriend back home (shipboard romances are common with the crew nearly half women), or the soul-baring self-analysis that leads him to realize by the end of the voyage that his tall ship sailing days are over.

Another strength of Crockett’s writing is how he teaches about traditional sailing methods without getting lost in jargon. Occasionally, he could take a little more time to explain the more archaic terms, such as the origins of words like “fo’c’sle” (the compartment where much of the crew slept). The terms found in the detailed diagram of the ship printed at the front of the book are mostly indecipherable to a non-sailor at first, but that page will become dog-eared as readers check to see exactly what the “mizzen topmast stays’l” or the “spanker” or the “fore royal yard” is. Before long, one has a fair idea of the purpose those sails and spars serve on a tall ship like the Picton Castle.

At the end of the book, Crockett admits, “I found it hard to believe the voyages would go on without us. They would. Dan Moreland and the ship would be the only constants. I felt humbled by the fact that he would do it again. And again.” Indeed, on the Picton Castle’s website, one can fill out an application to join the crew for their next round-the-world voyage, the ship’s fourth, embarking from Nova Scotia on June 1, 2005. Perhaps Crockett’s sometimes harrowing, sometimes enticing account of the maiden voyage will inspire some readers to apply. Or perhaps other landlubbers like me will be content with just reading about it.

Joe Wiebe is a freelance writer based in Vancouver who considers a bike ride around Stanley Park to be an expedition.

Copyright Joe Wiebe. All rights reserved.

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