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Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Book and a Beer

A tale that splashes your face with salt water and a stiff breeze. Enjoyed best with a foamy pint.
In 1834, a Harvard student recovering from an eye malady signed on board a 90-foot brig called the Pilgrim. Without any nautical experience, he sailed around Cape Horn to California, then home to Massachusetts.

The college boy naturally caught hell from the crusty sailors. Quick learner that he was, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. survived the trans-ocean ordeal and wrote a travelogue, Two Years Before the Mast. Literary scholars have compared it to Moby Dick.

I'm 55 pages into the voyage. As in all great books, I want to savor the journey. Thus I find myself rereading pages. My favorite scene entails a chase in which an unidentified ship, armed, showing no colors, stalks the Pilgrim.

"The vessel continued in pursuit, changing her course as we changed ours . . . .  All hands remained on deck throughout the day and we got our firearms in order; but we were too few to have done anything with her, if she had proved to be what we feared."

The Pilgrim escapes by out-maneuvering and sailing with no lights throughout a moonless night, and the crew is ordered to keep perfect silence.

More drama: The Pilgrim sails through an ice storm at Cape Horn. Dana later mourns the loss of a beloved sailor after two terrifying words echo across the bow - "Man overboard." That same day, the captain auctions everything in the dead man's sea chest, clothes and all, including the chest itself!

You can purchase Two Years Before the Mast online for about the price of a pint at a local tavern.

And for exposing me to this gripping sea saga, special thanks to brother Chuck, expatriate Texan serving a life sentence in the San Francisco Bay area. (No , not at Alcatraz. It's closed. Rather, East Oakland.)

A final note: Last weekend, I found in my mother's library a hardback copy with illustrations, printed in 1947. Mom's gone, but she left us great books.

Roll On. Sail On. Read On.

Fred A
Cedar Park, Texas

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