Humor, beauty, from the keyboard of a friend

The Sea is Not Full: Ocean Sailing Revelations & Misadventures
By Charles J. Doane, Seapoint Books, 2017; 437 pp., $17.62.

Reviewed by Bob Muggleston
For Points East

One of the things I’ve always loved about sailing literature, beyond the purity of escape it so frequently provides, is how often the narrator seems like a friend. It might have something to do with the universality of the sailing experience.

Yes, technology has changed the game over the years, but the game itself remains essentially the same. Points of sail, weather, the hydrodynamics of a boat moving through water – this stuff doesn’t change much, and it’s amazing how a familiar voice describing these things in a compelling way can seem like that of an old friend.

In the case of “The Sea is Not Full: Ocean Sailing Revelations & Misadventures,” the narrator’s voice belongs to an actual old friend of the editorial staff here at Points East, Mr. Charlie Doane. Charlie has been in the marine-publishing game for a long time, and first appeared on my radar when I worked for another magazine that Charlie had only recently left. There were many stories about him and his various exploits, and they were colorful enough that even today they remain permanently moored in my subconscious.

The editor of Points East, Nim Marsh, was the purveyor of many of the stories I first heard, and he sailed across the Atlantic with Charlie aboard one of Charlie’s first boats, Crazy Horse, an Alberg 35. So yes, caveat emptor, here at Points East we know Charlie, we like him, and, yes, the story of his trip with Nim is described in the book.

That said, “The Sea is Not Full,” an anthology of material Charlie’s written over the years, as well as new material, is a great addition to anyone’s maritime library.

The opening chapter, “A Delivery Gone Wrong,” is an account of the January 2014 abandonment of Be Good Too, a 42-foot catamaran that Charlie and bluewater veteran Hank Schmitt were charged with delivering to the Caribbean with the husband-and-wife owners aboard. It’s January, the delivery includes a Gulf Stream crossing, and the boat is fresh out of the box. Good idea? Read on and decide for yourself.
In the mood for a few laughs? Charlie’s account of his time aboard the John Alden-designed schooner, Constellation, which he found in Florida, and was headed for Spain, is as good and funny as anything Farley Mowat ever wrote, and contains nearly as colorful a cast of characters. The owner’s game plan was to sign paying passengers aboard to help defray the inevitable costs of an ocean voyage to Europe.

Sounds good, right? In theory, yes, provided the captain is not manic-depressive, the “paying” guests don’t require quotation marks around the descriptive adjective in their titles and aren’t volatile, and the boat itself, which outwardly looks beautiful, isn’t actually a mess structurally, with an owner who thinks repairing bulkheads with sheetrock screws is a good idea.

What could go wrong? Fasten your seatbelts.

The story of Constellation is a doozy, but so is Charlie’s account of his time aboard Goatlocker III, an aft-cockpit Westsail 43 that’s captained by a narcoleptic ex-Navy man who knows little about sailing, and is “shaped something like a small bull trained to walk erect.” He has already crossed the Atlantic with a cruising rally when Charlie finds him, and can’t seem to hold onto crew. As the eventual sole member of this man’s crew, Charlie soon finds out why.

“The Sea is Not Full” is an account of Charlie’s time aboard boats, owned by other people and himself, but it also contains interesting profiles. Don Street, Reid Stowe, Jimmy Cornell, and Poppa Neutrino, who lived aboard and cruised vessels that resembled rafts piled high with garbage, are four of the profiles. The boats Charlie spends any time talking about in the book are wonderfully illustrated, even those of Poppa Neutrino.

Under the subheading “Practical Matters” in the table of contents, there are roughly 70 pages of essays, which are surprisingly deep scientific explorations of topics such as celestial navigation, weather, and the nature of mankind’s relationship to the sea. Set against the delicious mayhem of humans interacting aboard boats, this is either a much-needed palette cleanser or a mildly disappointing side trip. The more scientific among us will likely choose the former. I won’t tell you which camp I fall in, but let’s just say English was always my strong suit.

It clearly was Charlie’s, too, and there are both moments of astonishing beauty in the book as well as laugh-out-loud humor, the moments made real by his ability to write. It’s the kind of book I like to read – the full package, as it were – and that it’s been crafted by someone who I consider a friend just makes it that much sweeter.

Bob Muggleston is Points East’s associate editor.

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