Most people have never sailed. So when you take them out, they wear clumsy shoes and start calling you Ahab or Bligh. Or if they’re particularly nervous, they’ll quote Whitman- Captain my Captain!- and shout Bon voyage! or talk like pirates, as if this were the freshest improv: Arrrggh! Keelhaul the Wrench! They’ll offer to help, but what they really want to know is where to sit and what to hold on to and when you’ll get them a drink. –Before the Wind
You don’t need to know how to sail to enjoy Jim Lynch’s latest novel Before the Wind. Just get a drink, sit yourself down and prepare to be immersed in this creative, vividly detailed, emotional and gripping family story set in the world of boats driven by the wind. Lynch introduces readers to a cast of characters as varied and different as things can get. These characters have a lot of talents, but it’s up to all of them to keep their family together and a boat race might just be the best bet for that.
But, if you do come from a sailing family, well, watch out! You’ll be buying copies of this book for Father’s Day or birthdays. When I asked my husband what were the highlights of his family boating history, he talked for half of an hour before taking a breath. It started with his Dad attending the Naval Academy, romancing Mother on a sailboat while in medical school and starting many remarkable family sailing traditions. There were the sailing camps for two weeks each summer on Tulalip Bay, the races on Puget Sound (even to Hawaii one year on the Victoria to Maui race) and the family cruises on Flair and later, bigger boats. My husband was the baby of the family and had to sleep with his head right by the head. For the longest time he thought that’s why it’s called a head. Well, he also thought that there were eight days in the week thanks to the Beatles.
My own memories of sailing over the years include wonderful weeks on the water with babies and children and their parents and grandparents. We’d dock at places like Ovens Island in Canada or Henry Island in the San Juans, go for a swim, harvest oysters from the beach and play cards and eat and drink and just enjoy the heck out of ourselves.Think camping, but on the water.
And then there are the frantic sailing moments like the time we were racing Swiftsure, a race from Victoria out to the Swiftsure Light boat and back. We had the spinnaker up but there was too much wind, so we needed to take it down and put up the smaller one. Well, snafus happen, and they were both up at once and we were ‘slapped down’ with the mast parallel to the water. Now, the thing you worry about is losing someone overboard or having a big piece of equipment break and knock someone out. Neither happened, and it’s a good thing because a tugboat was just coming around race rocks towards us. (Tugboats have the right of way.) Yikes! Well, we all lived to tell the tale and I’m sure that my father-in-law is cringing that I told that particular story.
Enough of my sailing yarns, let’s get back to Lynch’s tale. Narrated by Josh, the adult middle child of the famous boat-building Johanssens of Puget Sound, the family also includes the domineering father who drives his children to excel at racing, the hot-headed oldest brother Bernard and the youngest Johanssen Ruby who is a gifted sailor. There’s also a mom who is a high school physics teacher who “might have understood Einstein better than she did us and never passed up an opportunity to explain and extol him.” And then there’s Grumps (the grandfather), the boatyard crew who work with Josh (one of which loves to quote from the March of the Penguins) and the characters at the rundown marina where Josh lives who all try to get him to fix their boats. There’s a lot of humor and some sadness in this novel and it is totally enjoyable.
Sailor or not, you need to get your hands on Jim Lynch’s new novel Before the Wind. You’ll love it. Tack on down to your local library and pick up a copy when it is finally out on April 19th. Bon Voyage!