In Slocum’s Wake
By Nat Warren-White, Outskirts Press, Inc. (2022)
Garrison Keillor once said something like, “We need to write because, otherwise, nobody will know who we are.” I think others write to find out who they, themselves, are.
Having known Nat Warren-White since the 1960s as a casual acquaintance, I think there is a little truth for him in both these statements. He writes about becoming a flaneur, or idler of the oceans, looking for interesting islands to visit.
Warren-White’s recent book, In Slocum’s Wake, is a recounting of his circumnavigation in the 43-foot cutter Bahati during the period 2006-2011. The book’s name gives a nod to Joshua Slocum who is credited with the first solo circumnavigation, from 1895-1898, in the 36-foot yawl Spray.
He sailed his vessel in a generally westerly direction, taking advantage of the trade winds as much as possible.
Warren-White is a recreational sailor out of South Freeport and the fourth-generation sailor in his family. After reading the book, I wrote to thank him for allowing me to vicariously sail the oceans, as it was something I once seriously considered doing but never did.
This is an excellent book for anyone who enjoys sailing and has ever contemplated what it might be like to sail through the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, the South Sea islands, cross the Indian Ocean, and round the Cape of Good Hope to return to Maine by crossing the Atlantic.
He sailed his vessel in a generally westerly direction, taking advantage of the trade winds as much as possible, and mentions continuous spinnaker runs of up to six days.
Besides his wife and son who were frequent crew members along the way, he had many “20 somethings” come and go to help with the hard work and keep up the energy and spirit on the trip, which was punctuated by many island stopovers and wintering in New Zealand, plus two short-notice roundtrip flights to Maine, where both his parents passed away while Warren-White was on his voyage.
He is generous in his credit to all who helped him prepare his vessel, which was built in 1988 in Cape Town, South Africa. Portland area yacht services and sailmakers are particularly singled out.
Warren-White also describes what it takes in time and money to fit out the boat and live for years on it. There is a thorough bibliography and lengthy topical index, and throughout the book he names people and places along his route that provided repair services, weather predictions, clean fuel, provisions, and the many other types of assistance a long-distance sailor would need.
A voyage that spans five years predictably has its share of disasters and near-disasters and he does not spare the reader from these. His nighttime collision with a fishing vessel in the Malacca Strait while doing a two-day solo run is probably the scariest tale and highlights the problem of sleep deprivation when piloting alone or with small crews on an ocean filled with other vessels, shipping containers that have fallen off ships, long fishing trawls, and other garbage and debris.
The casual writing style can be disconcerting to someone looking for a travelogue; Warren-White intersperses many long asides about such things as relations with crew members, lessons from his father, battles with his own depression, and his frustrating dealings with foreign customs and immigration agents.
And the map graphics could be improved. But there are lengthy descriptions of the gorgeous beaches, breath-taking waterfalls, wildlife, camaraderie with other sailors in the anchorages, and the general good-natured behavior of the South Sea islanders they encounter that welcome him and crew into their homes and lives.
Warren-White is a gregarious person who easily greets and befriends people and the descriptions of his encounters with the native islanders and other sailors are some of the most fascinating parts of the book. Again, if you never plan to do your own long-distance voyage, you can still take one with In Slocum’s Wake.
Bob Gerber is a former sailor and island-owner in the Freeport area, now residing most of the year in Eagles Mere, Penn., and experiencing sailing vicariously.