A Book Review by Marshall Lystra
“I crossed paths with Melville and Darwin out there; and yes, I heard voices. Children in the rigging, a mermaid calling my name. That’s what happens when there’s only you. But if you hear voices calling your name, are you really alone?” – Christian Williams
March 19, 2020. 1700 hours. Cloudy, light rain, 43 degrees F. Winds south/south east at 10-15 knots. Waves are probably about 1.5 ft; but I can’t see them. Fear of the corona virus has me and the crew marooned in the house. It’s day 6 of forced isolation and the spring cleaning has
already been finished. My email Inbox is empty for the first time since July. I finally fixed the running toilet, re-arranged the living room furniture, and finished painting the basement. I find myself staring out the window at my neighbors who are staring out their window at me. We wave to each other the same way skippers wave to the skippers of other boats passing by; but with a drastically different unspoken undertone. Last night I finally finished reading the book that I started back during the holiday break. I have time for that too. And I have no idea how to weave a global pandemic into an upbeat sailing club newsletter article; but the book I read is about solo sailing, and being alone, or rather never really being alone at all; even if you are. Seems apropos for the current state of things in the world today.
Single Handed yachting has its own dedicated following in the sailing subculture and Christian Williams embraces it whole heartedly as he dives into a journey that most sensible people would write off as nonsense.Alone Together is a first-hand account of 71-year-old author Williams’ sailing adventure from his home port in Los Angeles, California to Kaua’I, Hawaii and back on his Ericson 32-III. It’s a captivating book filled with all the trappings of an epic story of the sea; encounters with heavy weather, broken rigging, and culture shock. But it’s more than just a journey to a tropical paradise, it’s a journey into a concept that most people never really face, and that most of us are stuck dealing with right now in life. Being alone.
Williams writes and sails with a persona that’s somehow a perfect blend of the contrasting personalities of Robin Knox-Johnson and Bernard Moitessier; two of the most celebrated non-stop singlehanded circumnavigators in sailing. And he does more than simply document the journey, he writes to the reader as though the reader were there with him. He teaches lessons, both nautical and life; blending physics, ethics, and Greek mythology together; often to illustrate the very same point.
In addition to a philosophical analysis of the meaning of being alone, Williams also tactfully weaves a full-blown technical course in yachting into the pages of the 6,000-mile journey. He covers everything from rebuilding a steering pedestal to how to make a cold martini without ice. Alone Together is a fascinating look into single handed sailing as well as generally good life lessons from a salty old sea dog.
So, does a book about sailing thousands of miles alone really relate to the 2020 pandemic and social distancing? I don’t know, probably not. But when Williams writes it feels like it relates:
“Sailing is just a sport, maybe a mode of transportation. But for me it’s also the perfection of all the forces of nature and man. A silent effortless ride across time and space. A journey, where the destination is always where you are; there’s nowhere else you have to go. But it’s true that times have changed. There are fewer worlds to conquer, in fact the whole world seems to be available on YouTube. Everything has already been done. And we all follow in the footsteps of somebody else. But what hasn’t changed, is us. We’re the place we never go. And if we did find ourselves alone, with the cell phone turned off, what would we find? I don’t know. Maybe the universe in a thimble. I do think there are answers about us all, who we are, who we love, why we’re here; that come only when you’re alone. A sailboat’s one way to do it but not the only way. I do know this after forty-eight days: you CAN’T be alone; because we’ll all be there with you.” – Christian Williams