Greystone Books Publisher
The veil covering the human condition is abruptly removed in Charles Wilkin's newly published book, "Little Ship of Fools'", a chronology of 55 days of sea travel across the Atlantic from Morocco to the Barbados.
Wilkins, a former resident of Cornwall and student of CCVS in the 60's, is a well known Canadian author having been in the business for over 40 years. He has penned many interesting and provocative travel books. Several years ago he took 3 months to walk from Thunder Bay to New York city and wrote about it. And that accomplishment turned out to be his trump card in convincing organizers that at 63 years of age he was up to the challenge of rowing across the Atlantic.
Make no mistake. "Little Ship of Fools" is not for the faint hearted. It is not light reading. I would describe it as a harrowing adventure tale of 16 souls who for their own reasons made the decision to tackle the unyielding forces of Nature. And in doing so, what started off as a record breaking attempt to ROW across the Atlantic in a catamaran, turned out to be a struggle to remain sane and healthy and alive.
The project was plagued with start-up problems which was perhaps foreshadowing of the actual voyage itself. It took an extra year to raise the necessary funds; some people dropped out; there were all sorts of construction issues in building the prototype vessel, 'Big Blue'- a high tech, impressive looking vessel; the captain and an Olympian, Angela Masden was parachuted in at the last minute which was upsetting for those of the crew involved since day one. Even the publishing of the book was adversely affected, released more than 2 years after the March, 2011 event.
The rules to break the existing 33 day record were clear. There would be no support vessel, no stored water, no sails and no motor. The boat's crew of sixteen included: several college rowing veterans, a pair of triathletes and a woman who had rowed the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Charlie, one of the rowing crew and in his typical self-deprecating style describes himself as "a scrawny sexagenarian intent on a last great adventure, had never swung an oar in earnest."
Put sixteen human beings in a confined space for a prolonged period of time and little by little the veil starts to fall. Tinker with their basic needs(food, shelter, clothing) and it's just a matter of time before people start to unravel, and very bizarre things start happening. Imagine that you are part of the crew and your responsibility is to row for two hours. Then you get two hours off, and lie in a cabin filled with bunk beds and all sorts of clothing and paraphenalia on the floor. Two hours later you are back on a rowing shift. None of the crew slept more than about 90 consecutive minutes over the entire crossing!
In one instance Charlie gets bullied for reoccuring late arrivals for his rowing shifts. An argument ensues and people take sides. Everything becomes personal. The food supply is unbalanced; some food has to be thrown out. The rowers are hungry, fatigued and sleep deprived. Tempers become frayed. These kinds of situations are ongoing.
The weather in true Canadian fashion, becomes a key issue each day, notwithstanding the daily satellite phone calls that many of the rowers make. Wind direction, storms, air temperature, latitude, longitude- it's the language of sailors and a constant preoccupation. Of course, in their situation at sea the weather is always a threatening nemesis. Rowing at 3:00 a.m in a blinding rain storm, with water gushing over your body isn't something that most of us crave. Neither is bunking down both hungry and soaked, unable to find your dry clothing.
Still, with the veil pulled completely back, the hearts and souls of the rowers are primed for an opportunity for spiritual growth. The beauty of Nature reveals its face in so many different ways. The spectacular beauty of the sky at sunrise and sunset, the visits from whales, dolphins sharks and sea turtles are unforgettable. The crossing is timeless. Charlie writes about the early explorers and their crossings, points out the constellations and planets in the Heavens, and is awe struck by an experience that is beyond words.
I remember two years ago sending an "email" to Big Blue which was forwarded through satellite communications. It was roughly a message of congratulations to the crew for meeting a challenge that most of us will never fully understand. The context was that after facing life and death issues during their most treacherous times at sea, perhaps 'normal life' would take on a different dimension.
Indeed, hats off to these fearless adventurers for their perseverance and ultimately their trust in one another. Charlie was told to 'put his affairs in order' before the voyage so clearly he knew the risks involved. But they completed the voyage and everybody celebrated. I'm sure the souls of the 16th century explorers would be proud.