Sunday, February 25, 2007

Not my Idea of a Cruise

I read an Associated Press article yesterday on the precautions taken by astronauts to deal with the onset of severe paranoia or psychosis in space. “What would happen,” asks the writer, “if an astronaut came unglued in space and, say, destroyed the ship’s oxygen system or tried to open the hatch and kill all aboard?” He went on to say that nothing of the sort has ever happened, but by one of those quirks of co-incidence or synchronicity, I had just finished a book in which a participant’s mental instability came close to jeopardizing an expedition.

The author of the book, John Haslett, would be the first to admit that, because there was a shortage of volunteers to join his crew of four who were intending to follow the route of the ancient ManteƱo across five thousand miles of open ocean on a balsa wood raft (imagine that), he allowed an unknown German to join the expedition in spite of his misgivings. Haslett was swayed by Frederick’s claim that he had “lived in the jungle”, though I don’t quite see the transferable skills. Look at the size of the raft and imagine the nightmare of sailing for days on end on a few square feet of balsa with a psychotic companion. This photo shows the second boat used by the expedition: the first landed up on a beach in Panama, partly due to Frederick’s antics.

It’s an aspect of adventure I had never thought of. Haslett tells the story of the US Navy’s expeditionary team in the Antarctic that had to build a padded cell and lock up one of their members. In 1929, Admiral Byrd took only two coffins with him to the Antarctic, but twelve straightjackets.

The book covers two separate expeditions, three or four boats and a varied crew of extraordinary men. Also a great deal of seawater. It is a great piece of escapist literature, especially when you are thinking that a bit of snow and ice amount to intolerable conditions.They didn’t make it to Hawaii, but something tells me they will try again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


It was very kind of you to write about my book.

My heartfelt thanks to you,

John Haslett