An Unlikely Voyage: 2000 miles alone in a small wooden boat
By John Almberg
Unlikely Voyages, Huntington Station, New York: 2016
Reviewed by John Nystrom
Stories of voyages have been literary stock in trade forever. We all have our favorites. Examples can be classic, such as Captain Slocum’s tale of the first solo circumnavigation, or contemporary, like Tom Pamperine’s tales of his travels in Jagular, his re-rigged Bolger Pirate skiff. An ancient example would be Homer’s Odessey, or even the tale of Noah. As I said, we all have our favorites.
Over the years quite a few of these tales have been written, some great and some not so. The one I read before “An Unlikely Voyage” (who’s title and author shall remain nameless, for though I enjoy eviscerating badly written history, geopolitics, etc., boat books that are poorly written or that just don’t ‘grab’ me I usually just give a pass or don’t recommend) was not so good, not bad, but just not one to go out of your way to read; “An Unlikely Voyage” is a worthwhile tale, in my opinion.
Almberg’s story starts out as a search for a new cruising sailboat, but the wife’s veto nixes numerous possible candidates. Helena Almberg is not, however, rejecting these boats for the wrong color or pattern on the cushions, or other ‘frivolous’ reasons, she just thinks the usual boats on the market were ‘uninteresting’ (yes, John Almberg is a fortunate man). The boats she does find interesting are wooden boats (no, that is NOT a typo). Let the adventures begin!
Working his way up to meet the demands of owning and maintaining a wooden cruising boat is an entertaining process in itself, but a key element is John building a wooden dinghy, in this case William Atkin’s Cabin Boy design, which gets named “Cabin Boy.” About the same time Almberg finds a wooden yawl for sale in Florida. Though it takes a while, the Almberg’s acquire “Blue Moon” and begin the process of getting her ready to sail back to their home in New York. All of this took place back about 2010 during the economic downturn, which works out for John, who is single handedly bringing the boats home (Cabin Boy, of course, is along for the voyage) due to his business being caught up in the slow down. I say ‘works out’ because the planned journey of a few weeks along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) turns into eight months, getting home just before Thanksgiving Day.
I made the effort to contact John Almberg, and had a great phone conversation, eating up much of a cold winter morning. I had some technical questions about producing the book, which I will get to later, but mostly I wanted to talk to someone who had done this trip. Florida to NYC is roughly half of “The Great Loop”, a watercraft journey around the eastern third of the US, running from the ICW, up the Hudson River and Erie Canal to the Great Lakes, then through the river systems and canals that connect Lake Michigan at Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico. I have wanted to do this ever since I first heard that it was possible. I have read enough accounts of The Great Loop adventure, or like this, extended trips of part of the Loop to have lost count of the books, magazine articles, and blogs. This one is among the best I’ve read, however; it is both entertaining and informative. I could go on about Almberg’s account, but will leave that without any spoilers.
Now to those technical questions about the book that I put to the writer, or should I say publisher. The book started, as many do in this day and age, as a blog covering the events that I read about in the book. An adventure like this also ended up the subject of a lot more than one conversation, I’m sure. Almberg was encouraged to put the story into print form (some of us troglodytes just refuse to spend our days totally glued to the screen), and being a tech guy, he was put off by many of the amateurish looking efforts out there that the world of online and on demand publishing has brought to the market. You can find that sort of cheap looking effort with a quick Amazon search. That said, Amazon (and others I’m sure, but Amazon and their Kindle product is what I’m most familiar with) does allow people to publish without the expense of a vanity publisher, or without getting an agent to sell your future best seller to a traditional publisher.
Like I said, John Almberg is a tech professional, and it shows in the quality of the book’s appearance. The pages are equal to anything put out by traditional publishing. I found only one, maybe two typos in over 300 pages. The illustrations, which look like good pen and ink drawings, with some reproduced line drawings, maps, etc., are attractive and follow the text. The illustrative artwork is more numerous in the first half of the book, and then thins out until just before the end. The author told me that he decided after a few weeks of processing illustrations that he decided that if he kept doing that he would just never get done. Fair enough, I can live with that. John told me that the illustrations are NOT pen and ink, they are photos that were processed by software to become something resembling pen and ink drawings. Whatever they are, they are quite good looking (and here I thought, in addition to his other accomplishments, John was also a great artist!). Even the cover, usually a failing with self-published or on demand publishing works, is attractive and professional. I haven’t seen the Kindle version, but am told that it too looks as good as the print version. That is saying something, because I’ve seen too many electronic format books that look like they were done by a junior high student with an attitude problem.
To sum it up, “An Unlikely Voyage” deserves your consideration. I’m glad I read it.
Available on Amazon