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Desperate Voyage Paperback – January 25, 1991

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Desperate Voyage + Mary's Voyage: The Adventures of John and Mary Caldwell - A Sequel to Desparate Voyage
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Sheridan House; Reprint edition (January 25, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0924486201
  • ISBN-13: 978-0924486203
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #579,662 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A must read for all would-be voyagers.
(Latitude 38)

[An] astounding tale of courage and engaging, well-written story that combines elements of romance with incredible adventure, farce and foolhardiness. If ever there was an argument for the benefits of sail training, this book cements it. Riveting stuff.
(Sailing Today)

One of the classic 'How I did it on a shoe-string in an unsuitable boat, knowing nothing about sailing' books....A good read and hooray for the days when people could do this sort of thing without attracting condemnation.
(The Island)

About the Author

John Caldwell went on to graduate from the University of California Santa Barbara. He sailed all over the world with his wife Mary and their two sons. While sailing in the Caribbean he caught a glimpse of his dream island, Prune Island. He obtained a 99-year lease on the island, planted palms, renamed it Palm Island and established his own resort. The rest of his life was spent sailing around the islands he loved and sharing his passion with lucky visitors to his Caribbean paradise.

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Customer Reviews

Highly recommended for anyone who can read, old or young.
L. Choplo
One of the things that sets this book apart is at the start John really knows nothing about sailing & he isn't afraid to admit it.
B. Willis
Desperate Voyage is a wonderful and wonderfully engaging story.
Stephen Schwartz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jim on August 14, 2004
Format: Paperback

Ran across you review of Desperate Voyage on and saw your question about whatever happened to John Caldwell.

Sadly, he passed away in 1998. I can tell you in 1997 he was still going very strong, because I bought my copy of the book directly from him -- he even graciously signed it -- when I visited his island home in the Carribbean. The book lays out his love of life and adventure and his ability to achieve seemingly impossible tasks, and what you read is exactly how he came across in person too. Apparently Mary was worth it. They married and sailed throughout the Carribbean for years before settling on the very unpromising Prune Island in the Grenadines. Caldwell signed a 198 year lease with the St. Vincent government for the island and then they spent decades transforming the bug-infested island into a beautiful, rustic and exclusive "get away from it all and enjoy the simple life" resort. The island, near Bequi and St. Vincent, is now called Palm Island in honor of the palm trees planted all over the island (palms aren't native to the Carribbean, but Caldwell acted like Johnny Appleseed and planted palms throughout the neighboring islands).

Now the review: Caldwell's story lacks any literary pretensions. Instead it's a straightforward first person account of a tremendous (mis)adventure -- the kind no sane person would (or could) make today! You can't help but root for him and wonder how things will turn out. For me the story has even greater appeal because I had a chance to briefly meet Caldwell and knew his story wasn't a brief abberration forced on him by wartime -- but instead was just one chapter in the long life of a very nice man who clearly marched to the beat of a different drummer.

- Jim
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Cameron on April 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
The most remarkable thing about this story is that it's true! John Caldwell became an adventurer by accident. He just wanted to get across the Pacific Ocean to his new wife, and tried to do it the easy way by ship. Unfortunately there were no ships going his way, so he bought his own - a small wooden yacht. His (mis)adventures start as soon as he sets foot on his boat and don't end until he almost dies in his attempt to reach his destination. Caldwell's courage in facing challenge was born out of naivete - he only had a vague notion of what he was taking on. This makes his achievements all the more extraordinary because his lack of experience only left him with a kind of animal resourcefulness to get him through. He blunders from hilarious escapade to life-threatening drama and back again in an amazing journey that packs more adventure into a few months than most of us get (or want) in a lifetime. His sense of humour and down-to-earth style make This book a delightful read. "Desperate Voyage" undoubtedly has appeal to yachties like myself. But I've lent it to several friends including some landlubbers, and all have thoroughly enjoyed it.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By T. Veale on October 3, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
So many times I wanted to reach into the book and stop Mr. Caldwell from making some terrible mistake! You'll marvel at his abilities and be awestruck by his errors.
I had the pleasure of meeting James Caldwell while sailing in the Caribbean in 1985. I couldn't help but buy my copy of "Desperate Voyage" from him after our conversation. I'm delighted to see that it's available from Amazon and that other sailors and adventurers have had the chance to read this tome.
I had to remind myself that if I'd been the same age as when he made this journey I might not have done as well.
One thing is clear - Never invite a SHARK to dinner!
Best regards,
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By TERRY R. OBRIEN on September 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
I know there are already enough 5 star reviews, but I just finished the book and need to say, "Oh my gosh this book is great!" I allowed myself one chapter per night before lights out, and broke my own rules every time. I'd stay up so late I'd sleep in and be late for work. Now exotic imaginations are racing through my mind and heart. What a treasure. A book full of life in our time when so much entertainment celebrates destruction and degradation. This book renews the spirit and restores a sense of adventure. I'm 56 years old but feel like a 20 year old about to embark on an adventure, if only I can persuade my wife to sell all and head out to sea, after she reads the book! Oh Oh, maybe I should let her read it once we're out of sight of land.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Roger J. Buffington TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 5, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a true story that is more engrossing than pretty much any novel you are likely to find. After the end of the Second World War, the author's Australian wife is ten thousand miles away, and it is impossible for him to book passage from the States to Australia, what with the war just having ended and available shipping tied up for years. So he decides to do a solo sail in a small sailboat from Panama to Sydney.

Therein lies a tale of hardship, resourcefulness, courage, and (may I say it) at least one part bad judgment, as the author single-handedly crosses the better part of the Pacific Ocean in a small and primitive, but plucky sailing vessel. I am sure that I am not giving anything away when I tell you that the author stares death and starvation in the face on more than one occasion.

The author knows how to tell a good story, and I was unable to put this one down once I got past about the first chapter. I was up until 3 in the morning trying to finish it, unable to put it down or go to sleep. This is a terrific story with equal parts humor, desperation, and audaciousness.

This is a classic mariner's tale that anyone who loves boats or the ocean will want to read, own, and read repeatedly. Highly recommended.
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