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Annotated Sailing Alone Around The World Paperback – March 1, 2009
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In this annotated account of the world's first solo circumnavigation, Rod Scher's material helps us understand the world of 1895 so we can better appreciate author Joshua Slocum's accomplishment. If I could read only one boating book this year, I'd choose this one. (The Ensign)
(Slocum) sailed solo around the world in 1895-8 in his 37-foot sloop SPRAY and wrote this classic account of his adventures...After (Slocum's) historic and successful voyage, his book makes him a national hero. Some years later, he sets off again in SPRAY heading for the Amazon River; sadly he was never heard of again....It was interesting to read...Rod Scher's annotations as side notes. Rod's commentary enhances the original script adding greater meaning to each incident. (Royal Naval Sailing Association)
Captain Joshua Slocum's Annotated Sailing Alone Around the World is annotated by Rod Scher, a teacher/journalist who provides explanations, commentary, and history to make Slocum's saga more accessible to modern readers. This clarification of Slocum's voyage in his wooden SPRAY packs in side bars of detail and enhances every page. Nautical libraries need this. (Bookwatch)
About the Author
Joshua Slocum was the first man to sail alone around the world. It was a feat that made him the patron saint of small boat sailors everywhere. His voyage, retold in Sailing Alone Around the World, took place from 1895 to 1898. It made Slocum and his little boat SPRAY forever famous.
Rod Scher received his M.Ed. from the University of Oregon. A longtime boating enthusiast, writer, and former English teacher, he is currently VP of Technology for Class.com, where he spends much of his time developing educational software while plotting ways to get back out on the water. He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.
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Top Customer Reviews
I really liked Rod Scher's annotations because, frankly, a quarter (or more) of what Slocum is talking about is lost on me. Scher's juxtaposing of some world events along with the text is interesting, as well. We're connected to the world and what is going on 24/7 from anywhere, and it's really weird to think that Slocum wouldn't have heard about world events until, say, months after they happened -- if he cared.
I can't speak from the seaman's perspective, but as a landlubber, I'd recommend this story.
Slocum avoided nautical jargon as much as possible to make his book attractive to the non-sailor and to appeal to the widest audience; but there is still nautical language in there that needs explaining. Scher does a decent job of it, explaining even the simplest terms. But beyond that, the book has many problems. I have referenced a few pages where the notes support my assertions, but there are many more examples not cited here.
The main problem with Scher's annotated version is that instead of enlightening us, he turns the book into a politically-correct diatribe, branding Slocum a bigot (pp. 20, 34), implying that he was a pervert or sexual predator (p. 209), and raging against "white men" (p. 41) and perceived Caucasian male chauvinism in sometimes half-page-length margin notes that occasionally turn the stomach. One gets the impression that Scher doesn't like Slocum; but in truth he doesn't understand him or his world. Scher is determined to judge Captain Slocum and his era by today's 21st Century `progressive' politics. That doesn't help me understand Slocum or his world any better, and it certainly will do nothing for the reader who is new to SAATW.
Scher doesn't let the reader remain in the past, either, and this is generally a no-no. He constantly references the present, e.g., p. 72, "At press time, AP reports that piracy attacks..." (Also examples on pp. 51, 77, and on p. 54 he talks about surviving the age of `disco' in a lame attempt at humor) and at one point recommends and references a 2006 book by Richard Lynn on global racial differences in cognitive ability. Controversial professor Lynn has been accused of misrepresenting the work of other scientists' studies, racism, distortion, and conclusions drawn from extremely poor and very limited samples.
Scher likes to sermonize. On page 72, talking about the wild Fuegians who at least once attempted to rob and butcher Slocum as they had already done to the crew of a stranded schooner in the Straits of Magellan, Scher basically says that the Fuegians aren't really cruel at all, that's our cultural bias, they're simply misunderstood. Scher also calls Slocum `jingoistic' (p. 20) because Slocum makes a disparaging remark about Spaniards. Scher forgets that the United States was on the eve of war with Spain and that public sentiment against Spain was high. Slocum was probably simply currying favor with his readers. But Scher's assessment of Slocum as a bigot lacks credibility. Slocum was a seasoned sea captain who had spent his life taking vessels in and out of ports around the world. If any man of that time was world-wise and cosmopolitan, it was Joshua Slocum. On page 65, he calls Slocum "jingoistic, patronizing, and narrow-minded when it came to people of other races and nations." This is a bold-faced lie, or at the very least the vituperative outburst of an agenda-driven demagogue.
Everyone who has read Slocum knows that he had an eye for the ladies. Most fellows, I think, would see nothing particularly wrong with this. But Rod Scher paints for us the image of a leering, lecherous Slocum with a dirty mind (pp. 49 and especially 209). He labels Slocum "smarmy and condescending" toward women (p. 97), a very blatant mischaracterization. Slocum was gentlemanly and considerate toward women, had a healthy libido, and possessed an old-fashioned charm that drew the attention of many women to him, not the least of them Mabel Wagnalls, scion of the publishing empire.
I have to take issue also with a couple of items - the occasional filler "In the News" blocks in the margins. They are probably meant to give us a `window' into the 1890's, but most of them seem to be news clips of odd happenings in the papers of the time. They shed little light on Slocum's voyage or the influences shaping him. For example, p. 111, `In The News', a Massachusetts politician dies of a heart attack while on a fishing trip to Canada. It has no apparent relevance to Slocum.
Scher likes to speculate - and often incorrectly. On page 22, Slocum makes a quirky comment about porpoises following ships - and jokes that they seem to prefer sailing ships to steamers (as does Slocum). Scher then embarks on a wild hypothesis about the size of steamship propellers and that porpoises naturally want to avoid getting caught up in them, especially today since ship propellers are even bigger than ever. Well, I would wager that Scher has never been to sea in a ship, as this reviewer has. Porpoises `follow' a ship by swimming near the bow, where the shadow of the ship will startle prey in the water. It may surprise Scher to learn that porpoises are carnivores and do not eat granola or arugula. They don't swim near the propellers or in the turbulent wake, where there would be no prey, and following a ship has nothing to do with porpoises' need to palliate loneliness at sea by seeking the comfort of ships and men. Scher must have assumed that `following' a ship meant in the literal sense.
Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher in the book - and this was almost amusing - was Scher's note on p. 184. Slocum writes that "Ascension Island...is called the Stone Frigate, R.N. (as in a Royal Navy ship) and is rated "tender" to the South African squadron." Slocum goes on to say that it is a "strategic point" where Royal Navy ships stop to fill their water tanks. "Tender" is a common term for a supply ship that "tends" to the needs of the fleet, e.g., coaling, oiling, watering, provisioning. Scher misses this completely and goes on to apply another meaning of `tender' - as in a sailboat's tendency to `heel' to either side, and suggest that because the island is volcanic, it is unstable, and "moving more often and more easily than one would assume that a piece of land should move." Huh? Slocum said that the island was rated "tender" TO the fleet, not BY the fleet. So Scher not only mis-read Slocum, but then advanced a far-fetched, nonsensical explanation to an easily-understood humorous quip by Slocum in the familiar island-resembles-a-ship metaphor.
Unfortunately, Scher's lack of knowledge and the infusion of his political agenda into what should have been - and otherwise could have been - an informative and enlightening annotated SAATW turns out instead to be an unscholarly hodgepodge shot-through with politically-correct sermonizing in an annoyingly condescending tone, mis-read passages, exaggerations, and outright falsehoods. The opportunity for something very good has been spoiled, and Slocum himself and his wonderful book done a disservice by a misinformed, elitist, opinionated author who understands neither his subject, nor the times in which Slocum lived. In the parlance of my airline pilot friend Joe, this book is a `wave-off'.
I think it will especially appeal to teachers desiring their students to see history in context. I gave an endorsement of this book for that very reason.
Alas, not everyone will be pleased with this even handed treatment of Slocum, but it is, in my opinion, a delightful glimpse into a fascinating era. Pick it up. You will be glad you did.