IN AN IDLE MOMENT I wondered if there were one particular book I would recommend as a Christmas present for someone interested in sailing. I hit immediately upon Tom Neale’s famous book, An Island to Oneself, the story of how the author spent six years on a desert island in the Pacific, mostly alone.
I thought that book would resonate with anyone who sails. Somewhere in the back of our minds there is a picture of the perfect tropical island, peaceful and serene with its white beaches, turquoise waters, coconut palms and glistening reefs. Tom Neale shows us that this is not just a dream. It’s real. It’s Anchorage Island in Suvarov Atoll, 200 miles from the nearest inhabited island.
But then I glanced around at the boating books lining my little office and I thought, “No, not Neale. Hiscock, for goodness’ sake.” Eric Hiscock, the humble circumnavigator. It’s not a name you hear much of these days, but his beautifully written book, Cruising Under Sail, must have attracted many landlubbers to the wonderful sport of deep-sea cruising.
After a moment or two, reality set it. “How can you possibly mention Hiscock,” I wondered, “if you don’t also mention Tom Day? And, good lord, what about Frank Wightman and Roth, and the Pardeys, and Moitessier and Bardiaux and Slocum and . . .”
I concluded that it’s simply impossible to pick out one book that would fascinate everybody interested in sailing; which is reason enough to go back to my first instinctive choice, Tom Neale, and the story of how he spent six years alone on an uninhabited coral atoll half a mile long and three hundred yards wide in the South Pacific.
He first went there in October 1952 and remained alone (with only two yachts calling) until June, 1954 when he was taken off ill after a dramatic rescue. He went back in April 1960 and remained alone again until December 1963.
An Island to Oneself (Collins) is a well written and well illustrated peek into the mind of an unusual man, a man with the guts to experience a life that most of us dream about but don’t dare to try. It’s out of print now, I believe, but it’s still available occasionally on the used-book market from sources such as www.alibris.com and www.abebooks.com
There is another reason for sticking with Tom Neale, one that brings at least a glimmer of relief and satisfaction to those of us who seek, but do not find, paradise. In the end, his perfect island proved not to be perfect after all. He left for two reasons. First, he was afraid of dying a lonely death. “I wasn’t being sentimental about it,” he wrote, “but the time had come to wake up from an exquisite dream before it turned into a nightmare.”
The second reason was more prosaic. “A party of eleven pearl divers descended on Suvarov — and, frankly, turned my heaven into hell . . . I didn’t dislike them, but their untidiness, noise, and close proximity were enough to dispel any wavering doubts I may have had.”
I guess it’s what I’ve always said: Every silver lining has a cloud. Nevertheless, it will do your soul good to read this book. Man can strive for perfection and even achieve it for a time, but most of us eventually learn that it’s the journey that counts, not the destination. So enjoy the sailing when you can.
To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.
— R. L. Stevenson
A local junior-school teacher was trying to teach the concept of distance. She asked whether her pupils throught they lived close to school, or far away.
Nobody was willing to hazard a guess except little Susan, who was quite adamant that she lived very, very close to school.
“How are you certain?” asked the teacher.
“Well, every time I come home my mother says: ‘Hell, are you home already?’”