Across Islands and Oceans is one of those books that makes me lose focus on everything else I’m doing and seriously contemplate hauling in the anchor and setting sail for distant horizons. The author, James Baldwin, did just that, but he was seriously focused on his dream or he wouldn’t have been able to pull off such an amazing solo voyage around the world, beginning at the young age of only 25.
It was another 25 years after leaving before he put down the story in the detailed form you’ll find in this book, and in the meantime he continued sailing, circumnavigating two and a half times on his engineless 28-foot Pearson Triton, Atom, and making a name for himself in the voyaging community through his many articles in Cruising World and other sailing publications. His website, Atom Voyages, is a popular and extremely useful resource for those looking to restore and outfit older fiberglass sailboats and follow in his wake. I referred to it extensively in my own refit of an old Grampian 26 that I owned for a few years before losing her to Hurricane Katrina. Baldwin’s advice is based on solid experience, and his recommendations are well-reasoned and budget-conscious for the self-sufficient cruising sailor who is not independently wealthy or interested in all the latest gadgets.
But back to the book at hand: Across Islands and Oceans is not simply the narrative of the kind of adventure many of us sailors can only dream about, it is also so well-written and interesting that it could capture the imagination of the most land-locked dirt dweller with no intention of ever setting foot aboard a cruising boat. Baldwin’s descriptions of not only the offshore passages but his explorations ashore and interactions with the natives showcase not only his writing abilities, but his keen and genuine interest in the history and culture of the places he visited. Because he was alone with no companion to answer to or distract him, he was able to devote his full attention to the new people and places he encountered over each new horizon. Having traveled solo for extended periods of time myself, I can relate to the difference this makes in the experience, and especially in this case, the difference it makes in the finished book that is the narrative of the voyage. I learned new things about out-of-the-way places that I hope to someday visit throughout the book.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in sailing or travel of any kind, but that recommendation comes with a warning: reading this book may leave you discontent with your current life! You may find yourself perusing the online listings of used cruising boats for sale, and if you do, you’ll find that in the current economy, this is perhaps the best buyer’s market ever for a solid old fiberglass sailboat. For less than the cost of even the most basic new car, and a good bit of elbow grease, you can find and prepare an old boat that can take you around the world. On Baldwin’s website, you’ll find examples of people who did exactly that, many of them bringing their project boats to him for advice and assistance on the refit before setting out on their own ocean crossings.