SAILING A SERIOUS OCEAN

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If “Sailing a Serious Ocean” is your first meeting with John Kretschmer and his work, it’s probably John’s own fault. He’s a modest, self-deprecating man. He doesn’t advertise himself or his business or tout his eminently toutable nautical accomplishments. So I’ll take up some of that slack. Kretschmer is an original. Who else has for decades and without serious incident captained a one-man charter operation specializing in long-distance, open-ocean sailing? Who else would have thought to sail from New York to San Francisco with a windward slog around Cape Horn aboard a Contessa 32, perhaps the smallest boat ever to do so? As a charter operator and delivery skipper, Kretschmer has made some twenty Atlantic crossings, many long Pacific passages, and multiple transits of the Med. He annually puts more nautical miles on his beloved Kaufman 47 Quetzal than statute miles on his car; he quit counting those nautical miles at 300,000. He’s a brilliant seaman who’s handled most every condition that serious oceans mete out to sailboats, but that alone is not what makes him an original. It’s that in combination with this: the man can write. Which brings us to Sailing a Serious Ocean. Kretschmer is a skillful storyteller, and with those 300,000 miles of experience to draw on, he doesn’t need to make anything up. Some of his stories are downright frightening, like that terrible trip through Hurricane Mitch, and some are hilarious, like the time shortly after 9/11 when his brand-new life raft suddenly inflated at the check-in desk at Heathrow, prompting nervous security guards to level machine guns at his head (“Don’t shoot him!” cried the desk clerk). In addition to being well told, the sea stories share another characteristic. They’re charmingly modest and self-deprecating—as I said, like John; the joke’s usually on John…

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