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A familiar storyteller and seaman goes deep in his latest book

2018 December 14

SAILING readers will be more than a little familiar with Contributing Editor John Kretschmer’s vast collection of sailing stories; you’ve been reading them on the pages of this magazine for decades. They are alternately funny, terrifying and tear-jerking.

With several books under his belt, Kretschmer’s style as a storyteller is well defined, but in Sailing to the Edge of Time, readers will find hints of a new side of the sailor, one that contemplates bigger questions.

Make no mistake, the book is still chockablock with the kind of gripping stories that keep readers coming back to an author who comes across as so approachable many consider him a friend even if they’ve never met the man. But interspersed into the stories are nuggets that suggest Kretschmer’s been thinking deeper thoughts on those long, solo night watches.

Playing a good-natured what-would-you-choose game with the crew on one of his sail training passages (most of which are now taken by repeat customers who fall more in the category of friends), the captain and crew contemplated the question: If you could die at age 78 in perfect mental and physical health up until that point and then die in a swift, pain-free, natural death, would you take it?

The crew comes up with a range of answers, but Kretschmer’s comes later after sailing passages and life events transpire. 

“I realize that my ’78 and out’ hypothetical question is a nonstarter. Life, every damn second of it, is to be lived—it’s the spirit and the content that matters, not the years or the page count,” he writes. 

Although they might be a bit more introspective, the nature of Kretschmer’s stories hasn’t changed much. They are still fast-paced, full of characters you long to meet and laden with enough rich detail to make you taste the salt on your lips and feel the wind in your hair. Thanks to a life at sea he’s got enough of them to always bring something fresh and, in the case of Sailing to the Edge of Time, he also brings a healthy dose of practical information on choosing and refitting a boat and basic tenants of seamanship.

He’s never been one shy from criticism on some of his more controversial opinions, like the potential dangers of auto-inflate life jackets and tethers, but Kretschmer always backs up his theories with real-life experience, something sorely missing from many such discussions.

Readers may recognize some of the stories in Sailing to the Edge of Time from the pages of SAILING, but they take on a different tone in the book, where Kretschmer has the luxury of amusing and interesting details that magazine article word limits don’t always allow. 

A character in his own right, Kretschmer seems to attract kindred spirits—one of the reasons he says he’s only once had crew onboard for a passage who he couldn’t stand—and many of them can be found in the book. But the best characters in his books are always the boats, which Kretschmer treats as great, but often flawed, friends.

Early in the book, we find the sailor on a nostalgic passage down memory lane aboard the Contessa 32 Gigi, but this time it is not his boat, but rather the same boat 30 years later, now restored and owned by a Frenchman very eager to impress its most famous owner.

Gigi, of course, was the boat Kretschmer sailed around Cape Horn from east to west, a journey he chronicled in Cape Horn to Starboard, and, as the author’s admitted favorite boat, one that has made frequent appearances in his other books and numerous articles.

As he takes hold of the tiller—the very same one he clung to around Cape Horn—he has a revelation.

“I wanted to revisit—not relive—the reasons why as a young man I rejected the security of life ashore for an itinerant, and at times dangerous—but always inspiring—life afloat.”

Readers can only be grateful Kretschmer made that decision, if only so that we may, figuratively at least, go along for the wild and always exciting ride.

Sailing the Edge of Time

By John Kretschmer

$28, Adlard Coles publisher

John Kretschmer Sailing: www.yayablues.com