Adam Nicolson 2004. Seamanship. A voyage along the wild coasts of the British Isles. New York: Harper Collins, 180 pp.

This is Adam Nicolson’s account of his 6 month voyage along the Atlantic coasts of the British Isles in a refitted 40 foot beamy wooden yacht the Auk. It is at once a sublimely written narrative, and an admission of the great stress this voyage caused to his (hired) skipper, George Fairhurst, and to his wife Sarah Raven. Not the least because of the accompanying BBC 4 film crew, who cause Nicolson to make danagerous decions that very nearly cause drownings. It is only these idiotic decisions, and a not quite successful attempt at self-effacement, that separate Adam Nicolson’s narrative from Arthur Ransome’s account of sailing Racundra.

But there will be ample reason to re-read this:

Manx shearwaters from the Pembrokeshire islands provided a kind of welcoming party for us, forty and fifty miles out from land, turning around the boat on their black scimitar wings half an inch above the wave tops, slicing through a layer of air as thin as paper above the sea. They were the real edge-0dancers. If they misjundged their flight, the sea surface would trap and caatch them. It never did’ the shearwater is the great sea lesson: endless attentiveness and total response. I watched them for hours. All that grace is nothing but focus. (p. 86)

[quoting Gaston Bachelard, French philosopher, and surely Carlo Rovelli would concur:] “You cannot remember time; you can only remember the places in which time occurs.” (p. 118)

Personal pressures finally cause Adam Nicolson to leave the voyage at the northernmost extent, the Faeroes, where the long suffering skipper George and a Faeroese crewman sail the Auk back to home port, near Lands End.