One late summer’s day in 1997, A. J. “Sandy” Mackinnon borrowed a derelict dinghy from the sailing club at the English school where he had just finished his sixth year of teaching. His plan was to row and sail a score or so miles down the Severn River. Over a year later, in the same Mirror dinghy, he found himself at the entrance to the Black Sea.
What happened in between was over three thousand miles of adventure along the canals and great rivers of England and Europe, including the open sea of the English Channel. Mackinnon describes these experiences in The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow (the name of his dinghy), and does so with attention to detail, vivid imagery and striking similes which are equaled only by the enormous breadth of his literary allusions.
If Mackinnon’s literary genius sounds dull to those fearing a heavy and inaccessible tome, rest assured that the book is anything but dull. The aptness and liveliness of the account is spiced by the author’s very funny ability to exaggerate for effect at just the right moment in every vignette. Moreover, the breadth of Mackinnon’s knowledge of plants and animals, literature and art, music, magic tricks, and a hundred other things is never forced. It flows as naturally as the pleasing ripples from a skipping stone.
The reader will learn a great deal about a man when he recounts at some length a three-thousand-mile trip alone in an eleven-foot boat. I never tired of Sandy Mackinnon, a single Australian in his mid-30’s at the time, clearly a Christian (Anglican) whose faith and values lightly color his work, and a great reader who loves authors like Lewis and Tolkien in addition to his thorough knowledge of the classics. There is never a moral off-note in the book, never a spiritual prejudice which annoys a religious reader, no assumed superiority, never any fashionable contemporary cant.
Now I love sailing. Unlike Mackinnon, I’m not equally fond of rowing, but I share his love of small boats (though the boat I currently sail is nearly four feet longer than his Mirror). For me, the decision to read this book was a decision to read one of many on cruising in small craft. I would have been happy with competent prose and sufficient attention to the matter at hand; I did not expect great powers of observation, wonderful writing, and a keen sense of humor.
The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow was published by a small nautical publisher. I am sure it is virtually unknown outside of these circles, which only adds to its luster as a great discovery. If you value literature or simply like travel writing, you will thoroughly enjoy this book. It can be ordered directly from Sheridan House: An enriching and highly recommended read.
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