Nordic Yachting, A Tale of Two Passions Told with Humour and Wit
Griff Rhys Jones shows both his comic and writing skills in this story of four months and three thousand miles sailing in and around the Baltic and North East Europe.
The story starts with Griff and three companions taking his1950s wooden yacht Undina straight out of a boat yard where its restoration had been barely finished. No shakedown cruise to find any snags. They motor clear of the shallow Essex creeks and head into the Thames and set out to cross the North Sea to Germany for a classic yacht regatta. They then plan to cruise the Baltic and visit St Petersburg.
Bob is Griff’s long time friend and sailing partner who is not really competent despite all the experience and courses he has done. For most of the journey they are joined by Baines who is a craftsman and technician who loves finding jobs that need doing on the boat: anything from woodwork to electrical. Not surprisingly with the hurried departure there are plenty of things to keep him occupied. Bob's frequently worried, occasionally panicked, friend Rick forms the rest of the initial crew.
As the journey unfolds, with all the tribulations associated with an old wooden boat, the relationships between the original crew and the many other crew members that join for parts of the trip swing between extremes. The cast is extensive as it expands to include the many people they meet along the way from the bored bureaucrats of the newly independent countries of the old Soviet Union to the many others who are helpful or interesting.
Rhys Jones’ writing makes them feel real and brings out the humour as well as providing a sensitive social commentary. There are plenty of moments that will make the reader chortle, if not laugh out loud, as well as more moving moments. There are no illustrations in the book but pictures are painted by the writing and as a result are less superficial, more telling, than a snapshot.
Along the way Griff realises he is taking on the character of his father with whom he spent many weekends as a child sailing around England's Essex coast and the creeks of the River Blackwater. He finds himself taking the role of Daddy (sometimes Mummy) to the motley crew. There are poignant passages when he talks about sailing with his father who was irascible, and always right, which resulted in the consequent disappointment and dissatisfaction his father suffered. The metamorphosis comes about, in part, in response to the developing cabin fever to which it contributes.
Good Writing, Good Reading
As a result To the Baltic with Bob (published by Penguin – ISBN: 0-141-1286-2) is a great read being neither trivial nor heavy. It has much of the same humour as Michael Green’s Art of Coarse Sailing but moves it out of the Norfolk Broads and into serious passage making in the North Sea and Baltic. It then combines the comedic with a serious travelogue in the Nordic and nearby countries.
Underpinning the tale are two love stories. The first which shines through strongly is Rhys Jones’ love of the Nordic countries and especially the Finnish Archipelago. With its many small islands and communities that are part of the countryside. It stirs something in his soul. He was clearly disappointed to leave and head home.
A much more underplayed, but real, passion throughout was Griff’s love of classic wooden yachts and especially his own Undina. For over four months the author put up with the many discomforts: wet bunks, leaking planks, small cabins and the like which would have justified a cooling of passion. It certainly put it at risk but could true love survive? Well...
The answer is there but the reader will have to read To the Baltic with Bob and find out for themselves.