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Nigel Calder’s works on the tech­ni­cal­i­ties of boat sys­tems are ac­cepted world­wide as Bi­bles, but he doesn’t gen­er­ally trum­pet his vast cruis­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. He is a mod­est man, so when we find he has writ­ten a book about his early years, we know it is go­ing to be an in­ter­est­ing read.

In fact, Shake­down Cruise (pub­lished by Ad­lard Coles) is a lot more than that. As Calder de­scribes the build­ing and sail­ing of his first cruiser, the Atkin-de­signed Nada, with a va­ri­ety of ship­mates, there’s a laugh to be found on many of its pages.

Calder and his wife, Ter­rie, learn the ropes the hard and by far the best way – from their own mis­takes. Their plan to sail far into the Pa­cific doesn’t come to pass at this stage, but they make an ex­tended voy­age in the Caribbean with a tiny baby and an­other on the way in the early 1980s, when the sail­ing world was a very dif­fer­ent place to to­day. The sheer frank­ness with which this guru con­fesses all, even how he pays for it, is en­light­en­ing. But it’s the dry, sea­man­like hu­mour that car­ries it along.

Any­one feel­ing doubts about his or her own abil­ity to see a long cruise through should read this and dis­cover how even the greats have to start some­where. Over the course of the next six years we do ev­ery­thing from casting the lead for Nada’s keel to build­ing the deck and in­te­rior and in­stalling the sys­tems, in­clud­ing build­ing the freezer sys­tem through a process of trial and er­ror (there is al­most no tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion avail­able to boa­town­ers and boat­builders such as our­selves). I write and self­pub­lish a book on ma­rine re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tems. It is a fi­nan­cial fail­ure and the last time I try self-pub­lish­ing! It does, how­ever, open the door to In­ter­na­tional Ma­rine; I am asked to write a book, Ma­rine Diesel En­gines. Mean­time, we are able to fund the build process for Nada from my wages as we go along.

We launch Nada in 1982 and con­tinue fit­ting her out along­side a dock in the midst of a small cy­press swamp on the Natal­bany River, in Louisiana. Our ini­tial sail­ing tri­als are in shal­low Lake Mau­repas, which emp­ties into the west­ern end of Lake Pon­char­train. On our very first sail my log notes: ‘Caught in squall gust­ing to 40 knots with main, jib, stay­sail, and mizzen up. No one on board with any sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ence ex­cept Nigel. Main­sail slides jam. Boat knocked down.

Brei­dart head (the chim­ney for our wood/coal stove) and two (sep­a­rate!) shoes lost over­board. Re­turn to dock and grease all sail slides.’

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