EVEN THE GREATEST SAILING EXPERTS HAD TO LEARN FROM THEIR MISTAKES, AS THIS ACCOUNT BY NIGEL CALDER CLEARLY ILLUSTRATES
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.’