Taken by the Wind
by Mike Jacker (Talking Bird Press, 2020; $29 hardcover, $3.99 Kindle)
Nostalgia is welcome now when the pandemic makes most of us long to go cruising—coastal, ocean crossing, even an afternoon sail to join friends inside a cruiser bar in a nearby harbor. Into this longing for the recent past drops a new book by Mike Jacker, Taken by the Wind: Memoir of a Sailor’s Voyage in a Bygone Era. In 1976, after college graduation, he and a couple of friends set out to cruise the South Pacific. Their story is both a timeless one of young people seeking adventure before taking up careers and a look back at a kind of cruising that has all but disappeared.
By today’s standards, the Cal 30 they could afford is undersize for three people and not a suitable design (single lifelines!) even for the coconut-milk run. Back then, there was no functioning GPS for the military let alone cruising sailors. Earl Hinz’s Landfalls of Paradise, the first real Pacific cruising guide, had not yet been written, and there were no sailing ham-radio nets or satellite-image downloads to provide good weather forecasting at sea. Jacker used a sextant and learned to read the clouds. A larger boat and a crew with more resources may have piled on refrigeration and a few other modern conveniences, but basically, the Rhiannon cruise is an anachronism.
A large part of the book’s charm comes in Jacker’s unforced telling of his voyage. He describes the people he meets, the condition of the boat, and relations between the crew and their adventures in straightforward prose with some poetic allusion and reference to the mystique of the sea and to sailors who came before. The book has plenty of photographs placed on pages where they are relevant instead of in a separate section, a book reader’s luxury not often seen.
I take mild issue with his comment in Taken by the Wind that “the skills of selfsufficiency at sea have largely been lost.” The skill set may have changed, but once out on the ocean, you are still dependent on yourselves for survival. He makes a choice to add a glossary to the end and not stop the storyline to explain sailing terms, and it would be interesting to read the book as a neophyte, to know whether the magic of the South Pacific is conjured up whole by Jacker’s story or just resonates with an old salt like myself, for whom this book draws up memories of my own more-recent Pacific crossing.