Sept. 16/2022: I was a bit surprised, while visiting my wife’s family in Ireland last month, to find my mother-in-law had just finished reading this book, a mildly scandalous first-person account of a young man’s baptism as a bluewater sailor during a transatlantic passage back in 1974. Nosing around the cover flaps and intro, I found the back story was rather intriguing: the author is the son of a once-renowned British journalist; the text comes from a journal he kept during his time afloat, that was lost and recovered some 45 years later; the publisher is the son of the skipper who took the author on as crew.
It is one of the cosmic truths of sailing literature, that a straight-up journal or log of a voyage is normally bound to be dull reading. Offhand I can think of only two exceptions to this rule—The Boy, Me and the Cat, by Henry M. Plummer, first published privately around 1914, and My Old Man and the Sea, by David and Daniel Hays, published in 1995. I am pleased to say that this book makes a third exception.
It is a very much a coming-of-age story. Our 23-year-old narrator, Michael “Thick Mick” Pincher is freshly out of work in London, estranged from his family, and of a distinctly liberal mind-set when a buddy of his points him at his dad, a buttoned-up Irishman looking for crew to help sail a 37-foot Laurent Giles wooden sloop across the Atlantic from Britain to the West Indies. Mick has zero sailing experience, but is eager for adventure.
Lines of Gay Gander, the vessel in question. Her beam was just 9-1/2 feet. A Rambler class sloop in teak and mahogany. Mick slept up forward in the forepeak with the ship’s cat Stryder
Mick and his skipper, John Farrell, certainly had a fraught relationship. On the one hand Farrell seems to have been an excellent mentor. He patiently teaches Mick “the ropes,” as it were, and by the time they’re most of the way across the Atlantic, Mick is competent crew and a decent navigator banging out sights on an antique sextant he found. But Farrell, it seems, was also a very prickly fellow, haughty and judgmental. The twist comes when the skipper early on brings his mistress aboard—a sanctimonious Bible-quote woman named Carola—to join in the voyage. Though the two are living in sin, they seem always to be looking down their noses at their young libertine deckhand.
John and Carola down below aboard Gay Gander. The charming illustrations are by the author, redrawn from original sketches
Parallel to the ravelings and unravelings of tension onboard the boat, we also get to follow Mick on his adventures ashore, amorous and otherwise, both in the Canary Islands and in the West Indies. Without giving too much away, I will say these culminate in a hilarious scene where our young hero, verging on the cusp of gigolohood, escorts an older woman to a very exciting Tom Jones concert in Puerto Rico.
The author in the present day, on the right, holding a copy of his new book. His old mate, Antony Farrell, his publisher and son of his old skipper, is on the left, holding the long lost journal
If my mother-in-law enjoyed this book, and I enjoyed this book, I’m pretty sure you will too. Her copy was borrowed from the library. I found mine easily enough in a nice bookstore in downtown Tralee. Though the publisher is a small Irish press, you can score one of your own on Amazon.
Long Lost Log: Diary of a Virgin Sailor
By Michael Chapman Pincher
The Lilliput Press (2022)