Missing the Boat: Chasing a Childhood Sailing Dream by Michael Hutchinson
|Missing the Boat: Chasing a Childhood Sailing Dream by Michael Hutchinson|
|Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis|
|Summary: An amusing account of Michael Hutchinson's early life as a tyro ocean sailor on Belfast Lough, and later year out among the rich and famous on the offshore yacht racing circuit. A message of consolation for life's mediocre players in any field, from an ex-cycle star.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: July 2010|
As a youngster in the nineteen eighties, Michael Hutchinson was passionate about sailing. He acquired a dinghy and crew, and spent his early years messing around on Belfast Lough. He learned to sail, race Mirrors and fling jellyfish accurately at passing competitors. In time, his salty daydreams became ambitious, encompassing the Olympic Games, America's Cup and Round the World yacht races. Trouble was, Hutchinson proved to be a deeply mediocre dinghy sailor, clocking up only one win in several seasons round the buoys. Although he was good enough at race tactics and seamanship, he lacked the sprinkling of gold dust that differentiates the very good performer from the brilliant. And so eventually, as is the way of sensible young men, he became disenchanted and stopped trying. Ironically, he then found he had a talent for cycling which took him as far as the Commonwealth Games.
Towards the end of his cycling career, Hutchinson decided to take a year out to discover if he really had the potential to realize his teenage dreams. With some difficulty and a number of funny stories, he joined the RORC circuit, the more serious end of yacht racing around the UK. At last he became a part of the scene at big, glamorous regattas like Cowes, Cork and Tarbert. His experiences ranged from finding himself the best tactician on a no-hope yacht to becoming a nobody on a La Rochelle racer. After that he geared up a notch, found a boat for the prestigious Swan Cup in Sardinia and moved on to St Tropez, where he ended up in an RIB chasing the sexiest yachts on the planet.
He had a good time, though really, not that much happened. But as with all good story-tellers, Michael Hutchinson has the knack of keeping us interested. He's a likeable character: amusing, deprecating and self-aware, and he writes with an appealing, conversational style. The book is highly readable (though the nautical expletives may not be what you want your precocious 6 year old Optimist helmsman to be reading). Yes, I could see why he won a British Sports Book Award with his first book, The Hour: Sporting Immortality the Hard Way
What's special about this book, what should give it a wider appeal than just to sailors, is Hutchinson's emerging understanding of his own mediocrity by comparison with the stars of the racing scene. As he puts it:
I'd always imagined that top-class sailing was like what I'd been doing for a large proportion of my life, just better. I'd even be prepared to stretch to a lot better. In sad reality it was a whole different thing.
In sport's current mindset, it's easy for youngsters to be bamboozled into thinking that any dream can be realised, given a positive mental attitude. In truth, out of the thousands who dream, only one will win an Olympic medal. Star performers are in a talent league of their own: I hadn't even realized it could be done this well, he remarks ruefully.
Michael Huthchinson understood that he'd reached a lowly zenith in sailing, but … the important but, is that he'd enjoyed a great time in the chasing of it. This was a good point, well made from a highly competitive, elite professional cyclist. And I can see it being a useful lifeline for other disappointed dreamers.
Just as well I'm recommending this book for a general readership. Serious sailors will blanch at the ghastly misrepresentation of a masthead rig on the cover. Shiver me timbers!
The Bookbag would like to thank the publishers for sending this book.
Suggestions for further reading:
Blokes seem to have a genius for self-deprecatory writing: Three Ways to Capsize a Boat: An Optimist Afloat by Chris Stewart is another nautical yarn which you might enjoy. In the same vein, you might also like Robin Shelton's veggie-patch story: Allotted Time: Two Blokes, One Shed, No Idea.
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