Jul 10, 2009


Adrift with William Willis in the Golden Age of Rafting
by T.R. Pearson

I thought this book looked interesting because it's about a man who followed close on the heels of the Kon-Tiki expedition. Twenty years after Heyerdahl's famous voyage, William Willis, a part-time sailor and aspiring author, decided to attempt his own ocean crossing on a raft. There were several stark differences in this trip, namely that Willis designed the raft himself (and not very well), went solo (unless you count the cat and parrot) and was sixty years old. He wasn't out to prove any points about navigation or history, but to seek an experience, to test himself against the elements in the most extreme way possible (rather like Into the Wild, I thought). He deliberately skimped on some planning and supplies, ate a very restricted diet (of mainly rye flour, raw sugar and fish) and was full of a ludicrously optimistic attitude, in spite of his journey being a series of disasters. It's a miracle he made it across alive. I kept thinking, this guy is asking for hardship: why? By the end of the book I was no closer to an explanation- he had a decidedly different outlook on life, and a nearly insane desire to continue doing ocean crossings on cheaply built, poorly designed rafts.

Seaworthy wasn't quite what I expected. In the first place, it's not- as both the back cover copy and flyleaf claim- just about Willis, but also spotlights several other men who made similar hairbrained attempts to raft across the ocean, with various degrees of success. One man went in a small rubber boat, seeking to create shipwreck conditions and prove what man could survive. Other trips were organized with more proper crews- four or five men- and better-built rafts, but with crazy ideas of what they were trying to prove, with poor supplies, with mutiny on board. Along the way they're all compared to the more successful and well-known Kon-Tiki. And then Willis himself made four more attempts, the last one when he was seventy-four! I could not believe the deprivation and suffering this man intentionally put himself through. He drank salt water. He fought off sharks. He had two hernias and went on voyages anyways, refusing medical treatment. There was no end of astonishments in this book for me.

Another one for the Non-Fiction Five challenge.

Rating: 3/5                280 pages, 2006


bermudaonion said...

I think we need people like this - the explorers - who will stretch themselves to discover and learn more - but I'm not one of them. I think their stories would astonish me too.

Jenny said...

I do not understand why people do these things to themselves. When they could be staying in! And drinking hot chocolates and reading lovely books.

Jeane said...

Bermudaonion- Yes, I agree. The only thing is- these men were not exploring- unless the testing of endurance is an exploration. The trip had already been made, and the possibility proven, by the Kon-Tiki.

Jenny- Me either. Even after the author tried to find reasons, and Willis himself made statements, I still just did not get it.