In 1974, the Wilcox family left San Francisco to follow their dream: to sail around the world. Husband Chuck; his wife, Dawn; son Garth, 13; and daughter Linda, 10, had been preparing for this moment for years, studying, practicing, planning, and outfitting their vessel, Vela. They felt they were as ready as they would ever be, that it was now or never. This trip had been Chuck’s lifelong dream, and Dawn was excited to see the world, to explore the different cultures as they sailed from port to port on their planned four-year journey. Garth was ready for adventure as well. The only reluctance was from Linda, who didn’t want to leave her friends and had never had any interest in sailing in the first place.
The first part of their trip went smoothly, with only a few hitches; although the toilet constantly broke and they found some inconveniences in their accommodations, for the most part, they had an easy and enjoyable voyage through the Pacific and into the South Seas.
However, after only a year of this pleasant life, disaster struck. Shipwrecked off the coast of Fiji, they found themselves with a dilemma: try to salvage their boat, which was now stripped and badly damaged, or give up their dream, possibly for good?
This true story of the Wilcox family is completely riveting and simultaneously insanely frustrating – which means it’s a great book! The author, Wendy Hinman, relied on memories and journals from her husband Garth’s family about their trip and the various trials they endured to be true to their experience. Her own experiences sailing around the world with her husband (much later) are evident in her comfortable familiarity with sailing terms and jargon, as well as with the privations that accompany a long ocean voyage. Some of this gets a little long, although there is a glossary for the unfamiliar; still it is usually necessary for you to realize the extremity of some situations. Readers will also feel keenly the long hours spent aboard, especially at the end of the trip; Hinman’s attention to little details like family squabbles and disagreements or stop-gap repairs make the whole trip vivid and real and their concerns intense.
It is a great story, and you really care about these people. Of course, this makes it that much harder to see them make decisions that lead to such hardships for the family. Although Hinman is restrained in airing the family’s widening rifts, they are obvious to see, and the father’s stubborn insistence on following his dream at any cost almost leads to their deaths more than once. The dialogue is somewhat stilted, but most of that drops away after the first couple of chapters and Hinman hits her stride in recording the family’s various stops and adventures, including many interesting little sketches that reveal the family’s character. Garth certainly comes across as the hero in the book, and the mother, Dawn, goes to heroic lengths to keep her family alive and together; Chuck becomes much less sympathetic as the book progresses, and unfortunately his dream is the only one that is realized. On the other hand, you are intensely caught up in the family’s decisions and dilemmas while they are facing them and can sympathize with their recurrent optimism and desire to achieve their goal.
Sea Trials immerses you in the Wilcox’s world as you share their great adventure, for good and ill. It is an adventure that, for readers, is well worth the trip.
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