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Sea of Dreams: Racing Alone Around the World in a Small Boa

by Adam Mayers

It is a brave author who plunges into literary journalism to pen a book about extreme events or sports. No matter how interesting the subject being covered, the author will be judged against the pantheon of contemporary writers who have established a remarkable standard for the genre – Jon Krakauer, Sebastian Junger, and Derek Lundy, to name a few.

Sea of Dreams is Toronto Star editor Adam Mayers’ account of the 2002 Around Alone solo sailing race. The race pits skippers of 40- to 60-foot sailboats against each other and the “relentless indifference” of the sea during an eight-month circumnavigation of the globe. The race passes through some of the most treacherous waters on the planet. The book, which focuses on an ex-Mountie who ran a bare bones sailing campaign that cost him his life savings, is more journalistic than literary and falls short of the genre’s benchmark.

For the most part, Sea of Dreams lacks the gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, chest-thumping, soul-expanding lyricism of successful adventure journalism. The details of the race are adequately conveyed, and some of the accounts, particularly during the rounding of Cape Horn off the edge of South America, make for exciting reading. But Mayers fails to consistently transport the reader into the cockpits of the ships or into the minds of the sailors. The sailors remain enigmas, and the genre’s obligatory digressions into history and yarn are not served up with the appropriate aura of fireside lore. This is not helped by Mayers’ decision to forego extensive explanations of sailing or his reluctance to make use of the nautical lexicon. This lack of technical details makes the book less daunting for landlubbers, but it’s also a missed opportunity to be drawn into the subject via its esoterica.

Sea of Dreams will therefore be of interest primarily to racing sailors already saturated in the lore, while remaining accessible to the armchair adventurer.