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Sailing With Strangers Around South America
Nautical Book Review

Posted Thursday, December 1, 2005

Sailing With Strangers Around South America
Sailing with Strangers by Charley Hester is published by Wingspan Press

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Charley Hester had a dream - to cruise offshore on a sailboat with his wife. The couple had learned to how bareboat charter, and enjoyed cruising around the Caribbean, gaining confidence in their sailing abilities as they went. However, as years passed, and family situations changed (a new baby on the way), Hester realized that he had to either modify his dream, or give up on it entirely. With a little bit of steadfastness and flexibility, in 2001 Hester signed on as paying crew on a yacht that advertised a circumnavigation of South America in the back of Cruising World magazine. The route included exotic ports of call such as Panama, the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, Cape Horn, the Falkland Islands, Rio de Janeiro and the Dominican Republic. Torn between family and the lure of his dream, Hester set sail on October 17, 2002 with 5 complete strangers, full of optimism and high hopes.

Sailing with Strangers is Hester's account of his voyage, which lasted approximately 180 days, and covered over 15,000 miles. Written in a journal format, we learn about the personalities of the crew members and the relationships that form between them. It's the makings of a good "reality TV" show, where you throw together six complete strangers from all walks of life, intellectual and sailing ability and watch what happens. Pretty soon you need a rigging knife to cut through the tension.

However, don't think that this is just a tale of interpersonal dynamics. For the sailor, armchair or not, there's a wealth of information here about all aspects of offshore cruising - safety, fishing, navigation, weather, and just plain sailing. My favorite parts of the book were Hester's stories about arriving at each destination and his interaction with the locals. He takes us to places that are rarely written about in sailing books - Easter Island, the Falklands- and through his outgoing and optimistic attitude, reminds us that it's worth the trouble to go out of the way to experience and see new things.

Although this story may not encourage readers to go out and grab the first crew position they can find on a yacht, Hester's experiences are very helpful for anyone who is looking to crew offshore. Based on Hester's experiences, a lot of research and a realistic approach are crucial when searching out a berth on a yacht. As we learn at the end of the story with Hester's surprise ending, the old saying "get it in writing" saves a lot of headaches and makes for a better trip for everyone.

Last but not least, Sailing with Strangers is very much a survival story. Not only does the crew have to survive harsh weather, equipment failure, interpersonal conflicts and long stretches of being at sea, but each person had to survive the separation from their family and deal with their own issues and fears. Throughout the book we see Hester, growing in his self-confidence and abilities, and his dream survive.

Sailing with Strangers is a fun book to read and we recommend it "thumbs up!"

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