23 February 2016

An Unlikely Voyage (Part 1)

As unlikely as it seems, the day has finally come. My book, An Unlikely Voyage: 2000 miles alone on a small wooden boat, is actually ready to be launched!

It took eight months to sail the Blue Moon 2000 miles from the west coast of Florida to Long Island, but it's taken five years to write the book. What an adventure.

Why did it take so long? One reason was that — since I'm not retired — I could only work on the book for an hour here and and hour there. It takes a long time to write down 100,000 words, and even longer to get them right.

But the main reason was, I didn't want to just publish my old blog posts, or my log. I wanted to write a real book. One that was worth reading, and that told the whole story. (Yes, there were many, many things I couldn't write about in my blog because Helena, and my Mom, and my kids were following my trip through the blog as I wrote it, and I didn't want to scare them!)

Anyway, it was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. I hope many of you who have enjoyed the journey over these last six years will want to read it. It's available today on Amazon.com, and if you would like an autographed copy, I have a limited number of copies here that I'd be happy to sign and send you. The autographed copy is the same price as the one you can get on Amazon, and includes free shipping in the US or Canada. See the bottom of this page for details.

To give you a taste of the book, I'm going to publish the first chapter here, in three parts, over the next few days. I hope you enjoy it.

And if you do buy the book, please leave a review on Amazon, because that would really help me out a lot. Thank you in advance!

Chapter 1

I Decide To Build A Boat

And you, you will come too, young brother, for the days pass, and never return. Take the Adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! ’Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old life and into the new! Then some day, some day long hence, jog home here if you will, when the cup has been drained and the play has been played, and sit down by your quiet river with a store of goodly memories for your company. — Kenneth Grahame “The Wind In the Willows”

I could have titled this chapter ‘I decide to go to the moon’. That’s how difficult building a boat seems to me, even after forty years of sailing. More difficult than building furniture, for example. Furniture is mainly sticks joined together at right angles, but there are few right angles in a boat. Wooden boats aren’t built, they are carved—each plank bent and beveled and hollowed to fit the constantly changing shape of the hull. And unlike your average Chippendale, cosseted in a cozy bedroom, a boat needs to keep the sea out while an enraged King Neptune kicks in her ribs.

There’s another problem.

People have been telling me that I’m unhandy since I was a small boy. My brother was the handy one. He had a good eye. He was tall and strong. He looked good holding tools, and he could whip up a tree house or interplanetary space ship in no time. I was the bookish one. I preferred reading about people who built tree houses or interplanetary space ships. Tools felt awkward in my hands, and I guess they looked awkward, too, because my poor old dad was forever shaking his head at me, and telling the neighbors over the fence that my brother was the handy one.

But somehow, in the middle of middle age, I’ve decided to build a wooden boat. It’s not my fault. As in all good stories, there’s a woman at the bottom of it.

The trouble started on the clearest, coldest day you can imagine. For a year, Helena and I had been shopping for a sailboat. To be more precise, I’d been shopping and Helena had been rejecting. She didn’t reject the idea of sailing. She liked water sports. She liked me. We’d spent the last few years rowing a double scull in Huntington Harbor, and now she seemed ready to try something new and exciting. It was just that none of the boats we’d looked at had struck Helena’s fancy. The many, many boats we’d looked at, such as the lusty ketch she’d turned thumbs-down on, back in the fall.

“What don’t you like about her?” I’d asked while the salty beauty at my feet tugged impatiently at the dock lines—and my heart strings.

“I can’t put my finger on it.”

“It’s the upholstery in the main salon, right? Who likes electric-blue suede, anyway? We could have the settees reupholstered.”

“No, that’s not it.”

“The sail plan? A ketch is a bit different from what we’ve sailed before, but having a mizzen makes a lot of sense for cruising.”

She’d looked at me as if I’d been speaking Japanese. “No, it’s not the sail plan.”

“Well, it would be helpful if you could give me a clue. Just a little one. Exactly what kind of boat are we looking for?”

“Don’t worry,” she’d said confidently. “I’ll know it when I see it.”

And that’s how we ended up in a frozen marina on the coldest day of the year. As we approached the marina, tires crunching on frozen snow, I began to wonder why we were there at all.

“We’re here because it’s Sunday and you’re restless,” said Helena. “And because William invited us.”

William, my insane friend from work. The wooden boat fanatic who’d heard we were in the market for a boat; and who, coincidentally, had one he was looking to unload.

“But I have no interest in wooden boats,” I said. “I’ve never even been on a wooden boat. Not one that was floating, anyway.”

When I was ten, my dear old dad had bought a massive raised-deck cruiser. He’d had it deposited in our yard and, as I remember it, she was larger than the house we lived in. Her paint was peeling, her seams had opened up, and my little brother—who was then deemed too young to work on boats—could poke his head between the missing planks and stick his tongue out at me as I wasted my summer scraping and sanding, sanding and scraping. That boat was a trial for me. It was a happy day when my father, three years wiser, took a chain saw to the rotting hulk.

“Seeing William’s boat will be fun,” said Helena. “Oh, there he is.”

William stood by the marina’s main gate, waving frantically, as if afraid we’d drive by. The wind, blowing off the harbor, picked up snow and whirled it around him like an ice tornado.

Reluctantly, I rolled down the window. The wind tousled the ginger hair on William’s hatless head. He seemed immune to the cold.

“Just park over there, by the snow bank,” he said with a big smile for Helena.

He cut the greetings short as we climbed out of our warm car.

“Much nicer on board the Rose!” he said. “This way! This way! Watch your step!”

He lead us, Pied Piper-like, into the maze of boats. Nice, practical, fiberglass boats, hauled out of the water and wrapped in white plastic to sleep through the winter.

“Which one is yours?” I asked, trying to spot the wooden boat. All I could see ahead were bare blue bottoms.

“Not here! On the dock!”

He led us through the icy boat yard, to a long dock that floated on grey, sullen, half-frozen water. Its slips were empty, except for one boat with a wide deck, and a short but thick wooden mast.

“There she is! The Rose!” William pointed at her, as if we could be confused about which boat he meant. “Isn’t she beautiful? Wooden boats like to stay in the water year round, you know. Saves you money on hauling. Come along! It’s much warmer in the cabin.”

He grabbed Helena’s arm, steered her carefully down the slippery dock, and handed her onto the Rose’s deck. After a quick look around, they disappeared into the boat’s reputedly warmer cabin. A cheery glow spilled out of her portholes.

“Probably still uses kerosene lamps,” I said.

I lingered on the dock, studying the Rose’s lines. She wasn’t a large boat, maybe thirty-two feet, not including her ridiculously long bowsprit; but she was much beamier—wider—than her modern, plastic cousins, and the planks of her spacious teak deck swept from stem to stern, broken only by a cabin top and the small foot well that served as a cockpit.

Aloft, the Rose’s rigging was a maze of lines and blocks that reminded me of an old pirate movie.

“This isn’t a boat,” I thought, “it’s a museum.”

And yet, as I walked along her deck to the bow, I felt her solidity, her steadiness. This was a real ship, one that could take you places: to the high latitudes of Labrador, or the Faroe Islands, or down the trades to the South Pacific. Anywhere you dared to go.

A cold blast of wind brought me to my senses. Sure, she’d take you places. As long as you were handy and could keep her afloat long enough to get there. Wooden boats needed a ridiculous amount of maintenance. They demanded skills I didn’t have—skills practically no one had anymore. Crazy! I was far too sensible to fall for a white elephant like this. Plastic. That was the future. Time to get Helena out of William’s clutches. I walked back to the cockpit and opened the cabin door.

“Welcome aboard!” said William. He was sitting on the port-side settee—a kind of couch that doubles as a bunk. Helena was curled up on the starboard side. An old cast iron stove, much bespattered by ancient chowders, glowed in the galley.

“Is that a wood fire you’ve got going there?” I asked, worried.

“Coal! Much warmer,” said William. “Shut the door!”

The cabin was so warm that Helena had doffed her woolen coat. She held a steaming mug of something in her hands and looked dangerously comfortable.

“Hot cocoa?” William lifted a kettle off the stove and waved it over an empty mug. “Something stronger?”

He splashed a large amount of rum into the mug, while I perched uneasily on the settee next to Helena.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” said William, meaning the boat.

I braced myself to resist as William launched cheerfully into his sales pitch, pointing out the Rose’s various features, such as the mahogany drop-down table, the heavy bronze pumps in the galley (“both fresh and salt water!”), and the hand-carved bench in the forepeak that lifted up to reveal, ta-da!, the head.

Meanwhile, I sniffed. There was something odd about this Rose. Something was missing, but what was it? Ah, I had it. Where was the familiar, though slightly sickening, smell of diesel fuel? I looked aft, and saw nothing behind the companionway ladder but a few coils of rope and an orange life jacket.

“Doesn’t this boat have an engine?” I asked, interrupting William’s stream-of-consciousness ramble.

“Hell, no!” said William. “She doesn’t need one!”

“Isn’t that amazing?” Helena said. “No boat smell!”

I started to laugh. A boat with no engine, that was a riot. But my laugh died away when I saw the look on Helena’s face. William must have seen it too, because he suddenly leaned back on his settee with a satisfied smile.

“You know,” said Helena, looking rather pleased with herself, “this is the first boat we’ve looked at that I really like.”

“Well, yes, but…” I started to say, in my most condescending tone.

“Why aren’t we looking at wooden boats?”

Continued in Part 2

How To Get Your Copy

If you live in the US

You can order a copy directly by clicking on this link: Amazon.com, or by searching Amazon for "Unlikely Voyage".

If you live in the US, you can order an autographed copy of An Unlikely Voyage through PayPal, using either your PayPal account or a credit card. Just click the button below and follow the instructions.

Or you can get out your quill pen and order a copy through the post. Send a check for $19.95 to John Almberg, 249 Lenox Rd., Huntington Station, NY 1176. Please include your name, shipping address, and a custom inscription, if you'd like.

If you live outside the US

You should be able to order a copy directly from Amazon.com by searching your local Amazon for "Unlikely Voyage".

If the book is not available through Amazon in your part of the world, you can order direct from the publisher: Publisher Direct

Unfortunately, the cost to mail a book outside the US is so high (> $20), that I can't offer free shipping. It makes more sense to order a copy direct from Amazon or the publisher. However, if you really want an autographed copy, please email me at john@unlikelyboatbuilder.com and I will see what we can do to minimize the cost.

Thank you very much, and please don't forget to write a review on Amazon!

Next Up: An Unlikely Voyage, Part 2


  1. I've followed your adventures from near the start and would like a copy of the book, however,I cannot buy through amazon in Australia, and the price and postage are for America, have you made arrangements for your overseas blog followers?

    1. Hi David, I thought the book was already available from Amazon in Australia, but it seems they are not quite ready. I am looking into alternative ways of getting books to other parts of the world than North American and Europe. Thanks for alerting me to this issue.

  2. Captivating John, you have a gift for storytelling, and if this is a prelude to how the rest of the book is I cannot wait to read it. I and some of my friends will be some of your first readers. I look forward to owning an autographed copy of An Unlikely Voyage. Thanks Robert

  3. So far great .I like the side bar layout and you took the time to fall in love with her.. It's not just a boat but a part of your life's path,water will not leave foot prints that's when the soul picks up the way an all them times alone that a camera could never feel.

  4. Is there going to be a Kindle version?

    1. Yes, but its a whole other formatting job. I'm hoping it will be available by the end of March.

  5. Hello John, I've purchased your book and really enjoying it at the moment. Thank you for the insightful, funny, down to earth and honest account of your remarkable adventure

    1. You are welcome! I’m glad you are enjoying it. Believe it or not, it’s all true. Thanks for saying hello. And if you have a minute, please leave a review on Amazon.


I'd love to hear from you. Please comment!