Book review: ‘Around the World in Six Years,’ by Henry Holt
January 16, 2017
It is often said that it is never too late to try something new. People start new hobbies at all ages; it is not uncommon, for example, for those nearing retirement to try their hands at managing a sailboat. Cruising the warm waters off Florida is an appealing endeavor for anyone done with the rat race of their younger years. What is more unusual is to do what retiree Henry Holt attempted, and succeeded at, in his 70s — a "mostly solo circumnavigation in a 35-foot sailboat."
He documents his slow-burn adventure in a charming and engaging journal-style book, "Around the World in Six Years."
Brushes with disaster
His passion for boats began with a childhood fascination with Nantucket Island and from a deep love of seafaring classics such as "Moby Dick" and "Lord Jim." He came late to the actual process of "messing about in boats," applying his engineering background first through books and later through lessons, acquiring enough skills to become a sailing instructor and to grow more seasoned in the complexities of nautical navigation.
Turning one's back to land in a sailboat is a leap of faith, a commitment to the belief that another shore will loom majestically at a predictable time and place. But, the world's oceans present their own variables that complicate any maritime adventures, and Holt experienced this time and again, as his little boat, "Chyka," made her way from the Caribbean, through the thrilling Panama Canal and across the vast Pacific, where he had a close encounter with the devastating tsunami that leveled many of the islands and communities in Southeast Asia in 2004 in the Indian Ocean.
Following that brush with disaster, he traveled through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal and into the serene blue of the Mediterranean, past Gibraltar and back across the Atlantic to his starting point.
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The book is detailed, regarding both the water crossings as well as the sights explored at the many ports of call and the technical nuts and bolts that made it all possible. Holt had the luxury of time — clearly, as the entire endeavor took six years to complete — but therein lay the beauty. He lingered when he wanted, detoured when necessary and flew home for crucial family time in between.
The snail's pace of his travels also allowed for a real examination of the cultures he encountered. Akin to the difference between traveling via car or walking, the minutiae of each local harbor became relevant, and friends were made in every port. Though the distances traveled between ports-of-call were undertaken alone, Holt recounts many moments when he connected with others, and loneliness was never an issue. Exhaustion, though, often was, for the solo journey meant he was always on call for any issues that might take place — and on such an epic adventure, issues arose repeatedly.
There are countless details of repairs and Macgyver-type remedies, and every country presented its own hurdles for docking and inspection. But in spite of the endless roadblocks that are notorious during international travel, Holt found something to revere in each place he visited, whether it was the landscape, the culture or the kind souls who went above and beyond to help make his navigations easier.
Holt's book is inspiring and uplifting, and it serves as a reminder of the value of traveling the world, beyond the comforts of home and the familiar. Lifelong friends can be made, but the most important part of traveling is the inevitable reaffirmation that there are wonderful and inspiring people everywhere, if you dare to step out your door to meet them.
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