Sunday, September 13, 2020

Two reviews of Green Ghost, Blue Ocean – No Fixed Address by Jennifer M. Smith

Nik and Jennifer aboard Green Ghost
Green Ghost, Blue Ocean, reviewed by Colleen Mitchell Robinson

Pottersfield Press (2020), 304 pages, paperback, $21.95. Order your copy from your favourite book store or directly from the distributor, Nimbus publishing, here.

When I met Jennifer Smith, on Zoom at a Brian Henry writing class, she seemed quite average.  Petite, blonde, pleasant, and calm, she struck me as someone I could have coffee with on a Tuesday morning and talk about home renovations or the latest Netflix release. 

But just below the surface, she harboured a secret.

Over a span of seventeen years, Jennifer circumnavigated the globe with her husband Nik, aboard Green Ghost, their forty-foot sailboat. 

Suddenly, I was in awe.

At the age of three, I was mesmerized by a pop-up book of ancient schooners that told the tale of pirates and explorers.  The waves and sea creatures surrounding the boats were terrifying, while the sails on the wooden masts looked powerful and proud.  As I grew, books like Peter Pan, Moby Dick, and the Kon-Tiki Expedition drew me into the world of the sea, and I have been captivated ever since.

So when Jennifer shared her experience with our writing class, I couldn’t wait to read her book. 

Green Ghost, Blue Ocean isn’t fanciful like my childhood stories, but it is fascinating.  In a relatable, honest style, Jennifer describes the challenges of crossing the Pacific, tacking around Australia and Indonesia, braving the Indian Ocean, exploring Africa, and finally sailing across the Atlantic to her home port in Canada.

With humble grace and pragmatic style, Jennifer recounts the unglamorous aspects of sailing (think cockroaches and sea sickness), while at the same time, shares the wonder of a silent night under a thousand stars in the middle of an inky black ocean.  She describes the magic of sea life in every corner of the planet, and openly conveys the drama and joy of life in a confined space with her partner.   

Beyond the journey itself, Jennifer layers on stories of human relationships.  She describes meeting other off-shore sailors as strangers, and the comfort of leaving port as old friends.  In a world surrounded by whales and waves, fellow cruisers became her second family.  She also introduces us to local people from every continent, and arrives at the conclusion that we’re pretty much the same all over the world, in spite of our differences. 

As I read each chapter, I became more and more engrossed in her real-life adventure.  The book succinctly covered 40,000 nautical miles, but I suspected each page could have unfolded into a dozen more stories, like an old-fashioned map expanding across a kitchen table.

On a practical level, I learned a great deal about the technical aspects of sailing.  The maps illustrating her journey, and the glossary defining nautical terms, were fabulous tools to refer to as I progressed. 

In the end, I saw parts of the world through Jennifer’s eyes that I will never see through my own. 

There is only thing that Jennifer doesn’t directly acknowledge in her book, so I’ll mention it here in my review.  She doesn’t give herself credit for the self-discipline, focus and hard work it took to complete this sail.  The stamina and persistence needed to fulfill her dream left me incredulous, and I have immense respect for her accomplishment.

When Jennifer describes snorkeling in an atoll in French Polynesia, swimming with sharks, moray eels and barracuda, she says that “gliding over that underwater world, I felt like Superman.”

Jennifer – I’ll let you in on a secret.  In my eyes, you are Superman.

It just goes to show that you really can’t judge a book by its cover.
Colleen Mitchell Robinson is exploring creativity in her new hometown of Collingwood, along with kayaking, vegetarian cooking, and an occasional glass of wine by the bay.

Note: Jennifer M. Smith will again be a guest speaker for the “Writing Personal Stories” class on Tuesday evenings this fall, starting Oct 13. Details here.

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Green Ghost, Blue Ocean, 
      reviewed by Beverley Wilhelm

Jennifer and Nik

I heard about Green Ghost, Blue Ocean – No Fixed Address by Jennifer M. Smith three times in one week: though a New Book notice in Quick Brown Fox, then through the marina newsletter where Jennifer had moored Green Ghost and then learned Jennifer would be a guest speaker at the Writing Personal Stories class I’d signed up for

Clearly this was not just a coincidence – I was meant to read Jennifer’s book, and I’m glad I did.

Jennifer’s descriptive writing style and easy to understand accounts of her sailboat experiences and adventures kept my attention right from the beginning.  It was almost as if I was travelling along with Jennifer on her journey.

She describes her joy of sailing with her husband, Nik, and how the two of them worked as a team to sail across the world. Their journey began in the year 2000 from Vancouver. They sailed across the Pacific Ocean all the way to Australia.  From there, they crossed the Indian Ocean to Indonesia, then all the way to South Africa with an interesting adventure in Madagascar along the way. From South Africa, they sailed across the Atlantic to Venezuela.

Their sailing adventures continued in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to Florida. From Florida, they sailed up the Atlantic coast, then down the St. Lawrence Seaway to wind up in Hamilton — their final destination. What an adventure!

The book includes a few black and white photos of their sailboat at sea and a few memorable photos on land. Throughout the book, Jennifer includes route maps and dates of their travels.

During their travel, they docked at many marinas for either a short visit on land or sometimes months and years.  Jennifer describes the joys and challenges both at sea and on land.  She also shares the numerous encounters with people from all over the world.  I especially liked what Jennifer wrote when she did not want to leave a treasured place: “I’ve always believed that it’s better to leave when you long to stay than to stay ‘til you can’t wait to go.”  

Jennifer’s travel memoir includes much humour and heartfelt emotion.  I could picture myself on their sailboat as I read the book – enjoying the calmness of the sea and not sure I could handle the strong ocean waves. 

For the most part, Jennifer stays away from technical details and provides a wonderful glossary of sailing terms at the end of the book.

I am glad that Jennifer and Nik were fortunate to travel the world by sailboat before the Covid19 pandemic, and that I was fortunate to have such excellent at-home reading during the pandemic.

Beverley Wilhelm is a retired Early Childhood Educator.  She enjoys reading memoirs and personal stories.  Her passion for photography and writing keep her busy when she is not spending time with her family and friends.  This is Beverley’s first book review.  She would welcome the challenge to read and write more book reviews.
See Brian Henry's schedule hereincluding online and in-person writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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