Monday, March 6, 2017

Into the Southern Ocean: The Perilous Voyages of the Elsi Arrub- Andrew Halcrow

Andrew Halcrow's 'Into The Southern Ocean' has thoroughly dominated the last week. I had it to review for a Shetland based magazine (60 North) who also wanted an author Q&A. I like doing these reviews because they push me a little bit out of my comfort zone and demand more discipline then I exercise here. In this case I would probably never have picked this book up if I hadn't been asked to, and that would have been my loss.

Back in 1987, Andrew, then in his twenties decided to build a yacht he could sail around the world in. He'd trained as a blacksmith and knew that he had the neccesary skills to make one out of steel, and that's just what he did. In 1988 he, and at the last minute, his brother set off on a 5 year trip during which they sailed and worked their way around the world, mostly in the tropics. They sent articles back to the Shetland Times, so Elsi became something of a household name (there's footage of their return in 1993 on you tube which shows how big an event this was locally). 

In 2005, Alyson, Andrews wife, was diagnosed with MS - and this is one of the things that make this book so engaging and inspiring - she deals with it by deciding she has to give her husband the chance to follow his dream whilst she can support him. The dream is a single handed, non stop, circumnavigation. (I didn't really grasp what a big deal this was until D explained it to me). 

What's so impressive about what Alyson does is that this isn't just moral support. Even when the preparation for the trip was done she was still going to be juggling family, farming, her own job, and providing continuous shore based support via HF radio in the way of weather reports and more. It's easy to pay lip service to those who stay behind to make adventures possible, but it's much more than that here and I've come away with a sense of a really amazing woman, which is an unexpected bonus in what could have been a much more boys own style story. 

The first attempt has to be abandoned when Andrew's appendix bursts and he develops septicaemia. Not a good thing to happen out in the Southern Ocean, he's rescued just in time by a passing cargo ship that diverts to pick him up, but Elsi has to be abandoned. This is genuine edge of the seat stuff - even though I knew what happened next - because by now I really cared about what happened to Elsi. 

Almost miraculously she's recovered a couple of months later, a bit battered but essentially in good shape, and is transported back from Australia to Shetland. Then in 2013 another attempt is made. This time Elsi is dismasted in a storm off the Patagonian coast, Andrew is airlifted off, and she really is lost. 

That's the basic story but there's a lot more going on than that. For someone with no particular interest in sailing I found the details of how to prepare for a trip like this, and the rhythm of life at sea, fascinating. There's time to explore a few corners of maritime history, to look at the ocean, and for the reader time to think about how important it is to try. 

I expected to find this book mildly interesting, I had no idea I'd enjoy it as much as I did (D pinched it off me before I got a chance to even open it, then read it in a day because he couldn't put it down). If you've ever so much as looked at a boat I wholeheartedly recommend it. 


  1. This will be great for my father's birthday, he used to sail single handed, and we were brought up on a diet of books by intrepid sailors. Thanks for the excellent review- and others previously, I have quite a few birthday ideas now. Helen

  2. I really enjoyed it - far more than I expected to, as did my partner, so no hesitation at all in recommending it to all and sundry!