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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Racing Through Paradise by William Buckley

Sea narratives have always bewitched me. William Buckley, despite his entirely fatuous and egregious non-partisan right-wing "little rich-boy" posturing, writes beautifully about his numerous excursions on yachts of various sizes and shapes to various destinations. Christopher, his son, inherited this fascination for the sea and wrote a charming and altogether fascinating chronicle of a trip on a tramp steamer ([book:Steaming to Bamboola - The World of a Tramp Freighter|516250].

 Buckley himself captivated me with his two earlier works ([book:Airborne  A Sentimental Journey|1977085] and [book:Atlantic High  A Celebration|129858]) In those two in particular he describes in illuminating detail the arcane mysteries of navigation and some of the innovative machines recently designed to take the drudgery out of the mundane yet exacting task of locating oneself in the middle of the ocean. His latest dithyramb,-- Buckley would be proud -- Racing Through Paradise is much less satisfying. He still glorifies in the new technology, this time the Charles Trimbles Navstar Global Positioning System. It is indubitably a marvel, but Buckley describes it almost apologetically, referring to those readers of his other books who were wont to leapfrog the more technical aspects. I found his technological explanations fascinating.

Buckley has an extraordinary talent for clarifying the obscure.
Racing Through Paradise recounts his rapid passage from Hawaii to New Guinea on the yacht Sealestial. Unfortunately for me, the book is less concerned with the passage than with providing WFB with a new opportunity to show the world that the Buckleys still know all the right people and can still use big words in anfractuous phrases. I got tired of reading phrases like "John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy, a good friend of the ambassador's [Evan Galbraith, another of the passengers on the Sealestial:] and mine. . . ." Or, relating how Nancy Reagan had called her old friends the Buckleys to wangle an invitation to stay at their estate because surely she couldn't stay at a New York hotel during the hotel strike (perhaps she forgot to consult her astrologer.) Still the book can be a delight, as in passages such as the following describing the discovery of the Azores:

"The islands were discovered nobody exactly knows when (they first appeared, if somewhat astray, on Catalonian maps in the 1350s), [sic:] but the Portuguese got there some seventy years before Columbus discovered America, and get this: Do you know why we are missing the name of the captain who formally--i.e., in the name of the Portuguese king--claimed them in 1427? Because in 1836 George Sand, the French author (who was, of course, a she), [sic:] spilled ink over the one chart that bore the fellow's name (typical of she-authors who call themselves "George"), [sic:] forever obliterating, in those pre-Xerox days, the identity of that dauntless historic figure."

Parenthetically, the story of Buckley's garbage bags and the ensuing tussle in the newspapers of Saint John, New Brunswick, is priceless. (Chapter 3, "The Angel of Craig's Point.")
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