By the Light of the Moon by Bernadette Marama Gavin
From the first sighting of the cover to the final page of Bernadette Galvin’s high seas tale of her four-year ocean voyage in a small yacht took me less than 24 hours.
I was hooked; reeled in by the gorgeous monotone cover and the promise of a cracking maritime yarn. And the book did not disappoint.
I’m a sucker for sailing memoirs and have read every epic read I could get my hands on from Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone around the World, to Johnny Wray’s South Seas Vagabonds. I must have read just about every sailing book that existed at the time I was building a 40-foot yacht, in an effort to understand what to expect when we finally embarked on our own round-the-world voyage.
On reflection, it may have been these tales of derring do that put a premature nail in the coffin of my own voyage; but I have never forgotten the excitement of reliving with the authors these stories of courage and endurance.
Among the many high sea’s narratives penned by men are a few by women which include Naomi James’s At One with the Sea - Alone around the World. I now add Bernadette Gavin’s book to the list of epic tales which have enriched me as a reader and as a woman.
Sailing books are extreme travelogues. Few of us will ever experience the highs or lows that life at sea will deliver into our lives. It’s comforting to sit on solid ground while reading about a small boat being tossed like a cork on towering seas and surfing with terrifying speed down the face of enormous waves.
And I particularly like the tandem tale that Gavin tells of the romantic journey and personal growth she experienced as a woman reaching the parameters of her comfort and endurance in unimaginable conditions.
Do I have any criticisms of the book? The few include an over-abundance of adjectives; some subbing errors, and – for me personally - the strong emphasis on the spiritual journey Gavin undertook. I think it’s a difficult thing to bring a reader along on a journey as intensely personal as this, even when they are effectively in the same boat.
I also reacted strongly to the skipper’s excuses for cruelty and mood swings which he dismissed as the simple by-product of being “a complicated man”. This infuriated me, but also made me laugh as I drew parallels between him and Jermaine Clements hapless character in Taika Waititi’s divine New Zealand comedy Eagle vs Shark.
This helped me take his sulky posturing less seriously. As did a mariner’s knowledge that as a skipper, if not as a romantic partner, his sailing skills and preparedness for the perils of the sea were admirable.
But full kudos must go to the author for her courageous and eloquent recalling of the passage which was at once scarring and healing; and at all times very raw and personal.
For Gavin this was an emotional and spiritual journey. For me an engrossing yarn which will have broad appeal, particularly for women who love the sea.
Reviewed by Peta Stavelli
Mary Egan Publishing