Interview: Rebecca Hayter talks about Wild Seas to Greenland
Rebecca Hayter is well known as a yachting journalist within New Zealand and as a contributor to high-profile overseas yachting magazines, including Boat International, SuperSailWorld and YachtingWorld, all based in UK; Cruising Helmsman, Australia; and Yachts International and Sail, both based in USA. Rebecca talks to NZ Booklovers about Wild Seas to Greenland.
Tell us a little about Wild Seas to Greenland
Wild Seas to Greenland is a four-month story of Ross Field, a tough, professional ocean racer who decided that his retirement would involve expedition cruising. He turned his 35 years of ocean racing experience to the refit of an even tougher 20-year-old aluminium yacht that no one else wanted and set sail for the North West Passage, with me on board.
As a yachting journalist of nearly 30 years, I wanted to take the story deeper, including details of Ross Field’s decision process as he applied his own DIY hard graft and informed selection of modern technology to bring the boat to her potential, and to make the journey safer and more comfortable.
In the North Atlantic, I observed Ross’s storm tactics and his use of modern weather routing systems which, he says, are the greatest advance in ocean safety.
I started writing for yachting readers, but it has become a story for all adventurers at heart. By writing a book rather than a series of magazine articles, I could set free my sailing-writing wings; it’s pretty candid in parts and Ross is a fascinating character – decisive, skilled, intelligent and funny.
Greenland is a rugged, Arctic destination seldom visited by Kiwi yachts. After a brief exploration, we were back into the ocean for even bigger storms.
As Wild Seas to Greenland developed, I included brief excerpts from Sheila in the Wind, written by my father, Adrian Hayter, who sailed around the world single-handed in the 1950s.
Like Dad, Ross Field and I experienced the ocean wilderness. Unlike Dad, we had latest weather routing technology and plenty of food; we didn't have to eat the barnacles off the bottom of the boat.
What inspired you to write this book?
I had hoped to write a series of magazine articles about the voyage but although I sold several articles in New Zealand and overseas, I was unable to sell a series of the voyage. I believed the voyage was an extremely unusual opportunity: a famous sailor, a major DIY refit, latest technology and a rare destination, written by a yachting journalist who could cover the technical depth where it counted. I supported Ross Field’s view that his knowledge could help to save lives at sea, and I couldn’t bear to see the material go unused.
When I couldn’t sell the series of articles, I started writing the book as a reluctant option, but Wild Seas to Greenland has evolved into far more than I envisaged, including my foray into self-publishing.
What research was involved?
Most of the research happened naturally during the voyage. Afterwards, I interviewed Ross Field and his son Campbell Field at length about technical details, especially the weather routing. I spent about four months on those chapters, so that it would be easily readable. I interviewed several other technical experts on equipment on the boat and researched the history of the North West Passage and Greenland. I also contacted the harbour master in Greenland.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
Initially the process was piecemeal as I was trying to publish it as a series of articles. I had some success: Small Boat to Greenland ran in North and South magazine which won Highly Commended in Philippines Airlines Best New Zealand Travel Feature, and several articles were published in boating magazines in Australia and USA. Writing the book was a back-burner process and I had multiple files on my computer at various stages. When Covid happened, I made it my lockdown project and finished it over the next few months.
I decided fairly early on to self-publish. I knew it would be a useful learning curve, and that as a magazine editor I had skills to ensure a polished product and yachting contacts to help me promote it. I love having the book the way I want it, instead of a publisher’s view. The self-publishing decision led to building a website, so it’s been a much bigger process than I imagined.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
It sounds a cliché but I’d have Spartacus from Khachaturian, the theme from The Onedin Line. It’s such stirring music that captures the drama of a storm.
I’d also choose Guadeloupe written by Tom Russell and sung by Gretchen Peters. It’s poignant and spiritual, which also relates to being at sea. There is a line: I am the least of all your pilgrims here; I am most in need of hope. Sometimes being a speck on the ocean makes me feel exhilarated; at other times, like a tiny traveller in the great order of things.
What did you enjoy the most about writing Wild Seas to Greenland?
I always say that writing a book is like pushing a wheelbarrow to the top of a hill. It gets harder and harder, but then suddenly you’re cruising down the other side and the book is finding its own path. That’s a fun stage.
Some chapters were based on articles I’d already written, so they were relatively easy, but they bring changes of mood. The chapter in Ireland started life as a short story and is quite different from the rest, but it fits with the change in scenery. It is one of my favourite chapters.
I love the title. I went through hundreds of ideas and had pretty much resigned myself to settling for second-best. One morning I was washing the dishes and wildseastogreenland slipped through my mind. I nearly missed it and had to mentally make a grab for it. Straight away, I knew it was perfect.
What was your favourite part of this journey in real life?
I can easily recall coming back across the North Atlantic two-handed, with only Ross and me on board. It was like being up on the shoulders of the planet, and it’s amazing to stand in the cockpit at night, knowing there are only a few other human beings on ships within 1000 miles. There’s a line in the book: Even though I looked forward to being There, I knew how lucky I was to be Here. I think that sums it up.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
I was at home alone. I stood on the deck and looked out to sea and just absorbed the feeling.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
Searching for Charlie – in pursuit of the real Charles Upham VC & Bar.
I enjoy the story and I enjoy the writing. Tom Scott has chosen an unusual approach to write the book, but I can feel his sense that it is the right way to go. It’s as though the writer is totally immersed in and trusting the process, rather than plodding out a documentary.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I have been working on my first novel for nearly 20 years, but I’m close to completion and I’m determined to finish it this year.