The Saga of Cimba is an enchanting tale of adventure on the sea. Told in hauntingly beautiful prose, it recounts the journey of two young men in a 35-foot schooner sailing from Nova Scotia to New York to the Caribbean and through the Panama Canal to the islands of the South Pacific. The author clearly loves the sea and his ship, and any nautical enthusiast will appreciate the book’s balance of romance with practical information. Along the way the pair encounters some thrilling moments at sea:
It was half-past two. I was glancing at Act One of the very appropriate Tempest while drying out a last meagre ration of tobacco. Suddenly Dombey shouted from the port:
‘Look at this sea!’
It must have been perpendicular! I felt the cabin lifting as though striving for some great altitude. A second later there was a thud, the deck slipped away beneath my feet, careened, and the craft dived to a trough, falling down, as though knocked beam-on along a great decline. The cabin revolved, and we were driven against the bulkheads as amid a deafening noise the hull went over, and we, together with a thousand articles, were flung through space to crash on the cabin-top, now upside-down. We fought our way out from under a heavy heap, to find the cabin in darkness, the ports under water. Looking up, I caught sight of the flooring over my head; one of the floorboards dropped as I did so. Although the companion and the hatch, now leading into the ocean, were closed, water came running in. Quite suddenly the cabin filled with smoke as the ship’s stove, bolted to the floor and now overhead, emptied its coals and wood, to blaze on the cabin roof; a stream of water poured out of the stove from the submerged vent.
Intermingled with the adventure on the high seas and descriptions of life on board the Cimba are tales of the equally interesting time spent on land: adventures on Caribbean islands, an encounter with the last of a group of Norwegians who came to the Galapagos in search of Utopia, and charmed days in Tahiti and Fiji. The author is incredibly observant, and his descriptions reflect a continuous fascination with the places he travels to, as when he depicts nightlife in the Caribbean:
Here were noise, happy confusion, wealth and dazed poverty, sought-after comforts and unsought-for dangers; here was civilization again, out for the evening, dressed in its best and blinded by its own lights. A crowd was passing and repassing the doorways, elegant, hopeful, assured, like the blind made happy, like the old made young, searching, searching once more. A neon sign flashed ‘Atlantic Cabaret’ over a street-corner. From the silence of a side-street came an exploding burst of laughter, passing off into echoes. American sailors, fruit-sellers, dark, birdlike Spaniards in white pongee, dance-hall girls, the firemen off some German merchantman, lottery-sellers, and young Panamanians, arrogant and smoking marihuana. Silks and satins, gay and flowered, dungaree, linen, and khaki swung past the streaming lights. The sound of jazz came from a balcony overhead. The sharp, animated noise of castanets. The slapping of coins on wood. A loud cough from behind a closed shutter. The clatter of billiard-balls; sharp cries and echoes of Latin laughter. And the sound rose towards the dark sky — a murmur — one moment a caress, the next vindictive and threatening. “Let’s have some fun!”
But the narrative is at its best when the Cimba is at sea, for that is the author’s real passion:
What sights can be seen from the helm of a single craft guided by resourceful hands! The sighted green glitter of a southern island bearing over the bows; a foam of breakers heaving to some romantic coast; the heated shore-lines of jungles, calm, steaming; islands of coral, voluptuous islands of flowers, islands of rocks. And yet to the small-boat voyager it is the sea which comes first; it is the supreme consideration, stretching to every shore, wind-cut and passionate, greater in breadth and loneliness than all the deserts of the world together.
A beautiful, epic book!