My Old Man and The Sea,

David and Daniel Hays.
Anchor Books, 1996

Not to be confused with The Old Man and The Sea, the classic by Hemingway, this story is a moving recount of a father and son’s journey as they sail around Cape Horn.

David Hays, a theatre director from New London, Connecticut, and son Daniel, a young man fresh out of college, are already keen sailors when the idea is raised. To sail from their home in Connecticut to the bottom of the world, around Cape Horn, and back. A voyage of approximately 30,000 kilometres.

Looking for the right boat, David travels to England where he purchases the hull, shipping it back to Connecticut for the refit. At just 25 feet and a few inches, the aptly named Sparrow is as tiny as the name suggests. A minnow of a vessel, but her deep-keeled design made her more than adequate for the gruelling and arduous challenge ahead.

Once they’d settled on the design, they start to plan, build (they bought only the hull), equip and stock, as they prepare for their voyage together. They never intended to sail non-stop, and the journal is replete with plenty of vivid descriptions of places visited, people met, and pleasures enjoyed.

The journey itself is recounted, not day by day, but episode by episode, alternating between father and son as each gives his own interpretation of events, his own perspective on the struggles, trials and the triumphs. And it’s not all about the elements, despite enduring all that the sea throws at them. Surviving the closeness, the proximity, cocooned in a tiny, cramped, washing machine of a space for day after day. This was probably one of their greatest challenges.

Their narrative voices are quite distinct. David, the father, is a romantic, “To me, the account is a love story,” always reflecting on their progress and achievements, particularly concerning their relationship. Daniel, however, is more down to earth, recounting with a wry sense of humour all that happens. “I’m writing a journal, and I’m waiting for inspiration. Instead, I have rum.” But he is equally reflective on their relationship.

While this is definitely a story about sailing, it is not a ship’s log. It’s not a factual record of the course, distance covered, sails set, weather etc, but a journal. A journal portraying the humour, the conflict, the care as the pair tackles the harsh and unforgiving elements of the southern oceans. And it is in their common struggle that the bond between father and son binds and strengthens. And this is what makes this book a joy to read.