Wendy Hinman’s Sea Trials: Around the World with Duct Tape and Bailing Wire offers an unabashed look at what it takes to bring a young family on a multi-year around-the-world adventure on a shoestring budget. The Wilcox family is not your typical yacht-cruising millionaire set. They are an ordinary middle-class family who scrimped and saved years for the best boat they could afford and set off in fact without any prior sea-faring experience outside the calm of San Francisco bay. The story starts off in the middle, a chaotic, life-threatening, nighttime shipwreck on a reef as a flashback and then proceeds linearly from there forwards. The amazing story of how they rebuild and move on after that is just one of a dozen high-stakes adventures in this book.
Of course, no five-year travel book is going to be a page-turner from start to finish. Inevitably, the doldrums set in: a predictable rhythm of equipment failures, improvised repair, dealing with immigration, shopping, exploring the locale, and then back to sea, over and over and over. There is in fact a litany of repetitive complaints mostly about the problems of trying to put children through correspondence school, the unreliability of international mail, money problems, dealing with crooked officials with their hand out, and so on. Interspersed with this are a few snippets of local history for the various ports of call. You get the impression that sailing is a lot like air traffic control, hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. The last few chapters are truly hair-raising as one-by-one systems fail on the last 1500 miles: engine, rigging, and even food.
My main criticism of the book is that it doesn’t maintain a point-of-view. It is always bouncing between the four family members thoughts and feelings which I felt hampered continuity. The overall effect is a narrative more like a reality TV show than a novel. I would have preferred to have an entire chapter from one person’s point-of-view so I could really get a feel for them as a person. Garth, the teenage son and wife of this book’s author would have been an ideal protagonist if the entire book had been portrayed from his POV. That being said, it does help that we get to experience waves of panic, despair, and even depression that sweeps through the parents lives like swells in a rough sea.
Sea Trails is a unique story of a family who doubles-down on adventure, refusing to quit even in the face of insurmountable problems that will stretch them to the limit physically and psychically.. Reading this book will renew your belief in the spirit of America’s pioneering families and a can-do attitude that makes us who we are.