H. Downing Lane was 26 years old in 1976 when he decided to sign up for a transatlantic sailing trip into the Arctic with an accomplished captain named E. Newbold Smith. In this vivid, often exhilarating memoir, Lane draws from journal entries written during his time at sea to share an account of the remarkable voyage.
The Atlantic crossing was a 25-day affair, from Chesapeake Bay, around Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the coast of Norway. It was undertaken at a point in Lane’s life when he was feeling particularly vulnerable, as he was recovering from an accident in which he had lost an eye. He wished to “prove [his] mettle,” not to the other men aboard the boat, but to himself. As it turned out, Captain Smith was something of a kindred spirit, as he too had survived a devastating accident many years earlier. Lane provides the reader with a realistic vision of what life aboard a sailing vessel is like, from the often freezing temperatures above and below deck, to the many challenges presented by simple bodily necessities. He describes various technical aspects of working on the boat, but his language never devolves into jargon; his account is always perfectly clear and accessible.
The book collects posts made on Lane’s personal blog from 2013-2017 as he pieced together his memories and written records, and also includes quotes from Captain Smith’s book about the journey. This was a creative and shrewd choice, as it allows Lane to consider where the two versions of the story differ, and perhaps more importantly, why. Memory is certainly imprecise and subjective, though in some instances Lane astutely points out where he believes Smith was attempting to make the trip sound a bit nicer and more polished an affair than it actually was. The only point of criticism is that the book is somewhat disorganized and in need of careful editing; posts have been pulled from the blog and slapped together rather haphazardly so that there are several repeating sections.
In addition to the story of the journey itself and the passages from Smith’s book, Lane seasons the text with literary and philosophical quotes that frequently allow him to consider the greater meaning of his experience, and even of life itself. There are also numerous stunning photographs included of the boat and the various stops along the way.
MY RITE OF PASSAGE DURING THE SUMMER OF ’76 is a riveting coming-of-age memoir about adventure on the high seas with philosophical musings that add a resonant layer of depth.
~Lisa Butts for IndieReader