- by Carol Standish
Tahiti Bound by Donald J. Langley, Sr. and Holly J. Blake (A.T.I. Publishing; 218pp; $12.95) is an altogether charming account of a journey taken by 11 young men from Gloucester to Tahiti in a 122 foot hermaphrodite brigantine, Florence C. Robinson. The voyage took place in 1938. Crew member and author, Donald Langley, was 22; so was the captain, Sterling Hayden.
Over the years, Don Langley was asked to tell the tale of his South Sea adventure so often that he was finally persuaded to write it all down. The book is both a literary and an historical curiosity. Written in 1998 as a reminiscence of an event that took place 50 years ago, some of the details are understandably lost. On the other hand, any aspect that can be documented is included, the four page S. S. Pierce provision list, for instance…complete with prices. The book is also packed with photographs of the voyage, both amusing and informative. The youthful Hayden appears unselfconsciously engrossed in his tasks. He had yet to be discovered by the movies or to have written his own seafaring books but he had been at sea since he was 16 and looks as if he truly belongs there.
The crew was essentially green but the weather took care of that in short order. Three days out of Gloucester, they were hit by a fierce hurricane packing winds of 100 mph and raising 40 foot seas that broke over the bulwarks. It was a swift education. Damage to the boat prompted Captain Hayden to put in at Jamaica for repairs-and more education.
For the most part, the journey was one great adventure after another, without further life-threatening incidents. An antic atmosphere of "boys will be boys" develops in the narrative as the crew takes to swimming off the boat in the buff, being solicited by Jamaican children to buy marijuana, transiting the Panama Canal (where they acquire a loquacious parrot), meeting Western castaways on the Galapagos Islands, and dressing in outrageous costumes for a series of "theatricals."
Not that there wasn't a great deal of work to do, as well. The Florence C. Robinson, affectionately dubbed "Flossy" was an old wooden boat with a mass of sails and rigging. In 1938 there were virtually no electronic aids to navigation, no VHF radios, Single Side Band or emergency locators. The anchor was raised by walking the capstan. Position was determined by sextant and celestial bodies.
The eager young crew learned many unexpected lessons as well as practical ones. Sitting alone on the bowsprit, Langley recalls, "With the wind in my face, my arms extended and my eyes focused on the horizon I contemplated how a bird must feel all alone in the middle of the ocean…I felt no beginning and no end…The natural wonders around me nipped at my senses and I was mesmerized by the thought of endlessness…transported to a place of peace, warmth and knowing. That extraordinary experience will always be with me."
Tahiti Bound was the experience of a life time for Don Langley and his readers will thank him and Holly Blake for sharing his adventure. Take this book on your next cruise or your next business trip. It will lift your spirits, amuse and inform you. It might even inspire you to take an adventure of your own.
Sometimes small press distribution is a little iffy. If you can't find Tahiti Bound in your local bookstore, call the publisher, toll free 1877-811-6218 (9 to 5 EDT) or write A.T.I. Publishing, POB 1258, Stratham, New Hampshire 03885. The book is $12.95 plus $2 shipping. The read is worth the effort.