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Sailing Tall

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For most people, coming of age and findings one's place in the world is a fairly tame passage. You leave high school and either continue with an academic or technical education or make that leap into adulthood with a first full-time job close to home. However, in postwar England there was another option. Max wood left an abusive and trouble household at age 16 to sign on as an apprentice aboard one of the last of the cargo sailing ships. He recounts his coming of age adventure in Sailing Tall: Around the World on the Square-rigged Passat, a memoir of the journey that led to his life's work as a mariner for the next 46 years. Wood writes is book in an easy, approachable style, almost as if the reader is sitting across from him while he talks of his memories of that early life. Some of the details are very intimate, such as those recounting the author's sexual exploits at a variety of ports around the world. But mostly his tale serves as a reminder that sailing a tall ship isn't anything like sailing a yacht. As Wood says, "The reality of life aboard these old vessels was far removed from the romantic image conveyed by most novels and films. It was grueling at times." Targeting a wider audience than just sailors, Wood goes to great lengths to describe the Erikson-built Passat, the crew and their jobs, the living conditions and day-to-day workings of a large sailing vessel. And he gives equal time to vivid descriptions of the places they visit. There are moments in his memoir when Wood gives us a glimpse at the boyish enthusiasm he had during his adventure. One night, as he sleepily makes his way onto the after well deck to relieve himself, something huge rises alongside Passat. At first frightened, Wood soon realizes it's a whale. "After rubbing itself on the hull in an affectionate manner and spouting a cloud of water vapor, it sank out of sight again. Once more it surfaced and blew, a ship's length off, as if to bid us farewell, and was not seen again. There was of course no more sleep for me that free watch after such excitement." Upon returning to Europe at the end of the two year passage, Wood made the transition to steam vessels and to a life in Australia. Although he acknowledges that choosing a naval career today can still make young mariners proud of their achievements, Wood muses, "I wonder if they can have the same sense of belonging to the sea as we had on Old Erikson's square-riggers." Maybe not, but in Sailing Tall, Wood gives readers a chance to be part of "a chapter of human history that closed in the span of one lifetime. Sailing

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