Tuesday 30 April 2013

Book Reviewsday Tuesday: "Under a Gypsy Moon" - Reflections and Revelations

   "Through the mirror of my mind...."
                        -The Supremes

    I once read somewhere that salt water has the power to heal , whether as sweat, tears, or the sea.

    This week's Reviewsday book  reminded me once again of the belief in the restorative power of the sea.

   Michael Hurley's Once Upon a Gypsy Moon  is, as described, a memoir.


  Here's what it's not:

   A travelogue.
   A tale of adventure.
   A tale of an "improbable voyage" as described on the cover blurb.

    Okay, stop me if this scenario sounds familiar:

     A sailor's marriage has hits the skids, his/her successful career has flamed out, his/her post-adolescent kids hate him/her,  his/her 50th birthday is in his wake,  She/he's feeling failure and the tap of fate's finger on his/her shoulder as he/she takes stock of his mortality and  contemplates that She/he is in the latter half of her/his life.

     This is when a sailor heeds the voice that has been calling to him/her since he/she first set foot on a boat, the voice that beckons one to cut the lines and sail over the horizon, to see what one can see and be what one can be. The voice that goes from beckoning to demanding:

     "If not now, when?"
       That sailor sets off to that fabled paradise known loosely as "The Islands".  Could be the Carribbean, could be the South Pacific, could be Mexico or Marathon Key.  All we know is, it ain't here, and neither is anything that the departing sailor needs or wants.  Maybe the sailor will find what he/she is looking for.  Maybe he/she will be back.
   Yeah, of course this is familiar- this drama plays out in every marina, on every shore, every year.

    It's hardly  "improbable."
   Hell,  it is a statistical certainty.

    It's only "improbable" to those with no connection to the water.

     "Once Upon a Gypsy Moon" is a collection of letters the author wrote to folks back home, lightly polished and edited and wrapped with a preface and an infuriatingly tragic final chapter.

    I can identify with a large portion of the author's backstory and his motivation  and his travails because, quite frankly, he is a jerk.

    And as a self-admitted semi-reformed jerk, I can spot another jerk.

    Which made the first two thirds of this book so damn hard to read.

    The author is unlikable.

    And, make no mistake, the author is where he is at the beginning of this memoir precisely because he is, indeed, a jerk.

   Think my description is too harsh?

   Here's the facts as the author lays them out in the first two chapters:

    He moved his family all over the country furthering his law career, always putting his aspirations first.
    He cheated on his wife.
    He got caught.
    His wife threw him out.
    He discarded the woman he cheated with, and is proud of that fact.

     What a great guy.  Unfortunately, the author doesn't quite get this.  He turns first to faith as the solution, apparently in the belief that a sinner is cleansed simply by showing up.  Not unexpectedly, the solution remains unfound.

     This man needs some saltwater redemption.

      Luckily, the author soon figures out that  he is a jerk, and he is not ashamed to let the reader know, and he admits that his ego, his pride and his selfishness were his downfall.

       So Hurley sets off aboard his anonymous 32 foot sailboat, Gypsy Moon, from the Magothy river in Maryland to points South, on a leisurely 2 year cruise...

       Which turns out to be about a 5 on the "Perils and Adventure" scale.

        His passages under sail,  (occasionally interrupted by flights back home), are largely uneventful, with the exception of maintenance issues directly related to the author's disdain for maintenance and stubborn disinterest in all things mechanical.

       As the author puts it:

             “True Salty Dogs- those self-sufficient Lords of the Deep who write books on navigation and the finer points of sail trim and boat mechanics- have long been a source of intimidation and annoyance to me.  As best as I can tell, there is not a poet among them.  They are math-science folk and engineering types all.  For them a clogged fuel line, battery overload, or electrical malfunction is a thing of rapture, and they set about solving the problem with a kind of Yankee ingenuity and determination “that built this country, by jiminy.”  For me, however, these malfunctions are all signs from a benevolent God that man was meant to sail across oceans by oil lamps, not motor across them with enough spare amps to power a refrigerator and a satellite weather station…” *

   So rather than join them, and become a self-sufficient "Salty Dog" himself, he'd rather beat them.  

   Not a good plan.  Mechanical and gear failures and the impact on the author's finances, timtetable and enjoyment of the ports visited are frequently explored topics.


        Along the way, somewhere about the Carolinas,  the author discovers online dating, and what starts as a verbose ship's log now becomes a love letter of sorts to a woman he woos with keyboard and , later meets...

   ...  and weds.
       The newlyweds continue the journey occasionally together, in fits and starts,the bride chronically seasick, the author occasionally flying home to build a new law firm, Gypsy Moon finally ending up in the Dominican Republic n the spring of 2011.

   Along the way the author may have found a redemption of sorts.  A great bulk of the book is taken up with spiritual  introspection and a great bulk of that introspection  is justification and rationalization and religion and the impact that all of it, and none of it, had on the author's life...

... Until  he came to grips with something that many of us have discovered:  a change in latitude does not cause a change in attitude.  If you were a jerk when you left home, you will be a jerk when you reach your destination, unless you commit to change.
    At which point, the book becomes an easier read- the author does a lot less hiding behind excuses and his quest for faith and grace, and focuses more on not screwing up and appreciating those around him.

     And only when you decide to stop being a jerk, will you find someone you love more than you love yourself, and someone who loves you right back.

     As a sailing odyssey, "Once Upon a Gypsy Moon" charts no new courses.  If you're looking for a well-written account of a journey through the eastern Caribbean or a cruising guide, this is not your book.

    If, on the other hand, you like a personal story of a man's firsthand account of his  journey to being a better man, this might be the book for you.

   * This passage stuck in my craw- I'm going to explore it further in a future blog post.

"Talk the Dock!"





  1. Wow, the paragraph that you've marked with an asterisk is pretty rough.

    I may not be a "Salty Dog"
    And poetry is not my shtick,
    But I'm elbow-deep in butyl tape
    And this guy comes off as a...joker?

    Yeah, I guess he's right.

  2. Just a heads up, Brian.
    You have a elegant way to review a read. I have spent some time mostly reading your book thoughts after a good or not so good read. You do well translating your thoughts to words and maybe should do more writing your self.
    "Okay, stop me if this scenario sounds familiar:"
    I turned 50 this year in march. I have a boat and except for weekend sailing I have never been anywhere with it. So that quote hits the spot in my gushing anxiety and constant pull to the sea. My boat the East Coast Lady screams out to me. I want to leave. Why are you not loading me? I need fuel,Water, Food, Books, Linen's. You made me a promos that we would go.

    I will take her one day. My problem is life. Like everybody, I have way too much stuff and I am not wealthy. I have 17 years that I owe the world according to the programs set by our government. Thanks to you, I have a vision and you give me hope and Just the right amount of encouragement to keep pressing on.
    I have a question for ya. My wife and I have a great relationship. and we have been spending more and more time on the sailboat. Is there something one can do to steer a women to the cursing lifestyle? We live on the water in Beaufort SC. We have 3 boats. well, 2 boats and 1 kayak. She loves the Salt life but each time I bring up going on a trip or dreaming with her of a cursing trip for some years she don't like the idea? any ideas?
    Great post on the book...
    Cheers, Captain Burt.

  3. hey capt burt,
    thanks for the kind words.
    I think I'm the last person to ask about relationship advice. I am surprised SWMBO keeps me around some days.

    But, this is a pretty common question, and i think we need to get some input from others, and the repsonses might be interesting. With your permission, I'd like to borrow your comment and build a post around it.

  4. Go for it... I would like to have a plan.