Brazil and Beyond
By Annie Hill
Tiller Publications, 2000
321 pp, B & W illustr.
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This book thoroughly documents a cruise by the author and her husband, which included the coasts of Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina and culminated in a year spent cruising in the Falkland Islands. The book contains many sketch charts and hundreds of observations that will be of great value to anyone following in their wake, and is also an entertaining and in-depth look at the many small harbors, villages, remote settlements, and cities which the couple visited.
The authors made their cruise on a very small budget, and if they suffered on account of this, there is no indication of it. This aspect of the voyage makes the book of particular interest to anyone who is concerned about having enough money to do this type of thing. From the book it is obvious that their lowest-cost days were the ones spent at sea, which suggests that voyaging is actually cheaper than not voyaging! When in a new place, the primary things they did to hold their costs down were to simply avoid tourist traps and concentrate instead on hikes and inexpensive bus rides, for entertainment, and to make eating out or going to a bar a rare treat instead of a routine. They also did all their own boat maintenance and repairs, concentrated on cooking good meals from simple and locally-available ingredients, stocked up on good deals, and picked up occasional odd jobs to help with expenses. It is very notable how relaxed they were, day to day, and how much fun they were having.
The cruise was accomplished in Badger, a very interesting Jay Benford-designed plywood dory with an unstayed Chinese schooner rig. Unfortunately there is little detail in the book about the boat itself, so this is not the book to buy if you want to learn about Badger. This was my first read of one of Annie Hill’s books and I liked it, so we plan to put more of her books on this site in the near future. Hopefully one of them will contain more information about the boat.
One of the best things about the cruise, in my opinion, was the Hills’ decision to put a lot of extra work into exploration and detailed sketch charting of these seldom-travelled areas. They got a lot out of the process, and the information they thus pass on to later yachtsmen is a tremendous gift, in particular coming as it does from small-boat cruisers similar to those who are most likely to follow. I suggest using on-line maps and charts to follow along while reading this book. When reading about a cruise it is always difficult to really picture what is going on geographically, and such aids will be particularly valuable when reading this book as the account is so detailed in nature.
The book is very well illustrated with sketch charts and black and white photos. It’s too bad that there were not at least a few of the photos published in color, as the areas Badger visited were obviously feasts for the eye. We realize that there are harsh realities in publishing, but maybe there is a way to get these magnificent photos onto the web, in color.
Most of the cruise was accomplished under sail, with only occasional help from an outboard motor. While in the Falklands the Hills installed an air-cooled diesel, but it is obvious that they are excellent seamen for whom the engine is just a convenience. From my reading of their account I sometimes think they are taking some risks I might not take, such as making landfalls and entering strange harbors at night, but they also exhibit very appropriate caution at other times. One cannot judge such things without being there.
There is quite a lot of information that can be gleaned from the author’s approach to cooking on board. The book does not “teach” us much, but the information about cooking is part of the book’s strong practical value. Aboard Badger there is an emphasis on vegetarian meals, largely for their economy and the ease with which provisions are preserved without refrigeration, but when fresh meat is available the author doesn’t hesitate to butcher large animals, and fresh-caught fish is also a frequent additon.
I have one minor criticism to make. There is a lot of dialog in the book which I presume the author put in to try and liven things up. I couldn’t help but question whether this dialog could possibly be accurate, having presumably been written well after the fact. Because it seemed rather stilted I figured it probably was made up from memory rather than precise notes. To me this seems somewhat artificial and I think the book would be better without the dialog, except in places where somebody really said something memorable, in which case it is entirely likely that the remark would be remembered accurately. There are some punctuation anomalies, too, but we are sure our readers will not much care.
There are some great lessons laid out in the book, and to me the best one was the pleasure the Hills got from a decision to remain in the Falklands for a whole year, rather than depart late for their next destination (the South Georgia islands, farther south). This enabled them to explore the Falklands in detail, meeting many people they grew to love, in the process. To us this seems like one of the things cruising has to teach: the virtue in flexible plans and a relaxed pace.
Because of the climate they visited, heat was a significant issue, and they had trouble with both of their heaters, the first being a Refleks diesel heater and the second a wood stove. They didn’t like the diesel heater because it smoked, and while they were happy with the wood stove they did spend significant time gathering firewood and the author mentioned that the wood took up a lot of space and made a mess on board. Our experience with heating on board suggests that either type of heater can work well. A taller stack or a draft-assist fan can probably eliminate smoking of a diesel stove, and we note that many such stoves are available now with ducting for incoming combustion air as well as the smoke stack. While we have not lived with such an arrangement yet, it seems likely that it might be less likely to smoke, and in any event it is a great improvement in safety as the heater is not using up oxygen from inside the cabin. We have lived on board for years at a time with a solid fuel range for heating and cooking, and in terms of output, simplicity, economy, and charm we were very pleased with it. Where it was not so good was when we were heating in winter conditions and had to be away for hours at a time working. Such a stove needs someone tending it to get the maximum heat output.
A series of digital depth sounders gave the Hills trouble. I grew up with the old rotating flasher type and found them to be reliable, at least under summer conditions, and once you understand them they are easy to interpret. I never did see how a digital sounder could decide which of several echoes (which can include fish, kelp, thermal boundary layers, mud, and bedrock) was the actual water depth, and this seems to have been part of the problem with Badger’s sounder, although that one did not seem to like the cold, either. My current opinion is that one’s best bet is probably a fish-finder having a screen display showing the bottom profile, fish, etc. as well as the digital depth. This gives one an opportunity to interpret with one’s own brain what the sounder is working with for information. While such things have gotten much better in recent years, few electronics seem to really be built for heavy duty off season use. On the other hand, sounders have become so inexpensive that it would not be unreasonable to carry a spare or two on a long cruise. Don’t get rid of the lead line!
For anyone who may be contemplating a cruise in any of the seldom-visited regions covered by this book I would call this book required reading, and for all who enjoy a well written account of an ambitious and well-executed cruise on a low budget, I highly recommend it, as well. $29.95
A Note About Our Review