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Volume XVII, Issue 48 ~ November 26 - December 2, 2009

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between the covers

Abraham’s Bay

In Jack Greer’s perilous waters, it’s a coin toss whether you win or lose

reviewed by Dick Wilson

Jack Greer writes Abraham’s Bay & Other Stories from a sailor’s perspective on the sea, the wind and journeys in small sailboats. The stories are not entirely fictions. In these 236 pages, he narrates experiences of many years in Chesapeake Bay, out in the Atlantic, through the Gulf Stream and down into the Caribbean, with many waterways, coves, bays and waypoints in the between.

An avid sailor, Greer grew up on boats in the lower Chesapeake. Water and writing overlap in his career at Maryland Sea Grant College, where he is assistant director for public affairs.

He writes with ease about all things nautical. In this long-gathering collection, he puts you right there in the cramped cockpits of sailboats in situations so dangerous that you feel the edge of panic against which the sailors are struggling. However, these are not the usual sea sagas about how the indomitable human spirit survives against impossible odds; it’s more about the realities imposed by an environment perilous to boats and people.

Beginning with the first story in this collection, “Starting From Beaufort,” Greer takes you out to sea in a tale of slow-building suspense. A married couple — both experienced sailors (experienced in sheltered waters, that is) — sets out to sea, their first time in the open ocean. A series of small, easily preventable oversights places them in mortal danger.

“At Sea,” continues the theme. A very experienced sailor sets out on a routine solo journey that goes well until he forgets one small, seemingly insignificant detail. The momentary lapse occurs exactly when a single large wave comes out of nowhere to swamp his boat. It’s bad timing, maybe, but bad luck is what it is, and the sailor can’t undo the oversight. Then the other kind of luck (which we call good luck and of which we never get enough) enters the picture to saves the day for the solo sailor. He finds that the storm has carried his boat safely into a sheltered area after a storm-tossed night of terror.

Greer makes no attempt to minimize the seaman’s failings. What seems like minor oversight brings on disastrous consequences; unlucky happenstance is life threatening. In dire circumstances, it’s sometimes a coin-toss whether you win or lose.

The stories in this book are more about human failings and less about heroics, and even less about heroics at sea. A man and a woman who have been sailing together for years begin hauling small amounts of illegal drugs from offshore points into Florida. Told from the woman’s point of view, the story “White Shadow” illustrates another man vs. sea struggle, but the nautical struggle is secondary as the couple’s illegal activity grows.

The stories are thematically similar: It’s partially about us against the elements, partially about the mystique of the sea, but it’s also about individuals and how they live their lives afloat.

Yet they are not repetitive. Each tale brings a new insight, a new perspective on some aspect of nautical life, and the adventure in each story is unfailingly fresh and exciting.

In the title story, “Abraham’s Bay,” Greer brings the reader ashore in a strange, out-of-the-way place, populated by some equally strange people. All of the stories have the ring of reality.

Sailors and landlubbers alike will enjoy this book. It’s exciting and deserves attention. I expect we will see more of Jack Greer’s writing in years to come.

Meet Greer Dec. 3 at American Craftsworks Gallery during Midnight Madness.

© COPYRIGHT 2009 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.