John Vigor
Small Boat to Freedom

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Editorial Reviews: Amazon.ca

From Publishers Weekly
Talk about dramatic exits. British writer Vigor and his family didn't leave South Africa for America just by buying plane tickets, but by boarding a 31-foot sloop and sailing across the Atlantic. This is the account of that improbable journey, and it's a compelling read, if rather belated. It was 1987, the old regime was crumbling, violence was rampant, and Vigor figured his family had lived through enough. It's that background of a dysfunctional nation, and the people trapped within it, that gives the book its unique texture. Separate currents—racial politics, personal reminiscences and mano-a-mano combat with the sea—come together to feed Vigor's narrative. As a longtime newspaper columnist, the author possesses an easy feel for language that hasn't deserted him. But the timing is somewhat odd, a fresh tale of a trip made 17 years ago. In the epilogue, Vigor attributes this to 9/11 and its aftermath; he had fled a regime which took away so many people's rights, and now he sees those same rights threatened again in his new country. An admirable statement perhaps, but it feels tacked on, after the rolling consistency of previous chapters. Still, the work's simple honesty is beguiling. Vigor seems to have absorbed the rhythms of the sea in his pacing: mostly gentle, occasionally bracing and leaving readers exhilarated for the experience.
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5 out of 5 starsA Page Turning Journey Across the Sea, June 21, 2004

Reviewer: A customer from CT

In 1987 the South African government was failing and the nation on the brink of a civil war. British born John Vigor emigrated to South Africa at the age of thirteen. By age fifty he had become a syndicated columnist for an anti-apartheid newspaper. Yet he realized when the revolution came people wouldn't care who he was or what he stood for. He and his family were in harm's way. When racist graffiti appeared on their garden wall and discussion turned to the possibility of buying a shotgun, John knew it was time to leave. Abandoning a comfortable life and a country they loved, John and his American wife, June, were forced to give up most of their life savings to the South African government. Risking everything, the Vigors purchased a 31-foot sloop and provisions for a trans-Atlantic voyage to America, where they hoped start over. Hidden on board was a small fortune in gold coins.

Small Boat to Freedom narrates the dramatic story of this voyage across some of the most dangerous seas in the world-past the Cape of Storms, around the Cape of Good Hope, north along the Skeleton Coast, and into the vast South Atlantic. John with his wife and their youngest son braved these dangers along with hurricane winds, rogue waves, failed equipment, and other perils as they made their way towards America. It is chock full of sailing details and the history of famous captains, hidden islands, record breaking voyages, and the legacy of ocean travel. It is a poetic look at nature, being out of reach of land powered only by the wind and sea-and being at its mercy:

"We had been lucky so far. The storm waves had grown with the howling wind as the hours passed, but, as fate would have it, the real monster waves, the widely spaced graybeards with their fiercely plunging crests, had laid down their acres of seething white foam on either side of us.... Now for the first time, we were in the direct line of one, and there was nothing I could do about it. ... What I remember now is not so much the fear-though, heaven knows, I was paralyzed with fear-as the helplessness of it, the feeling of inevitability, of not being able to do anything about it. That was somehow more frightening than the raw fear... just before the wave struck, I closed my eyes, crouched down in the cockpit, and wondered if fish would gobble up the precious gold coins we were trying to smuggle out of South Africa, as they swallow the shiny lures of fishermen..."

Most importantly, however, is the message the author writes for Americans in a time of war and government reaction. John watched in dismay following the attacks of September 11, 2001 as the American government cracked down on civil liberties. Raised in a society divided by apartheid, and witness to the destructive affects of tyranny, John wrote his story of sacrifice and survival as a reminder to us what lengths others will go to live in a free society. He cautioned Americans of relinquishing their hard won civil rights to a federal government, and to the dangers of ignoring the voices of other peoples and cultures, even if they are among our enemies. It is a poignant story of surprising depth, and relative to the American situation in 2004 as we face war against terrorism at home and abroad.

 

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