Review by Dan Rubin
I had read Iain's columns in Prince Rupert THIS WEEK and enjoyed them, so I expected I would like this book. But I wasn't prepared for what I found in Sea Stories of the Inside Passage : stories to be savoured, stories like polished pebbles found on a deserted beach and lovingly carried home. I expected to enjoy these stories, but I didn't expect to be transported, at times even moved to tears.
The narratives in Sea Stories , some light and whimsical, others dark and intensely self-revealing, are part of the same Westcoast literary tradition that produced The Curve of Time and Beth Hill's Seven Knot Summers . These evocative books have given us vivid descriptions of sailing the inlets and islands of the B.C. coast. Like them, Iain's volume is a very personal geography, made up of finely sketched memories, recording a summer that lasted seven years, seven seasons of sailing on the little gaff-rigged cutter, Nid.
Through the book you get to know Iain, as well as his sailing companion and mate, Kristin, and their companions, the dog Skipper and Conrad the spider. You sail with them, through days of sun and storm, then tack up inlets to anchor in tiny sheltered anchorages, waiting out storms, and finally turn with them to travel the long inlets north, toward home.
Like certain modern European novels written in short segments, these stories arrive as a series of gifts tied up in tiny parcels. Each one adds to the one before, until you find yourself turning inward, seeing things a new way. The clean, direct writing, the understated irony, the quickly described encounters with places and people and animals, invite you to gaze down into depths. At times the stories reveal Iain's own flaws and foibles, but with a humility that is refreshing. At others, the glory of a rainbow comes right into your hand, and lies there shimmering.
Iain's prose is studded with just the right amount of metaphor and imagery to pull you in. Speaking of old trees filling in what had once been a thriving cannery village, he writes, "Like drinking straws, their roots had sucked up the old planks, the spilled offal, the spittle of fishermen, preserving it all in sap and wood, growing a ghost town, north-coast style.” And elsewhere in his meanderings from Klekane to Kynumpt and from Lawson Harbour to Lizzie Cove, he writes, "It was a clear night with a sky full of stars and the water so clear they seemed to float there too--all around us, above and below--as though we'd found an anchorage in the heavens, a million miles from home."
Because I own a small boat and have also spent seven of my summers sailing, I felt very at home in these familiar waters. But having sailed is not a prerequisite for enjoying this book. The simple humanity of the author shines through, making this a very accessible work. December 1, 2008 If anything, the books deceptively mundane title and ferry bookstore cover give little hint of the richness that lies within. Anne Vipond's terse foreword hardly does justice to the warmth of the memories that are stored here.
As a writer and a sailor I am inspired by knowing that others are also out here, sailing along, headed for the stars.
What I am really saying is that I like this book a lot. lf it weren't $20 a copy I'd buy ten and send them to my friends. But I might do that anyway. What the heck? I just spent two hundred dollars on bottom paint.
Dan Rubin is the author of Salt on the Wind: the Sailing Life of Allen and Sharie Farrell. He lives and works in Prince Rupert as an educator.