The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow (2009) A.J. Mackinnon
‘I must borrow from the poets and the songs of voyagers everywhere. For Jack is all these: a stately Spanish galleon…Tom Bombadil; a cockle-boat…a gilded barge bearing Ling Pellinore to Flanders in Malory’s romance… or even that other little Mirror many years ago in which a small boy sailed between lonely isles on a lake in the Snowy Mountains, dreaming of Doctor Dolittle, treasure maps, pith helmets and the rivers of old England where I knew I would one day voyage.’
This whimsical memoir of a long voyage in a small Mirror dinghy, from Shropshire to the Black Sea, is written in a beautifully warm, self-deprecating tone. Sandy Mackinnon’s passion for the idea of a daring adventure, combined with his delight in related literature of armchair travel, heroic imaginative voyages, nature and personal discovery, lifts this book beyond the level of a more prosaic retelling of his adventures. His constant combination of literal and imaginative experience is narrated in an ironic voice, which often underplays the many genuine dangers he faces.
‘It was with a wholly false sense of approaching safety and calm that I approached the concrete complex of piers and wharves directing shipping into the huge double locks that would let us continue on the river far below. For once we sailed around into the relatively narrow jaws of the lock-approach, the waves went beserk…All about me, explosions of water shot up in six-foot high towers, now here, now there, as though a hundred depth charges had been triggered by my arrival.’
Mackinnon’s rhetorical descriptions of his many adventures and misadventures accurately convey the spirit of daring-do, which he brings to these experiences. This positive spirit and undoubted personal charm results in him receiving and gratefully accepting numerous offers of assistance, which he records as a genuinely surprising feature of his travels. This is a light, sparkling reinvention of a brave quest to travel beyond the horizon, by a means long loved by the author. Sandy Mackinnon’s naive, boyish enthusiasm, sense of the ridiculous and sharp eye for descriptive detail, makes this a highly appealing addition to travel literature. This is a perfect book to serialise.
‘And through all this runs a single thread. At times it is the brandy-brown of country brooks; elsewhere it is salt-green flecked with white…But in all its length it is unbroken, a single thread of water green laid from one end of the map to another.’