The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow:
A Mirror Odyssey from North Wales to the Black Sea

A.J. "Sandy" Mackinnon

I was fortunate to attend a presentation by Sandy MacKinnon at a Wooden Boat Association meeting, when Sandy spoke about his trip across Europe in a 10ft plywood 'Mirror' class dinghy. At the outset, Sandy declared himself to be a long-time Ransome fan, and that reading AR's books taught him most of what he knew about sailing. (I'm working on this!)

Sandy had been teaching at a posh school in Shropshire, and wanted to leave, but to do it in style. He borrowed a derelict Mirror dinghy from the school, with the intention of sailing it down the River Severn to Bristol. Once there, "things got out of hand" as he then had a notion to trace the course of the Thames from its source in The Cotswolds to its estuary, east of London. During the course of this adventure, nothing went smoothly, which makes his decision to continue on quite amazing. He had worked out that, in theory, it was possible to cross Europe in a boat from Northern France to the mouth of the Danube where it enters the Black Sea, by following various rivers and canals.

Accordingly, Sandy sailed Jack around the coast of Kent and Sussex to Brighton, and from there to cross The Channel to Calais. Crossing the world's busiest shipping lane in a tiny dinghy was stretching his guardian angel's powers to the limit, but then his particular angel had become accustomed to working extremely hard. Whenever Jack is falling apart he meets a boatbuilder who puts everything right again. For most of the trip he wore a pith helmet, a particularly British piece of headgear, which achieved that same result as if he had worn a Court Jester's cap with bells. The trip through Europe is a mixture of idyll and disaster, boredom and terror, but never straightforward. This is especially so in Eastern Europe, his description of which makes me glad that I don't live there, and sorry for those who do.

Fortunately, there were copies of Sandy's book available for purchase at the presentation, and he autographed the copy which I bought for the AusTARS library.

Reviewed by David Bamford, June, 2009

This article is ©2009 by David Bamford, and posted on All Things Ransome with permission.

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