Imagine sailing through the night across the Pacific Ocean with the sound of a gentle wind on the sails, the creak of rigging, and an array of stars above you.
Nadine Slavinski talks about the joys and challenges of sailing across the Pacific with her husband and son.
Nadine Slavinski is an archaeologist turned teacher whose sailing adventures inspire her fiction and nonfiction books.
- The Coconut Milk Run, sailing east to west in the Pacific
- Experiencing different cultures and languages throughout the Pacific islands
- Keeping watch and sailing for several weeks straight
- Dealing with the fears that arise in the open ocean, and the challenges of the weather
- Working up from day sailing to long passages
- How places inspire stories
- Recommended books about travel and sailing
You can find Nadine Slavinski at nslavinski.com
Transcript of the interview
Jo: Nadine Slavinski is an archaeologist turned teacher whose sailing adventures inspire her fiction and nonfiction books. Welcome, Nadine.
Nadine: Thank you so much. Great to be here.
Jo: I’m excited to talk to you today. So let’s start with your book Pacific Crossing, which in itself just brings to mind all these different things.
What is the Coconut Milk Run? And what are some of your highlights from that trip?
Nadine: The Coconut Milk Run…well, I guess a milk run refers to in the old days, a milkman would go and do the standard route. So, sailors speak of crossing the Atlantic as the milk run because over time and over the centuries really, up through the modern-day, there’s a standard way to do it, and the same goes for the Pacific.
So the Pacific version or the route is known as the Coconut Milk Run, it’s probably better envisioned as stepping stones. There’s a very logical route across the Pacific, the wind goes more or less from east to west, taking you on your way, and you almost can’t help following a certain route across the Pacific.
Jo: What are those stepping stones? What is the route to those of us who don’t know?
Nadine: This is interesting. About the first half of the Pacific, you in a way don’t have a choice. 99% of sailors these days, as they have for centuries, leave from Panama. And then for our boat, we had a 35-foot sailboat, it took us a week to get to the Galapagos from there.
Then is the big open part, the biggest, longest piece of the Pacific, it took us 28 days from Galapagos to get to the Marquesas. So now you’re in the French territory, and so on, and so on.
Then you go across the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, the Society Islands, then you get into the direction of Samoa, eventually the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, and then on to New Zealand or Australia, then the route splits a little bit after the Society Islands. But it’s the standard route.
Even as a sailor, you might be surprised how many people are actually out there doing it. We sailed, my husband and I, with our then 7-year-old son, and there are a number of families in their boats sailing the same route. And basically, you buddy up, and you have a buddy boat, and you meet the Galapagos and you’re like, ‘Okay, we’ll see you in the Marquesas a month from now.’ And then you might meet in an anchorage and spend some time together like that. So that’s roughly how it works.
Jo: Already I’m like, ‘Oh, all these different places.’ You mentioned, for example, the Marquesas have a French feeling, I think, some of the other Pacific Islands do.
What are some of the different cultures that you see on the route?
Nadine: So many, from the indigenous cultures that you’re leaving behind in Panama to the Galapagos where you’ve got the Ecuadorians coming over from the late mainland and you’re speaking Spanish at that part of the trip.
And all of a sudden, you flip a switch and go into, you speak French and they speak French, but of course, they have their island languages as well. And apparently, from what I understand, Tahitian is the language spoken in Tahiti and if you’re from the Marquesas, I think it’s a little bit like me talking to a Texan or somebody from Glasgow. I think that was the hardest accent I ever had to try to make out. So they can talk to each other, but it sounds a little different.
And as you sail further west, you get more into Melanesian cultures instead of Polynesian culture. So the whole flavor changes gradually as you go. There’s that land aspect, but it’s really interesting if you obviously look at the map of the Pacific, it looks ’empty.’ But of course, it’s not.
It’s mostly water, yes, but it has these little tiny dots of islands. But we spent almost as much time in between. And that’s just the beauty of sailing to me is that those 28 days that we spent getting to Marquesas in the first place, you’re at sea 24 hours, you never stop. So for 28 days, you don’t see land and you’re taking turns being on watch because it’s not like you just close the door and go to sleep somehow. Somebody’s always awake looking at the horizon.
And as you travel you’re in the wake of so many sailors through history, traveling the same route centuries before you.
And then eventually the island appears on the horizon and you see the mountain top. But first, you see the clouds and then you might see the mountain top and you’ll see birds and at some point the smells hits you.
So you have this, obviously, great excitement getting to any place that you travel like that, that takes a long time, like walking maybe, like biking, where you’ve really earned it in a way. And then you get there and you’re really ready to explore where you’ve landed.
Jo: I’ve done one bluewater trip seven days from Fiji to Vanuatu a long time ago now, though the seven days of out of sight of land, as you say, that’s quite a magical time. I remember the time on watch quite well because there’s the ocean to look at but actually, there wasn’t much else. But it was a very meditative time.
But this was on a much bigger boat with a lot of crew. And of course, this is just you and your husband and your son. So how does that work? Like you say, 24 hours on watch and off, and sleeping and navigating and all those things.
Is that a very stressful time or is that actually quite relaxing and meditative as well?
Nadine: It can be both. And the length of the passage has nothing to do with it. You are a slave to the weather much more than we are in our cozy lives here in our secure homes with the walls that keep out the wind and the heating or the air conditioning. So you’re really at the mercy of the weather.
For us, that 28-day passage was the first 2 days are rough leaving the Galapagos, there’s a lot of swirling currents and a lot of contrary winds as you go through the intertropical convergence zone.
Then you get out of that, and then the rest was just magic, just 26 days of pure magic where it was just steady. The dream of the trade winds, they’re just pushing you along as you go.
So how it works is we did four-hour watches. For example, I would be 6:00 in the morning to 10:00 in the morning would be me. So my husband could sleep at that time, then he would do 10:00 in the morning to 2:00 in the afternoon. So I was off and then 02:00 to 06:00 and 06:00 to 10:00 at night.
Now we’re getting into night. So one of us would then be asleep, and then you wake up the other person at 10:00 p.m. And they’re on watch until 2:00 in the morning. And then the other person comes on at 6:00 in the morning.
It’s just the two of us because our son was too young. He would come up and sleep next to us while we kept watch sometimes. So it’s just the 2 of us in that 24-hour constant cycle. And it takes a few days to fall into that, but as long as the weather is good, it can be relaxing.
If you add it up, technically you’re on for 12 hours, technically you have 12 hours off, so you could sleep as much as you want, but it’s broken up into maximum of 4-hour chunks. And so a small sailboat, I think you know people imagine being behind the wheel and looking at the sails and such.
We had a self-steering device. I love the beauty of these things. It wasn’t electric, it’s not powered at all, like, a mini sail off the back of your boat that goes to its own little rudder, and you can set that and it steers the boat on a constant course to the wind. So you don’t actually have to stand there and sail.
So the four hours that I was on, let’s say in the middle of the night, you come up, I had my three cookies that I got for the midnight watch. And you come up, you scan the horizon regularly, we just spent the entire four hours in the cockpit, you might be reading a book, but you’re always in the cockpit, always keeping a lookout because there might be other boats, fishing boats.
Of course in the Pacific, we saw a boat maybe every four days, a light on the horizon kind of thing. But mostly it’s just you and the stars, and the stars are probably the most magical thing.
And specifically on that trip what was so amazing to me is, I think we were roughly going on a line of about six degrees south of the equator and going from east to west, once we got away from the Galapagos going towards Marquesas, and that is a latitude where you can see the Southern Cross.
So picture yourself, you’re sailing forwards, which is west, and to your left on the southern horizon is the Southern Cross. And on your right, in the north, you can still see Polaris, the North Star. And to me, it was just magical.
It was almost like being a little airport runway in the sense of they have lights to guide them to stay on course. And just how many places in the world can you see both at once? Not very many. And to just get steady, one is always on the north and one is always in the south because obviously, with Earth’s rotation, the stars move at night, but those two are pretty much, they appear almost fixed. So, it’s just really magical. That was 28 days of almost bliss.
Going from Fiji to Vanuatu was just, I think, three or four days. No, the worst one was Vanuatu to New Caledonia, it was only three days, horrendous three days. We had squalls, we had really rough seas.
And a lot of that, interestingly, doesn’t just come from a storm, but the underwater profile. So all of a sudden, there’s a lot of seamounts in that…so you might look at as an open stretch of ocean, but between Vanuatu and New Caledonia, that’s over in the Western Pacific, as you’re getting more towards Australia, it’s a very rough patch of water because it’s underwater seamounts actually kick up as the waves pass over them, even though there’s still hundreds of feet below. It’s a very unsettled surface.
So the comfort level has nothing to do with the length of the passage, it’s entirely to do with the weather and the conditions.
Jo: I think that all of us would love the dream and the trade winds and the stars and the occasional dolphin, and that would just be wonderful. But, of course, as you mentioned there, the weather and the stress of the other times, and I think that’s what makes a lot of people afraid, certainly makes me afraid. I was terribly seasick in the first 24 hours. And there’s a lot of primal fear about being out on the ocean like that.
How have you tackled those fears and overcome these challenges?
Nadine: Excellent question. I’m not a fearless person, and you do meet those people that just set off and they’re only excited and they have no fear. Every time right before we set off a passage I had butterflies. I couldn’t eat, no matter how many we sailed for.
We lived on a boat for a total of four years, we sailed all the way from, as far east in Greece to as far…well, east, it’s all a circle, but that’s how I view it, all the way to Australia. And every time we left for a new passage, I had that butterfly nervous feeling and it’s that fear of the unknown.
But that’s what you do it for, kind of, because in some ways, here we are on lockdown, you develop a routine and routines are very healthy in some ways. But of course, we also talked about wanting to get out and to escape that, so there’s that.
Another really important driver to me, despite all those fears, is very natural fears. Well, first, of course, I would talk myself, tell yourself that practicality and apparently statistically sailing a sail is safer than driving on a highway, I totally believe that. I was told it was safer statistically than playing golf. You’ve got to remember that.
But my greatest driver, in a sense, is my father. My father was born behind the Iron Curtain. And he escaped, this young man came to America, he was always dreaming about sailing and he always talked about somebody I’ll sail around the world. And that’s how I learned to sail with my dad in very old, beat-up boats, just off the beach kind of thing.
It was always his dream. And so I got that dream. I read the books that he read, Thor Heyerdahl, and all these sea adventure books, and I couldn’t wait to go someday. And sadly, when I was 15 and he was 45, he got cancer, and he died. So he never got to realize that dream.
And of course, at a young age, that leaves a big impression on you. It took until I was 35, but I did it. I didn’t sail around the world, but I sailed two-thirds of the way around the world. And that fear of not accomplishing it, it was always the biggest driver that…of course, sometimes it’s healthy to back out, you know that you’re just off the tip of Everest, and you really should turn back and you’re so tempted, you’re like, ‘Oh, but I’m so close.’
So of course there are moments when it’s safer not to go. But in the general fear of the unknown, that always got me over the hump. That has always been my dream, and here I am accomplishing it. Not just for me, maybe for him in a way too.
Jo: You started sailing young there with your dad. Did you do specific training for these longer passages? Did you work up to the bigger trip over years? How did you address that? Because obviously there’s a lot, even though you have the technology, you have like the self-steering you mentioned and there are navigation tools that mean you don’t need to use the stars.
Did you train specifically for the longer journey?
Nadine: It was always a dream for so long, and even before I married my husband I was talking about it. And he was the practical one going, ‘Yeah, yeah, maybe someday.’ We’re maybe a good combination as I’m the dreamer and he’s the practical one.
Over years until I finally convinced him to really take the plunge, we did work our way up. I know you have a mixed audience, but if anybody’s thinking about doing it, I really recommend working your way up because you meet people on the way who give up, who have a terrible experience because they jump in at the deep end, and they didn’t work out.
What we did is we chartered and the first charter we took was like a group charter. So everybody had their own sailboat. There were 10 different sailboats but one of them had a professional crew. And they would meet in the morning, and they would say, ‘Okay, today, we’re going from here to there, and Greece,’ and so on. So you had a safety net.
Another time we chartered and we paid for it. We were starting to feel more confident about a bigger boat and navigating on our own in unknown places. So we actually did a charter where the first three days we had a captain, a professional captain with us, and we did everything right kind of thing, and that just gave us the confidence.
Then he stepped off the boat, and we had the rest of the week to ourselves. We volunteered to help deliver boats. We did that in the Mediterranean. And that really helped us get the overnight. So getting overnight is the most critical thing, wanting to sail inside of land, but to sail off at night and navigate by lighthouse blinking and that kind of thing. So we did, I think, a five-day passage in the Mediterranean.
And then when we finally bought our boat in Majorca. And we kept it in Sardinia. So that was a three-day trip. So we did short little trips like that. We did a 24-hour trip, we did a 72-hour trip, and the Mediterranean was a very good proving ground, as is, let’s say, the Caribbean. And we worked our way up.
At some point, yes, you do have to take the plunge.
At one point, we’re in Greece and we’re looking at Malta, and that was seven days away, and that seemed like forever. And of course, a year later, we got to Panama and you’re looking across the Pacific and the Pacific is a whole different ballgame. It was many thousands of miles across and you really have to be independent for very long stretches.
We definitely worked our way up, and that really gave us the confidence that we weren’t doing something crazy for us and for our child. And in fact, it was one of the most magical times of our lives, just the three of us together on a boat.
Before that my husband was going off to business travel all the time, we were like three people, even my son was like a worker, going to kindergarten. You go in three different directions, you spend the day completely apart. On a boat, of course, you might think, ‘Okay, you’re spending it too much together,’ but you get used to it.
We felt it was really magical to be a team, the three of us together, and we each had our little roles, some are better than others.
That is something that has stayed with us for years. So it’s been a couple of years now. We got back in 2014. We sailed to Australia, we sold our boat there, and flew back. But that has never left us.
I think that’s the most precious thing that I can really take out of this is you’re constantly problem-solving, you’re constantly encountering fears and issues, all of a sudden this is broken or that’s broken, or where are we going to get water? And you work through it together.
It’s also valuable for a child to see their parents grapple. A lot of times your parents might go to the kitchen, close the door, and talk about the serious issues, right? And we had all those conversations with our son there. ‘Big storm coming, what do we do?’ Or, ‘Should we leave now or should we stay at this island?’ etc., etc. So that was another really magical aspect actually.
Jo: You mentioned magical and looking at the stars and that time on watch, and once you’re more confident with the practicalities, which as you talked about, really great way to learn in the way that you did it. Once you’re comfortable and you’re sitting there and you’re enjoying it, did you have any spiritual experiences?
I definitely felt that when I did my little bit of it.
I understood much more why pretty much every culture has gods of the sea and spirits of the ocean and things like that. Maybe it’s a bit about being out of control and realizing everything’s bigger than you.
Did you have that spiritual aspect of the journeys?
Nadine: I would say not so explicitly that I put it in that category in my mind, but very much that vulnerability mixed with a sense of wonder of being this tiny, tiny speck on a very big sea completely exposed to whatever fate or whatever you want to call it to whatever it pushes your way.
There’s that aspect and certainly 20 days out of sight of land where you wake up in the middle of the night to do your four hours and you’re not just looking at the stars, you’re thinking about all kinds of things. So it gives you that time for introspection.
And then, of course, our interactions with different cultures on different islands. I think we’ll get to talking about Vanuatu later, just seeing the world through other people’s eyes or getting glimpses. Some people are very spiritual or very just a different sense of what is my place in the world.
It’s very easy in the Western world. I’m the center of my universe, aren’t I? And when you live in a boat or if you live in a very small island in the middle of Pacific, you realize that no, you’re not…okay, in a way, you’re the center of the universe. But you realize how big that universe is and how far it goes beyond you.
Jo: You mentioned Vanuatu there and having been there, I still remember it very well. We sailed in. And as you mentioned, the shallows there and navigating through the coral reefs and stuff. We arrived and amusingly some of the villagers came out in canoes and you have this terribly Western view of people coming out in canoes, and then they arrive and there’s this Nike swoosh ‘Just Do It’ on the end of one of the canoe paddles, stenciled on.
This was back in 1999. So it wasn’t, sort of, cell phone-tastic back then. But I know everyone has cell phones now. We walked up the Ambrym Volcano, and I had no real idea of what the Pacific Islands were like except for these golden sand beaches.
What else have you experienced that people might be surprised about?
Nadine: Vanuatu is a great example because I had never even heard of Vanuatu before. Even as a sailor, even reading so many different accounts and dreaming and looking at maps, you always hear about Tahiti and the Society Islands and maybe the Galapagos, places like Fiji. We’ve all seen the images.
And then there’s Vanuatu, which I think was the New Hebrides before it became an independent country. And its proper name is Vanuatu. To us, it was like stepping into a National Geographic magazine. That’s how we saw it. And, yes, 1 out of 20 people might be wearing shoes and they might be Nikes.
The outside world is coming in but it’s still so traditional and there’s a gradient from south to north. Vanuatu is a country made up of little islands spread out north to south, very much linear north to south. And it’s as big as Germany from north to south, and yet it’s made up of these tiny little islands and they’re about 10, 20, 30 miles apart, maybe more as you go further north. Yeah, more like 30 miles apart.
These are not seagoing people, these are Melanesian people who don’t have a big seafaring tradition. So each island is quite isolated and has its own little mini culture. So it’s not like they’re going back and forth between different islands within Vanuatu.
Every Island is its own little world, its own little, not country, but very different from each other. What you learn on one island, you can’t necessarily apply to all the islands. Our first stop was the southernmost island of the chain, which is called Aneityum and it’s very jungley, it’s very thick, jungley and people living in very simple houses with materials that you can just get out of the woods next to your house.
But there’s this underlining feeling of how different it is. So one thing is, fascinating place, it used to be a colony of England and France. As far as I know, it’s the only place England and France ever cooperated on anything. And it was known as a condominium government. But the joke is it was the pandemonium government. And it’s been an independent country since the ’70s.
That legacy remains in the fact that everybody, well, 90% of the people that I met, spoke their island language, English, French, and the language Bislama, a beautiful language. It’s kind of like Pidgin English. So what that means is you can go to this completely different National Geographic type place, just a primal place, and you could talk to everybody.
I could talk to them in English, thank goodness, due to their language skills, not mine. One of the Swiss sailors we knew, he preferred French and they could just switch into French for him. So it was very accessible superficially to think, ‘Wow, this is great. We can talk to everybody. We can understand the culture.’ But the longer you spend there, the more you understand what’s under the surface.
So just a quick example, that first island we got to, Aneityum, we have a cruising guide and it said, ‘Oh, yes, there is a good hike you can do not very far away from the village.’ So we went to the village and we asked, there are four men sitting there that we came across, and we said, ‘Oh, we heard there’s a waterfall. Can you tell us the way to the waterfall? We would you like to go there.’
They fall silent. And they’re all looking at each other. And nobody comes up with an answer for a long time and you’re wondering, ‘What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with the waterfall?’ The first guy finally goes, ‘Well, you know, the waterfall is really far.’ And the second guy goes, ‘Yeah, yeah. And it’s not a good track. It’s pretty dangerous to get there.’
The third guy kind of looks at them and goes, ‘And it’s also private property.’ And then the fourth guy…you feel like they’re slowly getting at the truth. And the fourth guy finally comes out with, ‘And the spirits will get you.’
This island, there’s a very strong belief in the spirits. I think it’s the ancestors that are there. So they weren’t actually against us going to the waterfall, but they were truly worried for our safety that, A, we wouldn’t get lost, and B, we wouldn’t fall on a rock, but C, that the spirits wouldn’t get us.
Finally, we solved this problem with their help. They got us two guides, in fact. The first guide was a guy whose family owns that first piece of land. That was just, to us, it’s jungle with a little foot trail going through it. To him, clearly, he knows the beginning and the end of this land that has no fences.
And the first guy, his family owned that land, so he could get us safely across that piece of land so the spirits will be okay with us and take us up to the invisible boundary to the next property line where the second guy then took over and took us to the waterfall and kept us safe.
That was just a little glimpse into the belief system there. And then we went to the next island, Erromango, there was another hike we wanted to do. And by then we thought we’ve learned what to do. So we got to the village and said, ‘Oh, we really like to do this hike. Could you perhaps help us find a guide?’ They looked at us and they looked at each other and they’re like, ‘Why do you need a guide? Just go up there.’ So it’s totally different on every different island. Just a fascinating, fascinating place.
Jo: I love that because the attitude, when traveling, is obviously, yes, we want to explore, but also to respect the local tradition and the local area. And you were trying to do everything.
I think what’s funny in these places, I’ve come across this, too, is that the people really want to help you. And everyone, mostly, 99.9% of people are wonderful. And they want to help you and they really do want to prevent you from probably just messing up and being foreigners offending the spirits or offending somebody. And they’re doing it in a caring manner. So that’s great.
I wanted to ask you about Panama as well because your novel The Silver Spider is based around the Panama Canal. I find it funny because I live near a canal in Bath in England, which is nothing like the Panama Canal. I feel like the word should not be used for two such different things.
Tell us a bit about the Panama Canal and Panama. What inspired you to write about that area in particular?
Nadine: Panama, it’s such an amazing place. I can say that about every place we go to, yes, of course, and everybody in its own special way. But Panama and even the canal is a big part of it. Obviously, that’s what physically brought us there and that’s what you know about Panama.
I couldn’t almost not let my imagination go wild there because, first of all, you’ve got all the cultures of the world mixed. You’ve got indigenous people. You’ve got the ancestors of the Spanish people who’ve come.
Because of the building of the canal, you have a large Chinese population that was brought over mostly that came over during the French initial digging of the canal. Then the Americans took over back in the turn of the last century to building the canal.
Their biggest labor force was the Afro-Caribbeans from Barbados, Jamaica, from Trinidad, from many places in the Caribbean that attracted people to come in, and all these cultures have mixed in a place like I haven’t seen anywhere else, and I haven’t been to Brazil.
My image of Brazil is that it’s an equally mixed place that you just basically have every color of the rainbow represented in mankind and womankind. So that is absolutely fascinating. And the canal, I’m not an engineer, but I still couldn’t help but be amazed by the whole thing.
As a former archaeologist, I’m now a teacher, but I started out as an archaeologist, the canal actually is what we have to get across the isthmus. The fascinating thing that I didn’t know was the Spaniards came and, in fact, Columbus was the first outsider to so-called ‘discover’ Panama. I think it was his second journey, he stopped there.
Very soon, within decades of his explorations, Spaniards came and they basically conquered the whole Central and South America. They saw Panama the same way we do, ‘Aha, here’s this isthmus, the shortest way across these continents rather than going all the way around Cape Horn.’
They didn’t have a canal, but they built the Camino Real. You can go today and see the cobblestone path that disappears into the jungle that was built in the 1600s by the Spaniards.
Why did they build it? They were basically robbing South America of all the gold and silver they could find. There were incredibly productive silver mines in Bolivia. I think La Nina is one of them. There’s another one. Those plundered treasures of the native people is a whole sad story in itself.
Those plundered treasures were brought up on the Pacific side by ship and then, back in the 1600s, put on mule trains and brought across the isthmus exactly the same way we have the canal in the spirit of the thing, across the isthmus and then reloaded onto ships waiting on the Caribbean side.
My first introduction to that was a town, Portobello, where you can see they have a customs house where they would count the gold and silver and, apparently, one-third of the world’s silver at that time was passing through that very customs house, and you can go there today.
So being there, being confronted by the modern world, the semi-modern Panama Canal and the history that goes behind it, as an imaginative person, in no time I had a story spinning of a Spaniard who stumbles across part of this treasure coming up from South America, that’s The Silver Spider, mixed with the worker on the Panama Canal who now discovers that buried treasure, so to speak, that was never gotten out by the Spanish Conquistadores.
In 1912, we’ve got our canal worker discovering it. And in the modern era, we have his great-grandson sailing innocently to Panama, not even knowing the connection and eventually coming across that same treasure, which is not the point of Panama for everybody.
Being in a place like that, you can’t help but coming up with fun stories of what might happen and combining all of what you see play out in front of your eyes in a sense. Even the history you can still see there.
Jo: I love that. And of course, I wrote all my fiction is based on my travels too. So I love that and we’ll obviously have links to all your books in the show notes.
Apart from your own books, what are a few that you recommend around sailing or travel in general?
Nadine: You can’t carry much on a boat. But one book that I took on with me the whole time was a book I’ve owned since I was 16. It’s called Maiden Voyage by Tania Aebi. And she at, I think, 17 or 18 set off to sail around the world and became the youngest person, and I think the youngest woman in addition, to sail around the world. She did it in the ’80s.
Fantastic book. And it’s very much her emotional journey. A young woman growing up, difficult family life, setting off in this incredibly difficult adventure to do by yourself. So that is just an inspiring book whether you’re an armchair adventurer or you’re a sailor.
Other books for sailing and the Pacific, Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian explorer. I read his Fatu-Hiva when I was a kid, my dad read it and he gave it to me. That’s an island in the Marquesas. It’s basically the only way you can get there is by your own boat. There’s one other way you can get on a cargo ship and go there. But there’s no other way to get there.
Thor Heyerdahl spent a year living there in the ’50s I believe. And of course, his book Kon-Tiki where he sailed across part of the Pacific in a reproduction craft. His theories have been proven completely wrong but to me, that spirit, that, ‘Let’s go out and discover it,’ it’s just on every page. So I love those.
For fiction, I actually love Jimmy Buffett’s book. We think of him as a singer but he’s written a couple of books, including A Salty Piece of Land. Now, it’s not Shakespeare but it’s pretty farfetched. It’s a little bit zany. But it’s just such fun reading.
It includes places like the beautiful lighthouse on Amedee in New Caledonia. So that’s another one.
Finally, for sailing would be there’s a great book called Sea Change by Peter Nichols. He was sailing across the Atlantic on a very small wooden boat. This in the wake of his divorce. I think it was published in the ’90s or early 2000s.
It’s his account, his memoir of sailing alone across the Atlantic and working through the emotions of that, at the same time that his boat is developing problem after problem and eventually starts sinking. And it’s just an incredible…it pulls everything together without being sensationalistic about it.
So those are my top sailing reads. And I’ll also just rattle off three quick titles for people interested in Panama. So much fascinating things there. There’s The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough, which is the story of the building of the Panama Canal. It’s 700 pages. I read it for those 28 days that we sailed from the Galapagos to Marquesas. Great book.
Zone Policeman 88. It’s a very strange title. Zone Policeman 88 by Harry Franck. It’s a free book on Amazon. He, in 1912-ish, was writing a census of the Panama Canal workers. And he went around and it’s his memoir of visiting all the different people of all those cultures that I mentioned working on the canal in different ways. So it’s I think that Project Gutenberg that brings old titles and makes them free. ‘Zone Policemen 88’ is one of those.
And another one is, last one, On the Spanish Main by John Masefield. The Panama Canal workers, in the early 1990s, were reading that eagerly. He wrote about the time of Sir Francis Drake coming and plundering the Spanish loot coming across the isthmus many centuries before, and it’s about 100 years old to us now, that book.
That is also free on places like Amazon, and not only Amazon, obviously. So that is my top, whatever, top 10 list or top 6 or whatever that came out to be.
Jo: Oh, that’s brilliant. You’ve given us a lot to think about.
Where can people find you and your books online?
Nadine: I have a website, nslavinski.com. So, nslavinski.com, and that’s where my books are, whether that’s my fiction books like The Silver Spider or my nonfiction like Pacific Crossing Notes.
I have some books on homeschooling for sailors if you happen to be setting off tomorrow with your children. And people who just want the armchair adventure, our sailing blog is namaniatsea.org. So Namani is basically our initials. Nadine, Marcus, Nikki, namaniatsea.org. You can just you can relive our voyage if you were interested in doing so.
Jo: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Nadine. That was great.
Nadine: Great talking to you. Thank you so much.