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Hello Sailor by Michael Hutchinson

Release date: 12th March, 2009
Publisher: Yellow Jersey

List Price: £12.99
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Book review

Hello Sailor
By Michael Hutchinson
Yellow Jersey

Sportsbookofthemonth.com price: £ 9.09, saving 30% on rrp


Two summers ago, my wife and I enjoyed an extended, and very agreeable, weekend in Valencia. What we hadn't realised when making the most of easyjet's decision to add this marvellously historic city to its list of scheduled destinations was that our low-cost jaunt coincided with Valencia's hosting of the America's Cup.

Although neither of us sail, we both love sport and so we went to see what all the fuss was about, catching a tram to Valencia's specially-extended marina.

The place was heaving with people, few of whom could determine precisely what was taking place perhaps a mile out to sea (the large screens in every marina-side bar showed the action in detail), but the sense of being present at a major sporting event and undercurrent of bubbling excitement was palpable. If you're going to watch some sailing for the first time, I'd recommend you catch the America's Cup.

Michael Hutchinson's introduction to the event came in 1983 when the Americans, then enjoying sport's longest-ever unbeaten run of 132 years, were taking on the Australians, racing on board a yacht with a revolutionary keel. The Aussies won, an outcome which persuaded the author that a life as a professional sportsman would suit him - he became a cyclist by default.

Hutchinson writes with a tone that makes the reader feel he's listening to a series of rather pleasant, often extremely funny, anecdotes. He frequently delivers a great turn of phrase, such as when he is "wandering around my mental attic, looking in old suitcases for memories to enjoy" or describing 'posh people' (whatever they are) and their "velvet-lined journey through life."

As a boy, Hutchinson became obsessed with sailing, although this evaporated when he arrived at college and adapted an impressive line in Ian Paisley impersonations in an attempt to charm young females instead.

Yet after succeeding as an accidental cyclist, he falls back in love with sailing. In many respects, this often very funny successor to The Hour , his first book, could be called a 'voyage of re-discovery', one upon which the author is keen for us to embark with him. Booking your berth is recommended, even if your knowledge of sailing extends no further than being enthralled by Captain Birds Eye commercials as a child.

The narrative is laden with character descriptions that ring alarmingly true: there's the prospective boat captain who issued Hutchinson with his four on-board rules. "Easy to remember," he says, "all begin with B: no Birds, Booze, Blasphemy or Buggery. At least not while we're at sea." Then there's a co-crew member Will, who joins the author on a race from Cowes, wearing "electric blue thermal leggings with shorts and sailing boots, and clearly felt this was an acceptable way to be seen in public."

For many years, Hutchinson's only sailing was on a cross-channel ferry. We should be glad he re-discovered his love for 'proper' sailing for his sense of achievement, such as is evident when he arrives at the end of a race in La Rochelle, is uplifting for the reader. Even if the closest you've come to sailing is watching it by mistake on an obscure, late-night satellite channel, you will enjoy this excellent account of an amateur all at sea - in the nicest possible sense, of course.


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