Book of the Week

Godforsaken Sea by Derek Lundy; Yellow Jersey, pounds 15.99 hardback
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Godforsaken Sea

by Derek Lundy Yellow Jersey, pounds 15.99 hardback

QUITE HOW James Bond would have wriggled out of the kind of life-threatening situations which afflict singlehanded ocean racers only M can say. Doubtless, if not rescuing someone himself, he would be rescued by a beautiful woman, the yacht would develop either wings and fly away, or fins and dive to underwater serenity.

Reality is rather different. The desolation of the more remote areas of the planet have been vaguely understood for a long time because of the pioneering voyages made by the explorers and the iron men who opened up global trade in clipper ships.

More recently, satellite communications and television have brought detailed descriptions and pictures of what ferocious nature at its most malevolent can throw at those who dare to challenge its power deep in the great oceans of the world.

Derek Lundy, a self-confessed seeker after calmer waters when sailing himself, has gathered together a definitive account of the 1996 Vendee Globe, a singlehanded, non-stop round the world race which burst on to television screens everywhere with dramatic pictures of the Australian Navy and Air Force combining to contrive the double rescue of Britain's Tony Bullimore and Frenchman Thierry Dubois from their upturned yachts deep in the icy southern ocean.

And he recounts the way in which another Briton, Pete Goss, turned back into the teeth of a hurricane to pluck from a drifting liferaft another Frenchman, Raphael Dinelli.

These are well-documented, but Lundy goes further. He shepherds the reader through the history of singlehanded sailing, explains the way of the sea, considers the design of these strange racing craft, and introduces each of the principal characters on this most dangerous and lonely of racing stages. While his descriptions of mountainous waves and howling winds are coldly respectful, his obvious affection for the men and women who risk their lives in what is an obsessive sport produces a series of warm biographies which are both informative and alluring. Non-fiction it may be, but it contains all the tension of a thriller.

Not that that is enough to fire the kind of madness that says, "I want to do that, too." Not even Mr Lundy claims that.

Stuart Alexander