The Kennedys, a Sailboat, and the Sea
by James W. Graham
Perhaps it can’t be explained, this endless fascination so many of us have with the Kennedys. Thousands of books have tackled the subject, whether through the wistful eyes of nostalgia for Camelot or the relentless tragedies overcome by one of America’s most enduring dynasties or the intersection of politics, power, celebrity, and glamor. It seems that so much has been written about this one family that little of particular import could be added to the literature, which in itself has become something of a cottage industry in publishing: most books about one or other or all of the Kennedy family is almost certain to strike gold.
Victura is no exception. This lovingly told history of the Kennedy family—from Joe and Rose to Joe Jr. and Jack and Bobby to Ted and Chris and Patrick and all the Shrivers—examines the crew from the vantage point of the sea and their love of sailing.
Written by James Graham, who served as a senior advisor to former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar and the Illinois House of Representatives, Victura offers a fresh perspective on the history of a family that would otherwise seem to have been told countless times already. But Graham manages to put a new spin on familiar events, chronicling the highs and lows the family has enjoyed and endured by revealing how they have consistently turned to the sea and, most notably, one of their favorite vessels, the Victura, a twenty-five-foot Wianno Senior.
In his acknowledgments, Graham thanks Christopher Kennedy and other Kennedys and Shrivers for granting interviews and sharing their stories of the Victura and sailing and the sea, and the research he has put into the book is evident. Graham, who sails out of Wilmette Harbor north of Chicago, displays clear affection for both the extended Kennedy family and for sailing. Victura the book seems very much a labor of love, an intersection of at least a few great interests: politics, sailing, and the Kennedys.
Victura the vessel also seems a labor of love, a sloop the Kennedys sailed for roughly five decades, surviving lightning strikes, hurricanes, fire, and countless races fought hard for by the highly competitive Kennedy clan. Often sailed with JFK at the helm, the vessel became at times more than a sporty get-away as journalists, photographers, politicians, and celebrities were invited along on outings, often as a means to further the Kennedy brand, as much exercise as an exercise in publicity.
Graham deftly moves among family history, political history, and sailing lore to present a compelling story that is at times exciting, heartbreaking, and fascinating. Although rife with sailing terms and phrases (as one might expect), the book is accessible even to landlubbers, despite a few bits that go unexplained (e.g., “stepping the mast” might well confuse readers who spend most of their time on terra firma).
Politics, history, sports—there’s something for just about anyone in these pages, whether those already steeped in Kennedy lore or those coming to the family history for the first time. Readers also will find much about literature and poetry, thanks in large part to Jackie Kennedy’s influence on the family, as well as about nature. Graham refers often to nature writer Henry Beston, a man whose reputation grew at the same time the Kennedy children were coming of age. Some of these references to Beston’s work feel like tangential interludes, but they distract only mildly from the book.
A bit more troubling are some copy editing misses that mar the otherwise lovely text: “then,” for example, appears more than a few times when the correct word should be “than.”
Such misses are made up for by Graham’s lively take on the Kennedy clan, a warmly told story rich in imagery and inspiration, wrapped in a beautifully designed book that combines with the author’s text to make for a great package.
Throughout Victura, Graham makes mention of the highly competitive nature of the entire Kennedy clan. Joe Sr. was one of those folks who thought that second place is nothing more than first loser. What Graham has here is a winner—a first-rate effort well worth the read.
April 2014, ForeEdge/University Press of New England
$29.95, hardcover, 266 pages
—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen