Tag Archives: sailing

A Happy Voyage

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.

imageVictura 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.

Four-Star Review

April 2014, ForeEdge/University Press of New England
$29.95, hardcover, 266 pages
ISBN: 978-1-61168-411-7

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen



Filed under nonfiction, Uncategorized

Let’s Talk About the Weather

CBR_Logo2November’s Fury:
The Deadly Great Lakes Hurricane of 1913
by Michael Schumacher

Swirling winds, blinding snow, crashing waves slamming into the lakeshore: sounds like the Midwest in winter—nothing to be too concerned about. Unless you’re sailing an enormous vessel loaded with tons of cargo, trapped on one of the Great Lakes during what would be the storm of the century.

Author Michael Schumacher tackles the Great Lakes Hurricane of 1913 in his new book, November’s Fury, a chronicle of the sailors, the vessels, and the controversies of four brutal days a century ago on the country’s largest inland seas.

UMN12 November's Fury R3.inddSchumacher, whose previous titles include Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald and Wreck of the Carl D, has a number of documentaries about the Great Lakes to his credit. The Wisconsin-based author tells the story of the disaster that struck the Great Lakes in November 1913 in November’s Fury, a storm that shifted and swelled and ending up sinking or stranding dozens of vessels and killing hundreds of sailors. November’s Fury is a collection of stories focused on the sailors and vessels trapped in an unexpectedly ferocious storm.

Schumacher breathlessly recounts the drama that unfolded on the lakes as “moderate to brisk” winds shifted into a “moderately severe” storm that swirled into a tempest with winds gusting 60 to 70 miles per hour. Packed with colorful details and scores of illustrations, November’s Fury reveals the little-known history of a tragic event that for months captured the attention—and headlines—of Midwesterners and, indeed, all Americans. Schumacher tells of sailors who valiantly tried to save cargo and vessels in ultimately futile efforts. He tells of boats crashing into rocky shores, of waves overwhelming men and vessels, and of desperate rescue efforts that often ended in tragedies of their own.

Thoroughly researched and well documented, November’s Fury is brought to life through the voices of the men who lived through the storm as well as through news stories of the day. Schumacher goes beyond the headlines, however, to examine the blame game that erupted after the storm as various parties looked to put the responsibility on everyone from maverick ship captains to greedy shipping companies to the nascent U.S. Weather Bureau, which was accused of botching the forecast leading up to the storm. He also looks at the storm’s aftermath, as corpses washed ashore in the days and months following the catastrophe and as efforts were made to recover sunk, stranded, and lost vessels. Geared toward history and maritime buffs, the book’s glossary and appendix of lost and stranded vessels will be of interest to amateur experts and novices alike.

Schumacher, Michael

Author Michael Schumacher

With so many vessels and so many men struggling through a massive storm system that hit so many lakes, November’s Fury covers a lot of ground. Schumacher’s writing is engaging and lively, though sometimes the material feels choppy and disorganized. And, although Schumacher carries the story into the present day with the May 2013 discovery of one of the sunken vessels, the Henry B. Smith, the short book seems to end rather abruptly and would have benefitted from a stronger conclusion.

Although history buffs will love the sharp details that Schumacher brings to November’s Fury, it is in telling the human stories that the author shines. Schumacher does a great service to the memories of those who lived through the storm, sharing in their own words their stories of survival. The book serves as a timely reminder of the capricious whims of Mother Nature—and of our own attempts, often futile, to battle the elements.

Three-Star Review

November 2013, University of Minnesota Press
$24.95, hardcover, 198 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8166-8719-0

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen

Read more about The Great Lakes Hurricane of 1913
Learn more about November’s Fury
Read an interview with author Michael Schumacher

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Filed under nonfiction