Full Book Review – Renegades at Sea: The Adventures of Chas from Tas by Charles Blundell and Juliet Prentice
My first review of this book (published here on my own blog) didn’t really do it justice, in particular as I started hitting the keyboard after reading only the first Chapter. I must admit I was blown away by it, even if it was read late at night through a glass darkly. Just as I was blown away (sober) when Chas read three Chapters at RHKYC in May last year.
However, now that I have had a chance to digest the book in its entirety (and read it again), I can confirm my first impression: This is a bloody good yarn, or rather, an anthology of bloody good yarns and every sailor worth his salt will enjoy this book. And a lot of non-sailors too. But on looking more closely, it is a lot more than just a collection of sailing stories and Nautical adventure and mishap. Hold that thought – I’ll come back to it. There may be a quiz.
As set out in a stub article published on this excellent site run by a couple of friends of mine some months back, Chas has spent more than a half-century pretty much continuously at sea (there are those who say he’s often at sea even when he’s on dry land). He’s known in every waterfront bar and saltwater Yacht Club on the planet as well as a lot of the even less family oriented places and has friends in all of them. He’s been a fixture on the Ocean Racing scene since the early’70s and has raced for six different countries at various times in pretty much all the seas of the planet, plus several of the Great Lakes.
With the best part of half-a-million miles at sea, he is one of the most experienced Yachstmen on Earth and has been a legend in the Yachting world since shortly after he joined it, near a half-century ago.
Part of that notoriety is due to a combination of his skills as a great raconteur, together with the wildly improbable adventures he has weathered both at sea and on land.
Take one of the tales recounted in the book, the story of an insane flight from California to Europe in the early 70s, on a (thankfully) now defunct budget airline (caution – spoiler alert):
After boarding the clapped out kerosene canary (which left many hours late), he discovered that everyone on the plane had bought tickets for different destinations. This news was imparted to him by a drunken Iranian Colonel in the window seat, headed for Frankfurt and a nurse in the aisle bound for Manchester. Chas thought they were routed to London.
The plane diverted to Bangor, Maine because the toilets had all failed and after a long stopover (involving a fisherman’s bar in Bangor and some drunken acrobatics from other passengers involving a plunge by several into a giant tank of live lobsters and a complete power failure in the building they were being held in), the passengers were invited to vote on their destination. They landed in Brussels.
The story had me in stitches, both times I heard it and both times I read it and if I tried to pitch it to my movie producer cousin, he’d tell me to get lost – it is too unbelievable.
That’s Chas – his adventures have been unbelievable, but they are true, and I know this because we have shared one for over 30 years – the hunt for Captain Kidd’s Treasure. I am sure it will come out in Volume two or Volume three of what is going to be a modern classic of seafaring (dare I say it) literature.
But (and this is where we get back to the quiz), this book is not just Chas’ book.
It is also Juliet Prentice’s book and her contributions shine through in crystal clear exposition and a host of wonderful prose passages, massaging Chas’ gritty experiences and Antipodean vocabulary as well as setting context and pace. I won’t hazard a guess as to whether she or Chas is responsible for the historical and geographical asides and observations about the places Chas has visited as described in this book. I know he is a closet historian in his own right (and he writes bloody good poetry too) but surely some of the polish is Juliet’s?
And it isn’t just her story as well, it’s the history and the geography of all the wonderful places Chas has been privileged to visit, of the wild and woolly characters he remembers and characterises with unfailing accuracy (accurate at least as far as the guys I know from Volume one – for this is only the start of the tale – we haven’t even gotten to the 1979 Fastnet yet!).
The book is a history of the personalities involved in the sailing scene in the ‘70s and beyond and no doubt there will be many blokes pleased to read of their contribution to Chas’ adventures. I look forward (I think) to whatever he may have to say about me in later volumes!
It’s also a history of the many movers and shakers that Chas has interacted with. How many people have seen Sammie Davies Junior take a burton into a mud puddle? How many blokes have charmed Britt Ekland out of her phone number? How many people have been given a rare Eleanora’s Falcon as a pet by a bunch of prison guards in Sardinia? There are some amazing tales here folks. We play a rich man’s game and the skippers and owners at the highest levels are often global tycoons, Kings, Princes and the like. They all call him ‘my mate Chas’. That photo above BTW, for you non-yachties, is Chas with Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, the first man to circumnavigate the globe non-stop and single-handed.
Juliet seems to feel that the racing and delivery crews of yesteryear – these ‘Renegades at Sea’ – were the last of a dying breed. In this I am not convinced. I’m still active in the game (when the skippers will put up with me), and certainly most of my friends think I am as crazy as I ever was. There are still insane shenanigans going on at the regattas round the world and while we may be a dying breed, we’re not dead yet
With any luck, this book will inspire other latent madmen to take on the challenge of the sea and to write their own crazy histories of wild parties, wild women, wild brawls and even wilder voyages.
I’m trying to write a semi-professional book review here so I have to be critical as well. It’s a first edition, and like all first editions there are typos and a few botched phrases. I must admit I was confused with some mis-spellings of names of well-known players (Beacon of Cowes?), but these are few and far between and I am sure will be corrected in later editions. There are a few areas where the technical descriptions of Yacht specs and manoeuvres could be made more transparent for the non-sailor and I think that an independent edit might have improved the flow of the tale(s) and at least eliminated some of the obvious typos.
Notwithstanding these minor criticisms, this is a smashing book and it is beyond belief how Chas can remember these stories in such detail after all these years. And all Kudos to Juliet for sticking with him for the best part of ten years to help thrash this ‘holocaust’ (as Chas might put it) into readable (very readable) form.
There are a few sailing memoirs that I have really been influenced by. Joshua Slocum’s book was one such as well as Neil Cheston and Simon Le Bon’s effort about the Drum adventure. I am confident that Chas and Juliet’s book(s) will do the same for many others.
[Personal digression – while I am not old enough – not quite yet – to have known JoshuaSlocum, I have had the pleasure of sailing with Neil Cheston – another ‘Renegade at Sea’. Neil was on the Swan 51 ‘Scoundrel’ the first time I had the chance to ‘represent HK overseas at a sporting event’ (a well known wheeze for Civil Servants looking for extra leave to go, for example, Yachting).
The event was the 1982 Sardinia Cup, an eye-opener for a naïve young Canuck as I was at the time. I got to learn about sail trim from heavies like Helmar Pedersen and sailed against some real rock stars. But the true eye opener was the insanity. I fit right in. My strongest memory of Neil is how, after a party sponsored by San Miguel (who dumped a pallet-load of beer on the pier after the racing one afternoon), his fluent Italian came into play getting three guys out of jail after they had been unjustly accused (and arrested) for throwing a handful of coins onto the hood of a Sardinian police car when the cops showed up to tell us to move the beer van off the pier. The Sardinian cops didn’t like us Yachties – we were having too much fun – and the night before two English foredeck guys – the Ball brothers – had been arrested at gunpoint for making too much noise outside a local bar. Anyway, Neil got the lads out of jail, with the assistance of Yacht designer German Frers and Peter Jolly and Brian Harrison, two well-known HK lawyers. No one ever found the actual perpetrator of the coin throw and besides, I apologized later to Gerry Shutt and ‘Led’, both of whom missed the following days racing due to being incarcerated.]
So there are still a few of us Renegades around. It’s still fun. As Simon Le Bon says on the front cover, “Read this book now’.
“Renegades at Sea – The Adventures of Chas from Tas’ by Juliet Prentice and Charles P Blundell is available in Hong Kong at the RHKYC Ship Shop or on-line through the Chas from Tas Facebook Page. Copies can also be had by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.