As the best cruising memoirs do, Wendy Hinman’s entertaining first book “Tightwads on the Loose: A Seven-Year Pacific Odyssey” rises above the pack by providing more than just the vicarious thrill of experiencing exotic anchorages and storms at sea.
Those necessary ingredients are there too, and Hinman adeptly takes readers on a vividly detailed journey as she and her husband cruise from Seattle to Mexico, the South Pacific, Japan and back, with many stops along the way. But the book also delves deeper, addressing the issues long-term cruisers grapple with, like how two different personality types can survive spending 24/7 together in a confined space and the ways in which cruising permanently alters one’s worldview.
In 2000, Hinman and her husband, Garth Wilcox, quit their jobs and sailed out of Seattle on their 31-foot boat, Velella. The considerably taller Wilcox couldn’t fully stand up in the boat, which at 8,000 pounds was not what many boaters would consider an ideal ocean-crossing vessel. But it fit their budget, and their desire to go cruising as soon as possible overruled the perfect-boat trap many aspiring cruisers fall into.
The couple’s adherence to the “go small, go simple, go now” philosophy of world cruisers Linn and Larry Pardey is a refreshing reminder that long-distance voyaging doesn’t necessarily require a big, costly boat with complex systems. Hinman and Wilcox, who live up to the book’s title, forgo onboard amenities such as refrigeration, a hot water heater, a generator or radar. They get by on a budget of $33 daily from the $1,000 monthly rental income on their Seattle house and are resourceful as they are frugal.
When they experience a catastrophic electronics meltdown in the Solomon Islands, they sail to Kwajalein, a remote U.S. Army base in the Marshall Islands, to find work and earn money to replace their ruined equipment. They hunker down for two years, during which time Wilcox, a naval architect, and a friend build a haulout trailer out of salvaged parts. Using parts sourced from junkyards, old machinery and under bushes, the men spend six months under blazing sun building the device, which they later sell for $10,000.
Hinman and Wilcox’s 34,000-mile adventure brought many other challenges, from a miserable passage to Fiji in 15-foot seas to dodging corrupt officials in the Philippines and dealing with stifling heat in Hong Kong. Hinman doesn’t sugarcoat the difficult aspects of their cruising, including her and Wilcox’s sometimes conflicting personality traits.
A self-described “experience junkie,” Hinman is spontaneous and social, a marked contrast to her even-keeled, more introverted husband. As Hinman enthusiastically immerses herself in as many aspects of local culture as possible, Wilcox is often content reading a book or tackling boat projects. And while she would have preferred to continue voyaging indefinitely, he yearns to return to Seattle, tackle new career challenges and build them a boat.
Despite their differences, the pair share an innate curiosity about the world and a wry sense of humor that unite and sustain them. Hinman’s engaging writing takes readers along as they snorkel in the South Pacific, take in America’s Cup events in New Zealand and explore some of the places Wilcox visited decades earlier while sailing around the world with his family as a teenager.
Hinman writes compellingly about the bewildering disconnect the pair experienced after learning of the Sept. 11 attacks over their radio while sailing from Bora Bora to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Being far removed from the attacks and their aftermath, Hinman found herself unable to relate to the grief and devastation felt by friends and family back home. When her mother mentions the eerie quiet during the post 9/11 flight bans, Hinman notes that the absence of airplane noise had become normal for her, albeit for very different reasons. She wasn’t prepared, she realizes, for how irrevocably the attacks changed the world.
Lively, thoughtful and entertaining, “Tightwads on the Loose” offers a realistic glimpse into the ups and downs of living the cruising dream. Armchair sailors can enjoy the ride, while aspiring voyagers will appreciate Hinman’s honesty. She aptly demonstrates that like most worthwhile pursuits, long-distance voyaging is far from easy, and that’s a large part of what makes it so satisfying.