My husband and I moved to Toronto in 2000, and we didn’t know anyone in the city. Soon after we arrived, we joined a cooperative sailing club, mostly to meet people and spend some time. Sean had sailed before, but I was a novice. While I did love the social part of sailing (every class was followed by beers and a potluck by the lake, and what can be better than that) I really discovered a love of being on the water. Sailing is such a unique combination of excitement, peacefulness, challenge and relaxation. These days we have two small children, so we’re not sailing and I miss it very much (we do plan to get back into it in a few years, and our long-term goals involve saving up for a cruiser).
Beth Powning’s The Sea Captain’s Wife brought me right back to those sailing days. Set in the 1860’s, the story is narrated by Azuba, the daughter of a shipwright, who grew up in a port town on the Bay of Fundy. She marries a sea captain, and has visions of sailing by his side, exploring exotic foreign locales. However, once married, the captain decides the perils of the sea are too great and he forbids Azuba from joining him–until a local scandal involving his wife forces him to take his family on a voyage. At first Azuba finds the ship an unfriendly, foreign world, surrounded by men, rules, and an angry husband. But she is up to the challenge, and determined to learn how to be useful on the ship, while saving her marriage.
Powning does a great job evoking the joy of the open water, and the glorious feeling of sun on the face and the smell of fresh, salty air. She terrifically depicts the harrowing aspects of life at sea—unpredictable weather, uncomfortable living conditions, fear of pirating. Most interesting is the unique circumstances of the women in this male-dominated world (Powning’s research includes the diaries of women who sailed with their captain husbands in the nineteenth century).
I would have preferred a different ending to the book. Nevertheless, The Sea Captain’s Wife is an engaging, adventuresome read that transported me entirely.