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Atlantic High [Secure eReader]
eBook by William F. Buckley

eBook Category: Sports/Entertainment/People
eBook Description: Ostensibly the tale of his 1980 voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic High is William F. Buckley's extended meditation on the pleasures of sailing and good company. Not surprisingly, as much thought seems to have gone into stocking the wine cellar as to charting out the route. Kon-Tiki, this is not, but nor is it meant to be. Instead, it is an essay on appreciation, and a chance for Buckley to share his spirited point of view and exercise his unique sense of humor. After a leisurely, aside-filled discussion of other trips, Buckley sets out with several close friends and a photographer to make his second trans-Atlantic crossing. The first provided the basis for his popular book, Airborne. When asked by People magazine why he chose to make the journey again, Buckley replies with characteristic drollness, "the wedding night is never enough." It is a passion for sailing that motivates Buckley and enlivens his pages. The book ranges fluidly from observation to speculation, from humorous character sketch to wry editorial commentary. It is peppered with anecdotes, including one in which Buckley, armed with a hacksaw, breaks into a boatyard to steal his own boat back from an unscrupulous repairman. In another, an aide to president Reagan calls to discuss a conflict brewing in Africa, and all Buckley can think about is the weather ahead of him and his crew. The real focus of Atlantic High, however, is the voyage and the crewmembers who share it. From the Mujeres Islands to Fiji to Bermuda, to Sao Miguel and Gibraltar and beyond, the reader is treated to Buckley's observations of the places he visits and the people he encounters. A work as hard to categorize as Buckley himself, Atlantic High offers a glimpse into the good life on the high seas.

eBook Publisher: RosettaBooks/RosettaBooks, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2002

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It was 11:30 at night and I was sprawled in the recesses of an armchair, in the living room of the hotel suite, doing a little listless reading, a glass of vodka and grapefruit juice at hand (the ingredients are packed by my wife when I tour); heavy with the fatigue that always hits after your hosts have finally returned you to your quarters -- after the reception -- after the question period -- after the speech -- after the dinner: a fatigue to which you don't want instantly to surrender by sleeping, because the sweetness of decompression is too keen. You are alone! You aren't talking! You will be able to sleep seven hours, before rising to go on to the airport for the next engagement. The telephone rang.

"This is Christopher. Christopher Little. Gee I'm terribly sorry to ring you so late--"

Christopher regularly apologizes when he calls, as if his presence were somehow burdensome. In fact it brings pleasure.

"Apologize to me?" I said. "God," I looked at my watch, "it's two-thirty in New York! You are in New York?"

"Yeah. I know. But the editors of People are going wild. They want just one line from you -- there isn't room for more than one line -- on why you did it again."

"Did what again?"

"Sail across the Atlantic."

"What do they have surrounding the blank line?"

"Shall I read you the whole thing?"



I groaned, but not noisily -- and anyway, it was largely my fault. Nobody made me mention champagne or Scarlatti.

"Then they have the lead, in italics. It says: 'William F. Buckley, Jr., 54, is well-known as a conservative (TVs "Firing Line") and best-selling author (Who's On First). His reputation as an adventurer is less appreciated. Last month he set out from the Caribbean island, of St. Thomas to sail the Atlantic with four friends, four paid crew members and one intrepid photographer, Christopher Little--' "

"Who said you were intrepid?"

He laughed, Christopher laughs like a shy teenager, at once appreciative and self-effacing. "You did, in the story."

"Okay. Go ahead."

" ' -- aboard the 71-foot ketch Sealestial. It was Buckley's second such crossing; the first was the subject of his 1976 book, Airborne. Why would he try it again?' -- that's where they need the line."

"What comes after the missing line?"

" 'After 30 days at sea the Sealestial landed in Marbella early this month. Before beginning a book about the voyage -- Atlantic High, to be published by Doubleday next year, with photographs by Little -- Buckley wrote this account of the trip for People.' " Christopher paused. "That's it."

"Say: 'Buckley answered, "The wedding night is never enough." ' "

Christopher laughed. But he'd have laughed if I had said, " 'Buckley answered, "Toasted Suzy is my ice cream." ' " Christopher is that appreciative, but it pays to remember that he maintains very high standards. He is too nice to kill anyone; that apart, he is the kind of person about whom you would say, "Christopher Little would kill to get a good picture." It would have been totally accurate to say that Christopher Little damn-near killed himself to get some of the pictures he took. So I asked, cautiously, with that inflection of genuine curiosity necessary so that you don't give the impression you are asking for praise, "Do you think it's okay?"

"Yeah," said Christopher. Then there was that little social maneuver by which one treads cautiously away from any suggestion of sycophancy. "I think they'll like it."

Of the six (all told) who shared the whole or a part of the passage, I knew Christopher least well. I had set out to get a professional photographer, and he came to mind. His father and my brother had been classmates at Yale, colleagues at the Yale Daily News, and lifelong friends. But my first meeting with Christopher had been professional. He was assigned by Time magazine to photograph me in connection with the publication of one of my books. I found him charming, obviously intelligent, easily amused, handsome like his Danish mother. When his father Stuart W. (Stu has only the single affectation that he insists on the use of his middle initial) wrote a book about Joseph Papp, I was invited to the book party at the apartment of the Littles. There I had a chance to chat with Christopher and observe him in relaxation. Then there was yet another professional photography session, in what connection I don't remember.

I called my brother's charming and indiscreet daughter and told her I was looking for a photographer, but that since said photographer would be a member of my party, he had to be just right, because you don't set out across the sea to eat ninety consecutive meals across the table from someone who isn't exactly right. Priscilla, who had known Christopher since childhood, said he was splendid in every way. But Priscilla is only twenty-three years old, so (uncharacteristically) I decided to be a little more thorough, and called Christopher to ask if he would come around, as I wanted to talk to him about something.

The meeting was at my apartment on Seventy-third Street. Christopher was instantly disarming. "Look, Mr. Buckley [he said], I have to level with you. Priscilla confided to me over the phone what this is all about. I went out ten minutes later and found a copy of your book Airborne. I finished it at five this morning. I've always wanted to cross the ocean. I want to go on this trip, desperately. I will take the best pictures you ever saw."

I took the precaution of asking him for a portfolio of pictures and, during the weekend, I and Pat (wife) and son (also Christopher) viewed them, and were much taken by them, as I had been by him. The subject of remuneration came up and I asked him to let me know what his fee would be. As so often happens in tender social situations, the subject of money gets picked up like a dead mouse, the breath held until the creature is dropped in the garbage. Weeks went by, and three times I had to press him. "After equal amounts of thought and procrastination," he finally replied by mail, "I've arrived at some figures which seem to make sense." I was greatly disconcerted, not to say astonished, at learning that he intended to shoot a total of 270 rolls of film, or 9,720 pictures. I replied, "I now wish your letter had been delayed even further.... I find the figures too high, but it grieves me terribly to argue with you (or anybody) about money.... I'd be sullen, but not mutinous, with a total bill, including expenses, of [I gave a figure]; but I would be extremely unhappy if you were unhappy.... What shall we do?" To which he replied, "We are in complete accord on at least two points -- our enthusiasm for this grand project and our aversion to arguments about money. I accept your counteroffer without a trace of rancor. I hope this letter resolves our business and leaves us free to enjoy a venture which, frankly, is the most exciting single project of my career." Was ever a partnership better launched? Only the champagne was missing, but there would be time for that....

"How's everything else?" I asked on the phone.

"Great. When are you getting back?"


"The magazine will be out Monday. I might have a copy for you on Sunday."


"Thanks again. Sorry about the hour. But that's the way they work down here at deadline time."

We said good night. I thought, How quickly conventional habits are resumed. At eleven-thirty at night during the preceding month, far from being asleep, I was on watch duty. That was my one great big perk. I always took the watch from 8 P.M. to midnight, the dream watch. To be sure that's when, as navigator, I'd work out the star sights. But it meant you could sleep the night through, barring a difficulty the watch captain didn't want to take responsibility for: I was the captain, and always on call. Eating supper at seven tends to leave you undisposed for sleep at eight, though the two crew members (one chief and one Indian as we called them) who had the watch from midnight to 4 A.M. usually were asleep, if not by eight, by nine or a little later, unless their spirits and stamina were especially high -- there were even nights when the midnight watch slept not at all before going on duty, electing instead to read in the saloon, or play a little poker. Much depended on how greatly they had exerted themselves during the day.

The duty roster, by sailboat standards, was close to hedonistic: four hours on, eight hours off. The roster was systematically interrupted, in order to effect social rotation. To arrange this may strike you as easy, but that is only if you fail to reflect that chiefs and Indians are not interchangeable parts. There must be one chief on watch, which meant me, or Reggie (we've sailed together twenty-five years) or Danny, who is a chief though only in his late twenties, like Christopher (Christopher is an Indian because although he has sailed, he is not in Danny's league, Danny having for four years skippered my yawl, taking out charter parties, and sailed and raced with me since he was thirteen). Van is an Indian, even though he is my age and has sailed with me practically since our college days together. There is something about Van, who is omnicompetent as a banker, and as a human being, that resists that incremental effort to dominate the art sufficient to earn a chief's star; and besides, he would laugh right through the graduation ceremony, causing shambles. Although Tony is younger even than Christopher and Danny, he is a chief, having spent most of the two years after he finished Harvard racing sailboats, including a transatlantic race. He is a seasick chief the first day or two of any leg, but shrewd, and sound of judgment, quiet-spoken, happier at the helm when it is winding up and the waves have hit their stride, even than when eating, though it's close.

So then, why do it again? I had given the People people a flip reply, but the metaphor is not inept. Sailing satisfies, for some people, a certain quiet lust. Sailing across the Atlantic is both an elemental and a social experience. There are those who like to do it alone, even as there are mountain climbers who want to do it alone. I admire them, but disdain that masturbatory lust -- you plus the sea plus the vessel are less than you plus the sea plus the vessel plus one or more companions. At one point during the crossing Danny evidently felt he had to say it, and did so even to an inanimate logbook: "This is one hell of a sleigh ride, Santa. Speed 10.15. Winds now gusting to 45 knots!" Would Danny have felt the same satisfaction if he had had only the logbook to speak to? Since first setting down my thoughts on the matter I have read Philip Weld's enthralling book Moxie, an account of his single-handed race from Plymouth to Newport (a coincidence: our passages were simultaneous) in which among other things he condescended to set a world speed record for single-handed Atlantic crossings. He is so persuasive on the distinctive pleasures of a solitary passage that he very nearly takes you into his net....

But then I return to my log, and read Tony's entry when risen at 4 A.M. to relieve the predecessor watch.

"Very cold and wet. Reg and Christopher somewhat happy and extremely exhilarated."

An experienced logbook reader, who is also an experienced friend of the principals, will know that that entry suggests ever so lightly that the oncoming chief detected, in the watch he was relieving, both natural, and synthetic, stimulants to the spirit.

How to substitute for such exchanges? It is required that you have aboard companions who take, and give, pleasure from refractions of every kind. Without them we lose what the social scientists so regrettably term the "interfaces." My conviction -- though, after reading Philip Weld, no longer dogmatically pronounced -- is that the entirety of the experience grows out of the sea and the shared experience, the operative word here being "shared." Because, without my companions, it would not have been possible to say that when, finally, after twenty-eight days, we tied in to the slip at Marbella at midnight, I knew what (usually set in other contexts) goes by the name of the repose of the soul.

Copyright © 1982 by William F. Buckley, Jr.

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