Rip Rap July 1, 1998 Issue

River of Forgotten Days

When it comes to promoting my books, my wife says I’m much too shy. She tells friends that I won’t even ask a book store clerk if they have one of my titles in stock. (In the big super stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders, often carrying 100,000 titles, I’ve found Steered by the Falling Stars under “Travel,” “Travel Essay,” “Sports,” and “Of Local Interest.”) Maybe one reason I’m reluctant to ask is that I always expect the clerk to give me an incredulous look, as if to say, “Never heard of it.” Or, “That title didn’t sell well.” (Indeed, Steered by the Falling Stars is out of print.)

Well, this month’s editorial is an unabashed self-promotion for River of Forgotten Days, published in May by Henry Holt & Co. ($23; 800/288-2131). Those of you who have been with us for a few years may recall my March 1, 1996 editorial, “Putting the Hammer Down,” in which I summarized the 1,400-mile trip I took in the summer of 1995 with my young son Steve and daughter Adriana. We bought a 20-foot powerboat, trailered it to Starved Rock Marina, 90 miles southwest of Chicago, then traveled down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico.

The trip culminated a 20-year interest in the 17th century French explorer, Robert de La Salle, the first European to journey all the way down the river to the gulf (in 1682), thereby proving it emptied into the Spanish Sea and not the Vermilion Sea (Gulf of California) or the Sea of Virginia (Chesapeake Bay). There on the marshy firmament of the delta, La Salle donned his crimson coat, stuck a flag in the soil and claimed for France the entire watershed of the Mississippi, 1.25 million square miles of land—41% of the continental US.

The recent attention given Lewis & Clark’s 1804 expedition to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, slightly annoys me in that no mention is made of the man who made all this possible—La Salle. If he hadn’t claimed it, then possibly the English or Spanish would have. Maybe we Americans would have ultimately taken it for ourselves anyway, but it probably would have taken a war and a higher price than the $20 million Napoleon charged.

There is a little sailing in the book, but not much (a brief relation of a cruise in search of La Salle’s ship, the Griffon, first ship on the upper Great Lakes that sank in 1679). Mostly it’s about driving down the river and camping out on the beautiful white sand towheads, playing Huck & Tom on the great river that divides the continent. And there are my usual musings about fathers and sons and daughters and boats and the vanishing wilderness. In the words of Eddy L. Harris, author of Mississippi Solo and Still Life in Harlem, who graciously offered a quote for the dust jacket, “It is a great read and will have us all journeying in search of something larger than ourselves.”

A good cruise—whether by sail or power—is always two journeys in one, the outer and the inner, and any adventure with one and not the other is incomplete.

—Dan Spurr


Alarm Annunciator
The buzzers that come with engine panels generally are not made for marine use and do not last very long. I have had very good success by replacing these inexpensive panel alarms with a Preco model ELT-248 truck back-up alarm made to mount on the undercarriage of a truck. You hear them on garbage and delivery trucks. The annoying “beep-beep” sound is loud and attention getting, and can be heard over the noise of the engine. The units cost about $30 at auto parts stores.

—Bill Seifert


And Now They’re Down
Just after reporting in the April 1 issue that North American sailboat sales for 1996 were up 11% for 1996, we now hear that sales for 1997 fell 9.4%.


The number of units as reported by The Sailing Company, publishers of Cruising World and Sailing World magazines, dropped 1,496 units from 15,939 to 14,443. Boats under 20' dropped 15% and boats over 36' dropped 12%. In the mid-size range (20' to 35') however, sales rose 16%.

The study also reported that the bareboat charter business is booming, having increased 23% in 1997 over the previous year. It listed the number of charter weeks as 37,594, accounting for $76 million of business.

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