Voyaging in the World

I read World Voyagers in a fever. Literally. The solid 427-page book had rested on a side table since my friend Whistle (Virginia) Wood presented the tale of circumnavigation to me as a gift. I picked it up this week because I was on enforced rest due to a bout of bacterial infection and needed something to read. Written by Virginia’s sister, Amy Peters Wood, and Philip Shelton, the book touts itself as “the true story of a veterinarian, a renaissance man, and Stewart the Cat.” My other handy option was an Alzheimer’s memoir that I was reviewing for work. That felt too much like work.

I’m not a sailor. I rarely read non-fiction. But before the crew reached New York after a false start from their home berth in Maine, I was hooked. This is real-time, real-life storytelling in an independently published book. Pulled from the ships’ logs, a blog kept by Woods and Shelton, and hundreds of photographs, it’s full of gritty details and a good dash of voyager philosophy.

I am an animal lover. I loved Stewart from his debut appearance. Without giving away plot, I can warn you that you will shed some tears over Stewart before the voyage is done. You’ll also meet a cast of characters that would be hard to create: the 86-year old who is on his third circumnavavigation, solo; the tragic Spaniard; the group of lion rehabilitators who are working to save the big cats from heartless hunts. And about a hundred more – including the less savory – pirates, officials on the take, and at least one sleaze on the make.

The writing is fresh, edited at a minimum. It has not been work-shopped in 10-page segments or prodded and poked into sleek digestible bits. The dialog can get awkward at times, but in truth it sounds like the stilted language of people who are meeting for the first time. However, the give and take between Shelton and Wood is lively, very real and salted with humorous exchanges.

Told in Wood’s voice, we also get a sense of her dedication to animals, be they koalas in Australia or the ill-fated lions in South Africa. She brings along her vet kit, offering to spay and neuter other sea-going pets with no-nonsense snipping and clipping. She doesn’t steer away from the big life questions either, since the three-year voyage also straddled 9/11.

I started reading World Voyagers because my friend’s sister wrote it. But by the time the boat, the Iwalani, arrives back to Cape Cod Canal to meet up with family (including my friend Whistle), I found myself thinking about the fact that we are all more alike than different – including our animal fellow travelers. At its heart, World Voyagers is a love story of a veterinarian, a renaissance man, a cat and the world in which we all live.

Find this book. Don’t wait for a fever, read it now!

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