The unlikely journey of Jack de Crow
by Alexander Mackinnon
I spent the Christmas holidays rowing from North Wales to the Black Sea. Well, that's not exactly true of course but I have been following the fortunes of Alexander Mackinnon as he rowed and sailed a 30 year old Mirror dingy 4000 miles across Europe.
This is one of four books Bones lent me and she really has identified the sweet spot on my literary bat. The tale is a compelling both in terms of its scope of the undertaking and the quality of Mackinnon's writing. Mackinnon is an English and drama teacher who decided to end a six year stay at a school in Ellesmere with a boat trip from the school gates to Gloucester. If the journey down the Severn wasn't enough he decided to carry on - to Bristol, Oxford and then London all powered by his muscles and a bright red sail.
At the end of this first phase he was out of good weather and out of money, and so the tale pauses till the next spring when he sets his sights further afield. Dover, Calais and then right across Europe to the Black Sea via the sinuous network of continental rivers and canals. If the UK leg was hairy it had nothing on the terrors he faced in the open waters of the English Channel and the huge continental waterways frequented by vast steel barges. The fragile dingy was no match for these distant waters and yet somehow he muddled through.
Its a journey of endurance but its also one which highlights the spontaneous warmth of mankind, where strangers open their hearts, homes and lunchboxes to help him on his way. This spirit of comradeship was as prevalent in the war torn Balkans as it was on the more familiar France, Germany and Austria. Everywhere he went he found a friendly people (apart from the pirates!) and coupled with his insightful storytelling its an easy and absorbing read. I love madcap journeys undertaken by eccentrics in unsuitable craft, and this ticks all the boxes!
I did hear talk of a chap who planned to take his narrowboat from the Black Country to the Black Sea, and I cant see how this could be achieved but getting back 2500 miles up the Danube would be a mega slog. Has anyone ever done the trip? (Dec 12 - update. Have now read the accounts of Roger Pilkington and realised that a route exists which allows part of the Rhine to be navigated downstream and thus allowing access to the Rhine - Marne - Danube canal for low powered craft.)
Oh, I didn't damage the book - those are tooth marks from Boots who also found the book gave him something meaty to chew over!