If this line from the prologue of The Other Side of the Ice: One Family's Treacherous Journey Negotiating the Northwest Passage was any indication of where the authors intended to take me, I had a feeling I was in for a wild ride. And that feeling was spot on.
Sprague Theobald narrates the story of his journey from Rhode Island to Seattle via the Northwest Passage, beginning with his lifelong passion for sailing. His first “lesson” came at age six when his mother sent him off to fend for himself in a twelve foot sailboat off the coast of Maine. He “figured out” how to make his way across a small cove and safely back home, a journey that marked the start of a relationship with boats that would last a lifetime.
Theobald toyed with the idea of navigating the Northwest Passage, a feat accomplished by only twenty-four pleasure crafts since 1906. It’s the same route two state-of-the-art (at the time) vessels and 129 men met their ends exploring in the 1840’s as part of the Franklin Expedition. For Theobald, navigating the treacherous seas linking the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans – the “Arctic Grail” – became more than the ultimate way to test his skills as sailor.
After being introduced to Theobald’s present, prior to the start of the trip, readers get a window into his past; years spent battling dyslexia, alcoholism, and often tumultuous relationships with his children as a result of divorce, remarriage, and all that comes with it. The trip, however dangerous and foolish it might’ve been to undertake, was a chance for Theobald to rebuild broken bonds and heal his family’s wounds.
After securing a vessel, the Bagan, the authors detail what it takes to get a crew and a ship ready for such an undertaking, including medical training, meal planning, understanding the intricacies of every piece of equipment on board, and determining where stops would be made. In addition to navigating seas few other crews successfully had over a 100-year time span, Theobald hoped to bring back enough footage for a documentary about the trip (watch the trailer here). He also hoped to show the effects of climate change on the people and wildlife that make their homes in the Northwest Passage.
Funding hardships and Theobald’s health issues plagued the trip before it even started, but Theobald refused to give up the dreams he had. Though it took me about a quarter of the book’s pages to get to a point where I couldn’t put it down, I absolutely got to that point. Theobald and Kreda do a fantastic job of tucking historical facts into the narrative, making the journey seem all the more real and impactful.
As the crew left Newport, Rhode Island, I found myself eager to read more of what I knew was to come. Theobald expressed doubts early on in the trip, including doubts in the captain he’d chosen, and though I knew how the story ended before I started reading, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened in the in-between. As the pages turned, I found myself rooting for Theobald, hoping he’d be able to reestablish relationships with his children.
Sefton, Theobald’s biological son, along with Dominique and Chauncey, Theobald’s stepchildren, all adults, all played a key role in the success or failure of each step of the expedition. The crew battled hungry polar bears, some of the worst weather in the world, and the challenges that come with spending months on a 57-foot yacht under extreme stress. By the end of the book, I felt connected to each member of the crew – the make of any strong story. And as their journey ended, I felt a sense of triumph on their behalf.
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I was lucky enough to receive a complimentary copy of the book for this review, and one of my favorite things to do with books I enjoy reading is to pass them on. Use the widget below to enter to win my (gently used and loved) copy of the book! Please be sure to leave some method of contact so we can get in touch if you win. Good luck! (Open to United States residents only.) And if you don't win, the book is also available on Amazon.
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