Carnett: No adventurous spirit? Enjoy the feats of others

I'm no sailor.

As a matter of fact, I've been known to lose a meal over a vessel's heaving (no pun intended!) deck. It's a practice guaranteed to win few friends.

But I do love a good maritime narrative that depicts human courage and conflict and can be calmly read from my Kindle screen in the safe anchorage of my sun-splashed living room.

Some months ago that's exactly how I read historian Walter Borneman's World War II nonfiction work, "The Admirals." Borneman's book details roiling sea battles waged throughout the Pacific Theater and focuses on the distinctive careers of U.S. Navy Adms. Chester Nimitz, William Halsey, William Leahy and Ernest King.

I also read Eric Metaxas' compelling work, "Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery." The book tells the remarkable story of Wilberforce — the physically diminutive but morally towering British abolitionist — who tenaciously steers a decades-long battle to its ultimate conclusion. As a consequence, he becomes a hero to America's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

Metaxas' book delivers illuminating detail about the Middle Passage –- a horrific and repugnant scheme for transporting slaves from West Africa to the West Indies. Human cargo was packed into the bowels of overburdened ships and, for centuries, innocent people died by the millions. Wilberforce's campaign finally brought the loathsome practice to an end.

I'm just finishing Caroline Alexander's page-turner, "The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition." It's one of several gripping accounts written in recent years about the Endurance's risky adventure.

The book recounts Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton's 1914-17 quest to become the first person to traverse the Antarctic continent.

In 1907, Shackleton got to within 100 miles of becoming the first man to reach the South Pole but because of health issues and failing supplies, his party was forced to turn back. In 1911, Norway's Roald Amundsen beat Shackleton to the punch by reaching the pole first.

In 1914, Shackleton embarked upon a new challenge. His goal was to cross the entire continent on foot, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea.

Leaving the island of South Georgia in December 1914, Shackleton and his crew of 28 sailed aboard Endurance toward the continent at the bottom of the globe. A month later, Endurance became encased in the death-grip of a polar ice field. Soon, the party was marooned on an ever-thickening floe.

In October of 1915, the ship was crushed by ice pressure, forcing abandonment. Shackleton and his men walked across ice floes on a journey that took five months. When they reached Elephant Island, Shackleton and five companions set off in a small boat for the whaling station on South Georgia Island, 800 miles away.

On May 10, 1916, after reaching South Georgia, they began a 10-day overland trek to reach the station at Stromness.

Shackleton finally rescued all of his men — without a single loss — on Elephant Island on Aug. 30, 1916.

In contrast to my queasy approach to things nautical, my good friend, retired Orange Coast College counselor Steve Goetz, does more than just read historical nonfiction. He endeavors to touch it firsthand.

Steve, who served on OCC's faculty for more than 20 years and was Orange County's Community College Teacher of the Year in 2001, has been fascinated by the Antarctic since his college days, when he began reading about the deeds of Shackleton and Amundsen.

Last year, after retiring, Steve and his wife, Peggy, set out for Antarctica.

Steve will discuss their subsequent adventures April 16 at a public meeting of the Friends of OCC's Library. The presentation begins at 7 p.m. in the campus Library. Admission is $5, or the donation of a "gently used" book.

"Antarctica is one of the most breathtaking adventures Peggy and I have ever experienced," Steve said. "The continent is a pristine wilderness, and its scale is almost inconceivable."

Goetz promises to lace his lecture with photos, anecdotes, natural and biological wonders, and historical accounts.

His lecture is tailor-made for armchair adventurers just like me.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World