While men still challenge the sea, with its calms and tempests, beauty and fury, there will always be more to tell and more worth telling. In this issue, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED publishes the first of two parts of The Ultimate Storm, a truly gripping story of seamanship and human courage from a book by William Albert Robinson, To the Great Southern Sea, which Harcourt, Brace will publish next week.
One of the foremost living authorities on sailing the high seas, Robinson has become almost a legend among deep-water mariners. His first book told of circumnavigating the earth in the 32-foot ketch Svaap, the smallest craft ever to accomplish the feat under its own sail. His second reported an expedition to the Galàpagos Islands which nearly ended in tragedy as Robinson developed a ruptured appendix and was saved by a miracle.
While recovering, he returned to Tahiti, the island he had fallen in love with when he stopped there during Svaap's round-the-world voyage. This time he meant to stay. "But," he writes in his latest introduction, "a strong New England conscience kept whispering that I must do something more serious with my life."
He came back to this country to build ships. As he built he also sailed, until Pearl Harbor turned his small Ipswich shipyard into a 24-hour-a-day factory for minesweepers and submarine chasers. Robinson's sailing reduced itself to residence in the shipyard basin aboard his unfinished dream ship, a composite brigantine named Varua.
With the war over, he liquidated his shipyard, returned to Tahiti for good on the still uncompleted Varua. Then in 1951 he sailed her from Tahiti on the 15,000-mile Pacific voyage which is the subject of the book from which SI has taken The Ultimate Storm.
"Deep down," Robinson writes (page 32), "I knew that I had never seen the ultimate in storms, when my ship and I would be put to the final great test. And deep down I always wondered how, when it happened, we would meet it."
It is a story, which I believe will quickly rank—for narrative excitement, for understanding of water and ships and man's place on them—among the classics of sailing.