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A Fish Flew Through the Porthole: A Sailing Adventure by a Very Reluctant Sailor by Gerri Miller
A couple in their sixties set sails for 8,000 miles alone to fulfill a dream trip for one of them.

I started reading this book expecting the usual sailboat adventure of novice sailors. Instead, the story unfolded into a personal account by "a reluctant sailor" who lets us in on the mettle it takes to undergo passage of 8,000 miles round trip from San Francisco to New Caledonia with only her mate. When I finished the tale of these sixties-something sailors anxiously buying, outfitting their 32-foot sailboat, and crossing the Pacific Ocean, I realized I had just read a love story that wasn't written as such.  --Larry S. Jackson, publisher

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Who would have guessed that retired accountant Dale Miller had a dream of traveling around the world on the open sea as the captain of a sailboat? And who would have guessed that his wife, Gerri, could have been cajoled into joining him?

The dream coalesced in the late '90s when the couple sold their house in Paradise and moved to the Oregon coast.

The couple -- well, Dale, actually -- found a boat to buy when they visited Puget Sound. The Wind Gypsy, writes Gerri, was "the boat. Apparently she called to him, but not loudly enough for me to hear. She was a Down Easter, a brand that is built specifically for blue water cruising and is very heavy and sturdily constructed. But how long was she? A mere 32 feet. I realized if we purchased this boat, I would have to do some major compromising because there would be no room for any crew to live aboard and my idea of just going along for the ride wouldn't work. I would really have to become a competent sailor."

The entire story of the 8,000-mile adventure, which took the couple from San Francisco to New Caledonia, is recounted with uncommon humor and brilliant writing in A Fish Flew Through the Porthole: A Sailing Adventure Narrated By a Very Reluctant Sailor by Gerri Miller ($19.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing out of Chico).

Only a few copies of the book were printed and they quickly sold, but there should be a copy in the Butte County library. You might write the publisher, and request the book be reprinted. "A Fish" is simply wonderful reading; Miller's style is lively and literate, and she has paced her story so there is never a dull moment -- even when she's bemoaning another day of -- as she writes -- "NO WIND!"

The great adventure began as part of a "cruise-around-the world group which was called Pacifica '97." The Wind Gypsy needed a lot of repairs; Gerri notes the old saying that "a boat ... was a hole in the water surrounded by wood into which your poured money."

More importantly, "I knew that unless some sort of miracle occurred, anxiety would grip my stomach in an iron vice every time I stepped on a boat." But, she continues, "I decided to forget all that. I would reinvent myself starting right then. ... I decided right then and there that I was going to do it in spite of doubts, fears, nervous moments and just plain terror," for Dale's sake.

It was September. Just the trip down the coast to Newport was daunting. Gerri says it took "five days and nights (120 hours) traveling, to cover the same distance we could have driven in six hours or flown in 90 minutes."

Eventually five couples embarked on the round-the-world journey (though only one eventually completed it). Some five weeks before the trip, Dale (who was 64) had had prostate cancer surgery. The couple debated what to do but Gerri (who was 62) realized that the time for Dale to live his dream had come. The couple decided to go for it.

The worst was not the storms but the calm, the seemingly endless number of windless days near the equator. "Just try to imagine what it was like to have been floating on the water for 24 hours a day for seven days, out of sight of land. ... There is no turning back. You can't change your mind. You are stuck, and furthermore, here are two very important things no cruising magazine ever told you about. Number one is: You can't get off the boat! ... The second hard fact is: The motion never stops!" In the galley, things were pretty tight. "The good part was that you could stand in one spot and reach everything. That bad part was that standing in one spot was impossible. Why? All together now: Because the motion never stops!"

Neither does this book, as Gerri fights with Mother Nature and her own anger, and the results are by turns harrowing and hilarious. Eventually the journey ends, with the couple returning to live in Chico. But the story of "A Fish" is a captivating tribute to a dream and a 43-year marriage that stood the test.--Dan Barnett, "Biblio File," Chico Enterprise-Record

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