Narrative of the author’s attempt to sail singlehandedly as close as possible to the North Pole.
p. 36, his admiration for Nansen, as writer and explorer.
p. 48, in his cabin: There were pictures of Shackleton, Nansen, and Scott, all cut out of old ‘London Illustrated News’ magazines, and one of the queen at the forward end of the cabin.
p. 48-49: I scoured the secondhand bookshops of London for reading material. Some of the bargains I found were a complete works of Shakespeare, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a full set of Mark Twain’s works, Marx’s Das Kapital, plus definitive editions of Kipling, Byron, Wordsworth, and Keats, together with the works of W. B. Yeats and Wild. I also managed to scrounge several of Joseph Conrad’s books—The Nigger of the Narcissus, The Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim—and many of the Maigret books by Simenon, which I think much of. I also secured a copy of one of the greatest sailing fiction books ever written, The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, who was later shot as a traitor by the Irish Free State troops during the Irish troubles.
I found later in the voyage that I had a treasure indeed onboard in the books by Alain Gerbault In Search of the Sun and The Voyage of the Firecrest. I also had Cervantes’s Don Quixote and several scruffy volumes by Balzac and Dumas.
These, together with my Reed’s Nautical Almanac, the Admiralty Pilot for the Arctic Ocean East of Greenland; and Charles Darwin’s Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, were to be my appreciated companions during many long, dark nights to come.
So much for the modern works. Even more important than all these, with the exception, of course, of the navigational volumes, were the English translations of De mensure orbis terrae by the Irish monk Dicuil, written around A.D. 825, and the Venerable Bede’s accounts of Celtic settlement in Iceland up to the century before the Norsemen arrived there, De Ratione Temporum. I had notes on the account of the voyage made by the Greek geographer Pytheas of Massalia from Britain to Iceland (or Thule, as he called it) in 330 B.C. There was also a collection of translations of the works of Strabo and Pliny, written around the birth of Christ, which gave accounts of sailing directions from Britain to Thule. There were also scraps of written Celtic lore of the voyages of Saint Brendan to the islands of the North, and translations of the great Icelandic sagas. Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda and a history of Iceland entitled Islendingabókby Ari the Learned; also the Sturlunga saga and the Fornaldarsögur, the Sagas of the Old Times, Icelandic translations of the Celtic and Romance legends of Tristan and Yseult, or Erec and Blanchfleur, together with the classic Islandingasögur, the Saga of the Icelanders. These tales, woven of fact and fantasy, of calamitous cowardice and cold courage, are living proof of the leavening influence of the Celt on the savage Viking soul, for in no other Scandinavian culture was such a standard of heroic prose and poetry reached. Nowhere else did the blood gush from the word so wetly and redly, nor the sun rise in such paeans of splendor; nowhere else was man so human, not yet so godly, except in the old (much older than the Sagas) legends of the Gaels.
p. 217, in an Inuit hut: Around the inside of the wooden hut, there were pictures from Danish magazines and newspapers.
p. 219: For the whole of the arctic winter I ventured very little out of the boat…and read a great deal (I went through the whole of Shakespeare twice). I listened to the radio for a couple hours each day only, as I had to conserve the batteries…. [For lighting he used a stone seal-oil lamp to conserve his kerosene ration.]
p. 223, for an excerpt from Robert Service’s “My Husky Team” about huskies irrigating the Pole.
p. 243: If something I was reading dealt too heavily with the more profound aspects of existence, I put the book down and baked some bread, or repaired another sail, or had another go at straightening out the engine propeller shaft. [Daily routine included reading for an hour or so in mid afternoon. Also speaks here of shit and sex.]
p. 253: Then I lit the seal-oil lamp and, putting some of my rapidly diminishing charcoal on the heating stove, settled down to read. This was my only relief from the arctic conditions of cold, anxiety, loneliness, and, when the weather was bad, idleness… after drying out all my volumes, I had plenty to read, and I was cozy enough, with the little stone lamp sending up its slow, tiny wavering column of black smoke….
p. 273, trouble with his vision.
p. 276, on approaching land at last he makes a fetish of straightening out “the oil-smeared books in the repaired library….”