Pacific Lady

pacific lady

I don’t know the first thing about sailing. In fact, I’ve only been on a sailboat twice in my life. Once some friends of mine heard that I had never been sailing, they blindfolded me and guided me down a dock. When I opened my eyes, we were on a sailboat at sunset, on Lake Union in Seattle. We sauntered on the water while eating cheese and drinking wine until the sun fell and the air grew chilled. And then we went in.

The second time was much the same. I’ve never been on waters with any chop.

It’s quite clear that Sharon Sites Adams’s experience was nothing like this.

Pacific Lady is the story of this indomitable woman who, for reasons that remain somewhat mysterious, decided in the early 1960s to start sailing across the world. Alone. After her divorce, she had about as much experience on sailboats as I have. But something within her insisted that she change her life. In 1969, she sailed from Japan to California, by herself, in 74 days.

Good god.

It’s an incredible story. Still, you could not have told me, when I first picked up the book, that I would be riveted by it. As fascinating as the story goes, Karen Coates is the woman who breathed the wind into those sails.

If you don’t know her work already, Karen Coates is the Asia correspondent for Gourmet magazine. Her writing, incisive and sometimes haunting, always makes me hungry. The deeper feeling, however, is of something opening. When I read her brilliant blog, Rambling Spoon, I feel transported to a world I might never know personally. And her words, along with the searing photographs of her husband, don’t point to a glossy-magazine lifestyle. Recently, she wrote about witnessing an exorcism in a tiny village on the India-Nepal border. Reading that, you know there’s an entirely different Asia than the shiny image portrayed in the Olympics.

Mostly, Karen stops me with her writing. I’m always left feeling like the world is wider, and I am much smaller, after reading her insights.

So it makes sense to me now that Karen could bring Sharon Sites Adams’s story so to life in my mind. I’m left, many months after first reading this book, with the expansive sense of the ocean. All that immensity. One lone woman on the edge of the earth.

If you buy this book — and I hope you do — you might notice a familiar name on the back cover. Karen asked me to write a quote in support of the book. I might as well share that with you here, to entice you to buy it:

Pacific Lady tugged at me from the opening story. Even though I know nothing about sailint and solo ocean crossings, I was mesmerized by Sharon Sites Adams’s determination, curiosity of the world, and intrepid spirit. When she embarked on her trip across the Pacific Ocean alone, I simply could not put down the book until I knew that she had made it safely home. Karen Coates has done a graceful job of translating this singular story into spare, elegant prose. I will never forget it.”

You may not be interested in sailing either. But this book? You’ll be fascinated by Pacific Lady.