Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings by Jonathan RabanPassage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings by Jonathan Raban

Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings

byJonathan Raban

Paperback | November 7, 2000

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With the same rigorous observation (natural and social), invigorating stylishness, and encyclopedic learning that he brought to his National Book Award-winning Bad Land, Jonathan Raban conducts readers along the Inside Passage from Seattle to Juneau. The physical distance is 1,000 miles of difficult-and often treacherous-water, which Raban navigates solo in a 35-foot sailboat.

But Passage to Juneau also traverses a gulf of centuries and cultures: the immeasurable divide between the Northwest's Indians and its first European explorers-- between its embattled fishermen and loggers and its pampered new class. Along the way, Raban offers captivating discourses on art, philosophy, and navigation and an unsparing narrative of personal loss.
Jonathan Raban lives in Seattle, Washington.
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Title:Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its MeaningsFormat:PaperbackDimensions:448 pages, 7.97 × 5.15 × 0.92 inPublished:November 7, 2000Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0679776141

ISBN - 13:9780679776147

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! Reader beware! When you sign on for this sailing venture through the Inside Passage you are in for more than you bargained for. Not only do you vividly undergo the highs and lows of Raban’s trip, you also experience the loss of his father (with a side trip to England for the death bed vigil) and the separation of his spouse (the book’s ending is somewhat clouded by this family issue). But these things are part of life, and Raban doesn’t gloss them over. Also, Raban blends his account with a retelling of George Vancouver’s unhappy 1792 exploration of the same waters. All in all, it’s quite a ride! Raban is great company and a great writer. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2009-11-07

Read from the Book

He was walking the dock; a big lummox, yellow hair tied back in a ponytail with a red bandanna, bedroll strapped to his shoulders. His plaid jacket looked like a fruitful research area for some unfastidious entomologist. I took him for a displaced farm boy, a Scandinavian type from Wisconsin or Minnesota, adrift in the new world of the Pacific Northwest. He held a scrap of paper, folded into a wedge the size of a postage stamp to keep its message safe inside. For what was evidently the hundredth time, he fingered it carefully apart and stared at the two words inscribed there in wonky, ballpoint capitals. "Pacific Venturer?" he asked. The late March sun (this was Seattle's first high-pressure, blue-sky day after weeks of low overcast) glittered in the pale stubble on his cheeks. "That's the boat I'm looking for. Pacific Venturer." He spoke the name syllable by syllable, and I could see him in first grade -- a large, vacant, uncoordinated child, already far behind the rest of the class. "You seen that boat, man?" Three, maybe four hundred boats were moored hull to hull at Fishermen's Terminal. They formed a wintry thicket, over fifty acres of water, of masts, spars, trolling poles, whip-antennae, radar scanners, deck-hoists, and davits. Looking at the names around us, I read Vigorous, Tradition, Paragon, Sea Lassie, Peregrine, Resolute, Star of Heaven, Cheryl G., Cheerful, Immigrant (a green cloverleaf blazoned on its wheelhouse), Paramount, Memories. I saw a Pacific Breeze, but no Pacific Venturer. "What is it -- a purse-seiner?" He took it as a trick question, staring at me as if I were an unfriendly examiner. He had Barbie-doll blue eyes. "I dunno. Salmon boat." He consulted the piece of paper in his hand. "Yup. That's a salmon boat -- I heard." He stank of the road -- of hitchhiking on interstates, diving in Dumpsters, spending nights in cardboard boxes under highway bridges, gargling with Thunderbird. "I been here since seven." It was two in the afternoon. Purposeful men were pushing past us, dressed in the local uniform of hooded smocks and black peaked caps, arms full of gear, impatient with the two rubbernecks in their path. "You better ask one of these guys." "I asked already." He shambled off -- "Be seeing you, man" -- up the next finger pier, and I could see his lips moving as he spelled out the words on the sterns of Oceania, Prosperity, Stella Marie, Enterprise, Quandary, lost among these resonant abstractions and women's names. The working men were giving him a wide berth. On his behalf, I kept an eye out for the Venturer; but if it had ever existed at all, it was probably now steaming for Ketchikan and points north. The boats were fitting out, at the last minute, as usual, for their spring migration to the Alaskan fishing grounds. The resinous, linseed-oily smell of varnish and wet paint hung thickly in the still air of the terminal, and there was the continuous happy racket of electric saws and sanders, hammers, drills, and roaring blowtorches. Diesel engines were being hastily disemboweled, their black innards laid out, part by part, on afterdecks, while their bloody-knuckled owners muttered to themselves as they puzzled over camshafts and clearances. Pickup trucks, laden to the gunwales, were drawn up alongside those boats that were now most nearly ready to leave, and wholesale boxes of Dinty Moore stew and Campbell's soup and plastic-wrapped bales of toilet tissue were being swung aboard on hoists. On the broad plaza of the net-mending area, a man and a woman were "hanging web": threading white, cigar-shaped floats at two-foot intervals along the top of their quarter-mile gill net. The jade-green, gossamer nylon mesh shimmered at their feet like a river. In Seattle, the city of virtual reality, it was always a pleasure to come to this last bastion of old-fashioned work, with its nets, crab pots, paintbrushes, and carpentering; to its outdoor faces, seamed with experience; and to its long-established family air, generation following generation into the same industry. Grandparents, now too shaky on their pins to make the trip, were still important figures at fitting-out time. They drove trucks, varnished brightwork, repaired nets, tested circuits; unlike nearly all of their contemporaries, their skills had not dated. And beyond the grandparents there stretched the ghostly presences of European fishing communities on the fjords, bays, and sounds of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Ireland, from where most of the families had come. These, too, were commemorated in boat names: Cape Clear, Stavanger, Solvorn, Lokken, Tyyne, Thor, Saint Patrick, Uffda, American Viking. A clever parodist, tired of the prevailing Scandinavian homesickness, had christened his gill-netter Edsel Fjord. Centuries of seagoing converged on Fishermen's Terminal. Though its corrugated steel buildings, painted in pastel blue and beige, were new, the place felt older than the city in which it stood. Like the fishermen, it went a long way back. Its boats, built for the Pacific, were the direct descendants of the trawlers, smacks, and luggers of the North Sea and the Baltic. The high flared bow and steep sheer that had worked well in the Maelstrom waters off the Lofoten Islands were here re-created for service off the Aleutians. The trollers, with their upswept fifty-foot poles of raw fir, were old acquaintances, for I'd seen their ancient Dutch and Danish cousins. At Fishermen's Terminal the past -- and sometimes the far distant past -- was alive and usable, as it was almost nowhere else in the future-fixated United States. For someone my age, there was comfort in that. Most days, I found an excuse to drop by. I liked the boats, their redolent names, their house-proud captains, and the amiable, understated gossip of the sea. Now, with the sun come back from exile, and the voyage north and the fishing season stretching clear ahead, everyone radiated the nervous elation -- half high hopes and half cold feet -- that marks the start of a big adventure. The weeks to come were full of flawless promise. The reality of the season would take hold soon enough: unforecast gales and groundings, engine failures, fish gone AWOL, lost sleep, lost tempers, and all the rest. In a little while the fleet would be scattered over a thousand miles and more of water, from Dixon Entrance to the Bering Sea. Then each boat would become a stranger to the others; members of the same family, aboard rival vessels, would treat one another as spies. But in the communal ceremony of fitting out, tools and expertise were passing freely from boat to boat, as the moment neared when the last line is cast off, the goodbyes are waved, the screw makes the water boil under the stern, and the passage to Alaska is under way. I wanted as much of the mood as I could borrow for my own use. For this year I was going too -- not to fish, but to follow the fishermen's route; to go to sea in my own boat for the going's sake. I hoped to lay some ghosts to rest and come to terms, somehow, with the peculiar attraction that draws people to put themselves afloat on the deep, dark, indifferent, cold, and frightening sea. "Meditation and water are wedded for ever," wrote Melville. So, for the term of a fishing season, I meant to meditate on the sea, at sea. In the United States, wherever young men hang out together, on college campuses as in homeless shelters, this story went the rounds: if you could get to Seattle and talk your way aboard a fishing boat bound for Alaska, you could make $1,000 a day. Or more. Someone always knew someone who'd taken home $100,000, sometimes $200,000, for just two months' work. You could turn your life around on money like that -- buy a house, start a business, become captain of your own gold-spinning boat. In the land of self-reinvention, the Alaskan fishery was said to be a magical place where poor men were transformed, at a stroke, into rich ones. Eight weeks was all it took to make a hellacious sum of money. The young men flocked to Seattle in the spring to make their fortunes. They walked the docks, trying to ingratiate themselves with any captain who would speak to them. They were a pest, this seasonal ragtag band of college kids, druggies, winos, fugitives, unemployed computer programmers, checkout clerks, waiters, pizza-delivery drivers. The sea experience of many of these hopeful applicants amounted to no more than the occasional trip as a passenger on a ferry. Yet the most persistent "greenies" did eventually manage to get taken on, for a half share (5 percent) or a full one (10 percent) of net profits at the end of the voyage. Of these, a tiny handful finished up with a wad of money within crying distance of the fairy-tale numbers. There were just enough jobs for deckhands, and just enough money, to keep the supply of young men copiously flowing. The money talked loudest, but the sea talked too, with its antique promise of escape and adventure. Many greenies came from flat inland towns, and the only waves they knew rippled through the fields of standing wheat. But they'd read C. S. Forester, and they pined, in happy ignorance, for the yo-ho-ho of life at sea. In Des Moines, it's easy to dream fondly of the heaving deck, the gouts of freezing spray, the struggle with the net in fifty knots of wind, because nothing like that ever happens in Iowa. More than that, going fishing in Alaska was the last true western adventure. At the end of the twentieth century, the Alaskan fishery presented itself as a romantic anomaly -- an armed, masculine world of unbridled free enterprise, where a rolling stone, a latterday Huck Finn, on the run from the Widow Douglases of civilization, could still walk tall. For the boys (and some girls) at the back of the class, with no diplomas to their names, the fishery was their last shot at the exemplary American life of travel, excitement, and riches. Alaska liked to advertise itself as "The Last Frontier," a slogan tinged with self-canceling whimsy since it appeared on vehicle registration plates, courtesy of the state licensing department. If the phrase could now be held to mean anything at all, it belonged to the sea, not the land; and the sea around Alaska was a real wilderness, as wild and lonely as any territory in the American past.The Gulf of Alaska is a weather-kitchen. Pacific depressions, drifting over the ocean from the far southwest, hit the gulf, stall there, and intensify. As the atmospheric pressure at the center of the system sinks, the winds spinning around the hub speed up, to fifty, sixty, eighty knots. The waves build into untidy heaps; the sea goes streaky-white. Made steeper and impeded by the powerful tidal currents that pour out of the narrow passages between islands, the wave-trains turn near the coast into a short, precipitous, hollow sea of rearing fifty-foot crests and ship-swallowing holes in the water. These storms are a regular assignment for Alaska fishermen; for the greenie, they offer a crash course in retching misery and terror, keenly sharpened by the knowledge that every year boats go down in seas like this, all hands lost, due, in the standard phrase, "to stress of weather."  It was a last frontier in another sense, too. The great bonanza fisheries, from the Dogger Bank to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, were dead or dying, wrecked by overfishing, pollution, and disease. The local inshore fishery of the Pacific Northwest, on the Oregon and Washington coasts, had been exploited to exhaustion. In some areas, the chinook salmon -- which used to pack the rivers and inlets wall to wall -- had been nominated as an endangered species. At Fishermen's Terminal, dozens of little gill-netters, too small to make the Alaskan trip, lay abandoned, rotting at their moorings, with faded for sale notices in their wheelhouse windows. Their owners were on food stamps now, the boats -- and the once-valuable licenses that went with them -- going at yard-sale prices. Yet the Alaskan fishery went on. It was now more closely regulated than it had ever been, with a maze of small print governing season openings, boat lengths, net materials, and mesh sizes, an increasingly bridled free-for-all. But by comparison with what was happening elsewhere, the fishing in Alaska was still the Big Rock Candy Mountain of far-western fantasy, like the Comstock Lode, or the miles of virgin forest ripe for the chainsaw. Greenhorns walking the dock, hoping for a piece of this action, would find a frontier that was all but closed. True, you could make $1,000 a day long-lining for halibut. But the halibut season had been squeezed down to a few days, and the captains of the halibut schooners were able to pick and choose from a throng of experienced hands. No chance for the greenie there. Most gillnetters, and trollers, too, were family boats, husband-and-wife or father-and-son concerns with no room aboard for a stranger. A big crabber . . . maybe. A purse-seiner would be the greenie's best bet; though the boats themselves were small (58 feet the maximum length permitted in Alaska), the encircling net was maneuvered in the water by a big, slab-sided aluminum skiff with a 350-horse inboard motor. Crewing the parent boat and its skiff required at least four people, and sometimes six or seven; so purse-seiners sometimes took on an extra hand from outside the circle of family and friends. As the saying went, 10 percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the fish, and the crack purse-seiners in the fleet were known to everyone. When they hired extra hands, they chose people they knew. There remained the "shit-boat": a floating catastrophe, its captain on the sauce, its hydraulic power-gear on the fritz, its nets riddled with holes, its bronze sea cocks crumbling away with electrolysis and turning into waterspouts. Shit-boats took on greenies. On the dock, I was summoned by the captain of the Glenda Faye, a 58-foot purse-seiner. "You want to see a living miracle?" He had a paintbrush in one hand, a bottle of phosphoric acid in the other. "Watch this -- " He brushed a swath of acid across a nasty-looking fish tray that had taken on the appearance of an old, brown, badly oxidized oil painting. As the brush touched the surface, the rust dissolved and the original white metal showed through. "Magic! I never used this stuff before -- " "You could serve it up with a dash of soda and a slice of lemon." "They do that -- in Cana-nada." The Glenda Faye looked like a crack boat: built of steel and massively deep-drafted, the hull freshly painted in maroon with black trim. It carried more electronic gear than most, the wheelhouse roof fairly bristling with antennae. Through the galley window I could see mugs and dishes newly washed and neatly stacked to dry, spotless teak cabinetry, the wink of polished brass. A tidy ship. Last year's season had been good, the captain said. In one day, they'd netted $5,000 worth of "pinks." That was their red-letter day, but they'd come close to matching this haul several times as the boat worked round the inlets north of Dixon Entrance. He and his cousin ran the boat together. Each season they took on a crew of two or three. "College kids. Hard workers. No drugs, no smokes." Always family, or family friends. Last year, at settlement time, when the cost of fuel and grub had been deducted from the gross, each kid pocketed nearly $11,000 for his two months' work -- big money for a student's vacation job, but a far cry from the legends of instant wealth that kept the greenhorns coming to Seattle. "Did you talk to the blond guy with the bedroll who was here a bit ago?" "Which guy? There's a hundred like that." "Would you ever take on someone like him -- a stranger, walking the dock, looking for a boat?" He laid a lick of magic acid on another fish tray. "Most of those guys? I wouldn't use 'em for bait." Swiveling on his haunches to take a closer look at me, he guffawed at what he saw. "Hey, mister, you ain't looking to be taken on? Oh, boy!" Happy to contribute to the mirth of his afternoon, I shrugged and went off to do my shopping.

Bookclub Guide

A conversation with Jonathan Raban, author of Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its MeaningsQ: You’re a Brit living in America, writing passionately and brilliantly about this country. How did your kinship with the U.S. begin, and how has it evolved from book to book?A: For "kinship" read "bewildered fascination." Oh, it began in infancy, in Norfolk, England in the last days of World War II. There was an American air force base just down the road from where we lived. Americans - larger in every way than the scrawny English after five years of wartime rationing - rode past our house in open armored cars, tossing sticks of gum from their PX , and the village kids scrabbled for them in the dirt. I wasn’t a village kid, and to my enormous disappointment, my mother forbade me from joining the melee. But I have made up for that since. First, in my early teens, I was besotted by American rock music - Bill Haley and his Comets, Frankie Lymon, Elvis Presley... Then came American novels. Huckleberry Finn was a childhood favorite, then Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, then, when I was at university, the novels of Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, the young Philip Roth. The poems of Robert Lowell (whom I later came to know). These were liberating influences. Postwar British fiction and poetry seemed terribly dry by comparison to these wonderfully fluent, extravagant Americans. My first job - long before I had set foot in the U.S. - was teaching American literature at the University College of Wales, then at the University of East Anglia. So when I came to visit this country for the first time (in 1972, when I took up a visiting professorship at Smith College, in Northampton, Mass), I had been living in a richly populated imaginary America for a long time. I continue to live in that strange world now. I think that only the reader can judge how it has evolved in my books.Q: You’ve traveled down the Mississippi in a 16-foot boat (Old Glory), roamed from place to place around the country in Hunting Mister Heartbreak, explored eastern Montana and western North Dakota in Bad Land. How do you choose your destinations? Where else in the U.S. would you like to write about?A: Old Glory and Hunting Mister Heartbreak were books written (mostly) from England about a foreign land. But in Bad Land I was trying to write about home, trying to make imaginative sense of the lives of an earlier generation of European immigrants, using their experience to inform mine, and vice-versa. Going to Ismay, Montana wasn’t a journey, or a destination, that I chose; it chose me, because my friend, like many people who finally found their way to Seattle, had come from there, and I wanted to borrow his family history for my own. If I could plant my feet in the shoes of his grandparents, and look out through their eyes, I thought I might be able to make better sense of my own situation here... I see Bad Land as the first book in a loose trilogy about living here in the Pacific Northwest; Passage to Juneau continues and elaborates the theme. The third book, a novel, will be set right here, in Seattle.Q: Tell us how you came to write Passage to Juneau.A: Bad Land was really a sea-story, about shipwreck, set a thousand miles inland on the dry prairies. Writing it, I came to see that there was another story I wanted to explore, really a land-story set at sea. Since 1990 (when I came to live in Seattle), I had been spending as much time as I could sailing around Washington and British Columbia, mostly on the waters of the Inside Passage, but also venturing out into the open Pacific, off the coast of Vancouver Island. The more I sailed, and sopped up the lore of our tricky local sea, the more I saw that the water here was a "place", as full of intricacy and character as any sweep of land. For the coastal Indians, the surface of the sea was their primary workplace - it was where they fished, fought their wars, traded goods, met their wives and husbands... They had names for every feature of the water - many more names for the sea than they had for the surrounding land. The cedar canoe was their equivalent of the horse and carriage, or the Ford Taurus. To understand the true history of the Northwest, the essential character of this landscape, you have to get into the mindset of a canoe-Indian, and learn to see the water as a place, with the forests and mountains as mostly undifferentiated space.        So I needed to sail to Alaska in order to understand this other, watery dimension of my new home. I wanted to take my place in that floating cavalcade of Indians, white explorers, fishermen, missionaries, anthropologists, loggers, tourists, and everyone else for whom the water here has been important. I wanted to explore the many meanings of the sea by focusing on the sea in my own backyard - a sea providentially rich in history and significance.        At the outset, I thought that writing a waterborne book, set along the 1000-mile length of the Inside Passage, would be a good way - as Bad Land had been - of putting down my own roots here, and making myself belong to this landscape. That was before I made the voyage - which, as it turned out, damned near uprooted me altogether...Q: In Passage to Juneau, you write about your journey from Seattle to Alaska; Captain Vancouver covered the same territory in 1792-1794, a voyage that you describe vividly. Tell us about Captain Van, and his trials and tribulations.A: My alter ego. Short, fat, unwell, pop-eyed, socially inadequate. I am intensely fond of him. Humanly, he was a dry stick; an old fogey at 34. He was saddled with a bunch of fashionable, upper-class midshipmen, who despised him. He was perfectly out of touch with the great movements of his time. The Romantic glory of wilderness quite passed him by. What he would have liked to discover here was a sort of far-western version of Middlesex, Kent, and Surrey. What he found was a country of hideous and gloomy mountains, ugly cascades, depressing forests, and a sea of baffling tides and ship-swallowing whirlpools. He was the Pacific Northwest’s least likely immigrant...        But he supplies a wonderful pair of eyes for a writer to look out through - he’s a far more interesting character than the young fashionables, who were able to see the Northwestern wilderness as the apotheosis of the Romantic Sublime.        "Sublime? Bah!" says Captain Van, whose invariable descriptive term for craggy, snowcapped mountains was "sterile". He was a brilliant navigator and map-maker, but grimly literal-minded when it came to people and landscape. In the book, he’s a foil to everyone, from the midshipmen, to Wordsworth and Shelley, and John Muir, and me. I mustn’t make him sound like a monster, for he’s utterly sympathetic in his unhappiness -- and I think it was profound -- at finding himself here.Q: Have you always been adventurous, the kind of person for whom travel and exploration are crucial to survival?A: What? I think you’ve got the wrong writer. I am timid in the extreme. My travels, such as they are, are safe and unadventurous. I travel furthest and deepest in libraries, not over the water or over the ground. I’ve never climbed a proper mountain, never crossed an ocean under my own steam, or sail. I am sedentary and bookish by nature; a stay-at-home. I think you must have been thinking of Jon Krakauer.Q: You capture the American psyche through its people and places. Do you find it easy to walk into a place you’ve never been and get people to open up? Is that just part of being a writer?A: I do a lot of looking, and a good deal of listening. I never "interview" people. But being alone on a journey for any stretch of time makes one hungry for company, and I am always grateful for whatever scraps of conversation come my way. I don’t go searching for "characters," but I enjoy chance encounters with anyone who happens to cross my path...not very many in Passage to Juneau, when three and four days would go by without my speaking to another soul. So I kept company with Captain Van, and Franz Boas, and long-dead Indian storytellers, and William Wordsworth...        But the question raises another one, about characters-in-a-landscape. I’m passionately interested in the relationship between the character one is and the landscape in which that character is formed. I know I’m a different person living here in Seattle from the man I used to be who lived in London, and I think that character is essentially fluid; it alters according to the circumstances in which it finds itself. I wonder what you’d become if I took you away from New York and installed you alone on an Alaskan island? It’s an experiment that I’d like to conduct. So talking with people, seeing them in their natural habitat, as it were, I always find myself discovering a lot of their landscape in their character, and something of their character in the landscape itself. As an expatriate, living in a landscape that still feels subtly alien to me after nearly ten years, I’m acutely aware of this continual exchange between landscape and character, and of the gulf between people who are at home in their landscape - whether it’s the Upper West Side or a fish-camp in British Columbia - and people like me, who are never quite at home anywhere.Q: Where does your passion for sailing come from?A: It’s not a passion for sailing. I’ve always been fascinated by water, especially by the movements of water...ripples, eddies, waves, turbulence. Water in motion is the best model of chaos as physicists use that term. Look at a tide flowing through a narrow passage between islands - its rips, boils, whirlpools, overfalls - and you’re face to face with chaos. There’s something about the idea of a boat afloat on turbulent water that excites me, partly for its own sake, partly as a metaphor. As for sailing, it’s mostly quiet, slow, meditative; an ideal way to study the water and watch the land. Hitching a free ride on the breeze, you feel a part of the nature that you sail through. A car detaches you from the landscape; a sailboat immerses you in it. My boat - a rather elderly ketch, 35 feet long, built in Sweden in 1972 - serves as an observation platform, a mobile library, a floating country cottage. It’s my second home.Q: Your knowledge of Northwest tribal art and mythology is impressive. How did you do the research, and was this uncharted territory for you before you started to write Passage to Juneau?A: I’ve been looking at Indian art and reading Indian stories since I first came here in 1990. The penny suddenly dropped for me in the summer of 1990, when the boat was tied up in Victoria harbor, at the south end of Vancouver Island. I had spent most of an afternoon gazing at Indian masks and painted chests in the Royal British Columbia Museum. The weather was sultry and windless. When I went back to the boat I sat out in the cockpit, staring at the water, which was oily-calm, faintly rippled by the leftover wakes of float planes and motor boats. Fragmentary reflections kept on dissolving and reforming in the mirror-surface of the water, and I realized that I’d spent all afternoon looking at an art of watery reflections just like these: the Kwakiutl Indians were representing life as it was reflected by the ripples and wavelets of their native sea... Since then, I’ve haunted places like the Museum of Natural History in New York and the MenilCollection in Houston, in pursuit of this stylized, extraordinarily dramatic maritime art of the Northwest coast. I don’t think of it as "research." I do it for my own pleasure. With Indian stories ("myths" is a dubious word for them), it’s been a little different. I’m a literary critic by training, and I was fascinated by the structural oddity of the stories collected by Boas and others; their version of narrative - of what happens when, and how - struck me as alien and bizarre. So I tried to learn to read them, not as anthropologists do, milking them for their encoded information about the culture, but as a sympathetic critic, getting in tune with their world, listening for subtexts and ironies. They figure importantly in the book.Q: I’m not sure what kind of book Passage to Juneau is. Is it a memoir, a travel book, a social history? What is it?A: Those damned categories! Luckily, they’re more of a concern for librarians than they are for writers, or for readers. I’ve always been interested in books that slip and slide between the genres. Like Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines - which was published as a novel in England, but under the non-fiction rubric of "Australia - description and travel" in the U.S. Or Thomas Kenneally’s Schindler’s Ark, published here as History, but which in England won the Booker Prize for Fiction. Or, most recently, that lovely book by W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn, which you could label as a travelogue, or a personal memoir, or a meditation on English and German history. It’s all of those things, but Sebald calls it "a novel," for want of a better word. Passage to Juneau is like that - a braid of memoir, history, travel, anthropology, art and literary criticism...all of those things, and none of them, at the same time. What I hope is that it is a lucid narrative, and to hell with the genres.Q: You dedicate your book to your daughter Julia; we met her in Passage to Juneau, and seemed like a curious and adventurous three-and-a-half year old. Has Julia taken up sailing yet?A: Not with quite the avid enthusiasm that I’d like to see. She’ll be seven in November, and she has omnivorous social appetites. I have to fill the boat with other people before she really enjoys it. I’m reassured to see that she hasn’t inherited my eccentric taste for solitude.Q: What’s next for Jonathan Raban?A: A book set in Seattle, to be published as a novel. I began as a fiction writer, but haven’t written a novel since 1985, when Foreign Land came out. The novel has always been the quintessential mixed genre, boiling up the real and the imaginary in the same pot. So there’s a lot of reality in the book I’m working on. Seattle is a real - or at least a virtual - city. Bill Gates - I believe -exists. And so do people like Nathan Myrhvold and Jeff Bezos. They’ll be in the book, rubbing shoulders on equal terms with people you won’t find in any phone book, and who are quite unknown to the I.R.S. and the Social Security Administration.

From Our Editors

This true tale, by Jonathan Raban, describes how the author navigated the 1,000-mile long difficult passage from Seattle to Juneau in a 35-foot sailboat. In Passage to Juneau A Sea and Its Meanings, Raban ruminates about the history of Indians, Europeans, fisherman, loggers and all those who came before him as he navigates the treacherous waters in this riveting adventure.

Editorial Reviews

"A work of great beauty and inexhaustible fervor." --The Washington Post Book World"Endlessly suggestive. . . . Nobody now writing keeps a more provocative house than Jonathan Raban." --The New York Times Book Review"A great book by the very best contempoary writer afloat." --The Oregonian"Raban is a super-sensitive, all-seeing eye. He spots things we might otherwise miss; he calls up the apt metaphors that transform things into phenomena--. One of our most gifted observers."--Newsday