Yachting Monthly's literary reviewer, Julia Jones, reviews The Backside of Normal: a sailing life of adventure and finds an author with an evident interest in indigenous people
If your starting point is Los Angeles then your cruising ground is immediately the Pacific. Roger Olson’s first expeditions took him to Catalina Island and down the coast of Mexico. An unexpected divorce in his 30s kickstarted a reappraisal of his life and its priorities. Soon he was setting out for the Marquesas and beyond. The Backside of Normal: a sailing life of adventure, written aged 80 gives an account of what he experienced and discovered.
Finding the right boat and learning to sail had been the initial challenge. Xiphias, a Bristol Channel Cutter 28, solidly built at Cosa Mesa, California, proved durable and versatile, small enough to sail single-handed though sufficiently roomy for four.
Olson wanted relationships as well as exploration but when hard choices had to be made, the need to travel usually proved strongest.
I’d have liked a few more dates to anchor myself within the decades but going with the flow, Olson’s story takes the reader to Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia. There was then a longish period, semi-settled in Papua New Guinea before he travelled on to Indonesia.
Time spent in Thailand brought particular happiness before the needs of elderly parents called him home to California.
Olson’s interest in indigenous people is evident wherever he sails. He’s not only fascinated by their artefacts and way of life but eager to achieve understanding of their beliefs. Some of his landfalls remind one that the world still contains some very secluded peoples.
There were moments when I felt Olson might be telling more detail about his personal relationships than I necessarily wanted to know but that’s all of a piece with a life with the unexpected at its heart.
There’s family tragedy in this story and a final surprising marriage to a Colombian in Panama. The Backside of Normal is a narrative about cruising in the Pacific and Indian Oceans which also expresses an individual approach to life.
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