Julia Jones, Yachting Monthly's literary reviewer discusses A Voyage Down the Years by Guy Warner, an appealingly honest work
The subtitle to Guy Warner’s sailing autobiography, A Voyage Down the Years, is ‘A turbulent life on land and sea’.
In fact he appears to have an extraordinary knack of being in proximity to turbulence, yet seemingly unaffected.
He seems to have an impressive ability to focus, whether on work, sport or sailing.
This book is evidence of that characteristic.
At the beginning of 2020 Warner, like everyone else had no idea what lay ahead.
He was enjoying his most recent yacht, Ruby Star (a Victoria 34 bought after a glowing recommendation in Yachting Monthly) and relishing the conviviality of the Royal Cruising Club meets.
The 300th anniversary events for the Royal Cork Yacht Club and the 60th anniversary of the OSTAR were treats in store and there was plenty of club golf to fill days on land.
Then came the Covid lockdowns and cessation of normal social activity.
Time to write
So Warner settled to write this book.
It contains 521 pages with apparent near-total recall of working life and sporting events over 80 years.
Descriptions of family life are not his forte: events from childhood and school days tend to revolve around early achievements in cricket, tennis and maths.
The sudden death of his father when he was 14 can’t be underestimated but it was the tennis and the maths that led him through university and into the Instructor Branch of the Navy.
He served 18 years, most significantly developing computerised command systems in nuclear submarines.
There are a LOT of acronyms in this book but a useful glossary helps the reader keep track.
Around him swirled the development of Britain’s nuclear deterrent and the covert underwater surveillance activities of the Cold War.
Warner’s formidable analytic mind was focussed on the task in hand – with sport and good fellowship out of working hours.
He married and had children: his brother suffered a nervous breakdown, his youngest sister developed schizophrenia, another sister was suddenly widowed.
Warner’s narrative concentrates on his work.
After the Navy Warner joined the defence industry, as determined to succeed as a businessman as he had been as a naval officer.
A compelling read
A Voyage Down the Years is not a descriptive or emotionally perceptive read, yet I found it a curiously compelling glimpse into corporate life and the world of selling weapons systems – to Korea for instance.
Meanwhile his brother developed multiple sclerosis, his son suffered psychotic episodes, his daughter married early and divorced.
When Warner took early retirement and switched his interest to yachting he displayed a similar single-minded focus and an interest in self-improvement and achievement.
Although sailing was originally intended as an opportunity for family togetherness, this was soon subordinate to the challenge of racing and long-distance cruising, ideally with other retired naval officers.
A Voyage Down the Years has an appealing quality of honesty, owning up to mistakes and enjoying success.
Warner judges himself not to have been a very good son / father / husband but doesn’t either wallow or make excuses.
His story of his life simply tells it how it was, for him.
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