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The Box Wine Sailors: Misadventures of a Broke Young Couple at Sea
By Amy McCullough
Academy Chicago Publishers
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
It's funny that the basement-press books Newlyweds Afloat by Felicia Schneiderhan and The Box Wine Sailors by Amy McCullough should both randomly end up coming into my life at the same time, because on the surface they both deal with the same subject -- female big-city hipster decides to ditch her urban existence in order to live on a small boat full-time -- although in Schneiderhan's case, she mostly still spends her time in Chicago while living on a houseboat already owned by her new sailor-veteran husband, while McCullough ends up selling all her Portland possessions so to attempt to sail from there to Mexico with her equally untrained and unexperienced boyfriend. Unfortunately, though, while it's easy to get into Schneiderhan's story and end up rooting for her, this is much more problematic with McCullough, simply because she's not a very pleasant person, not usually an issue with authors of fiction but a major disruption when a memoirist is telling a true story; unwittingly loaded down with all kinds of Portlandia-type stereotypes about creative-class entitlement, McCullough spends a huge portion of her book self-righteously ranting against all the people who (correctly) warn her how dangerous her untrained trip on a too-small boat is likely to be, takes full credit for her "intelligence" and "resourcefulness" when the trip accidentally turns out okay anyway (while conveniently blowing off the half-a-hundred near-crashes that were avoided out of sheer randomness), and on at least half a dozen occasions proudly details the times she and her boyfriend flagrantly break the law because they have little money and therefore "deserve" to (such as, for one excellent example, routinely dumping the fecal matter from their toilet directly into coves where people swim, because they don't want to pay the $20 fee to legally dump it in a septic tank).
Also, while Schneiderhan uses her boating experiences mostly just as a jumping-off point for grander and more poetic essays about growing older, giving up societal expectations, and other universal subjects that all of us can relate to, McCullough spends the majority of her page count actually detailing in tech-heavy terms the literal sailing trip they took down the American west coast, which for a non-sailor like me gets tedious fast; and while Schneiderhan and her husband tend to do interesting things that are fun to read about when not on their boat itself, McCullough and her boyfriend tend to do nothing while offshore but eat pizza, drink the cheapest liquor they can find, and endlessly listen to the more pretentious side of the indie-rock spectrum. (McCullough was formerly the music editor for Willamette Week who now lives in Austin, and the snotty attitude and immature slang that comes with rock "journalism" shines through here on every page.) Now, all that said, there are still some fun and interesting things to be gleaned from this book, plus the sheer scope of the trip itself makes it worth checking out, which is why it's still getting a decent score today; but unfortunately you have to work hard to overcome all the weaknesses mentioned above, which is why it's not getting a better score than it is. It should all be kept in mind before deciding whether or not to pick up a copy yourself.
Out of 10: 7.1