The year 1990 marked the thirty-fifth anniversary of NATIONAL REVIEW, the conservative magazine founded by author and political commentator William F. Buckley. On the occasion, which was celebrated at a testimonial in his honor, Buckley announced his retirement as editor. In his farewell address he explained that one of the first things he would embark upon after leaving the magazine was a transoceanic crossing from Lisbon, Portugal to Barbados via Madeira, the Canaries, and Cape Verde. Though Buckley had sailed across both the Atlantic and Pacific before, he realized that at his age (sixty-five) this voyage might be his last.
For his vessel, Buckley chartered the Sealestial, a seventy-one-foot ketch. His crew included old friends and sailing buddies, his son Christopher, and a marvelous cook named Liz Wheeler. The trans-Atlantic route roughly followed the course taken by Christopher Columbus some five hundred years earlier. After a rendezvous in Lisbon where they laid aboard supplies, Buckley and crew set sail. This would be no spartan voyage. Along with a small but well-stocked library, there were audio cassettes, videos, and delicious dinners of broiled red snapper followed by crepes Suzette.
En route to Funchal, Madeira on the first leg of the crossing, they encountered a storm which nearly brought an abrupt end to the voyage. For two days, near hurricane-force winds and huge seas battered Sealestial, resulting in damage to the mainsail, the automatic pilot, and satellite navigation system. Luckily no one was injured, and as the storm subsided, spirits rose and crew began to bond.
WINDFALL is more than the chronicle of a voyage. Buckley asked that each member of the crew keep a journal, and he quotes liberally from their entries and from the watch-log. The use of such notes greatly enriches the narrative and enables the reader to get to know each crew member individually. The Buckley wit and keen intelligence are evident on every page as he recalls events from the month-long crossing. This very personal and nostalgic account of days spent following the trade winds fills the reader’s sails with a passion for the sea, good companions, a worthy vessel, and a star to steer her by.