FROM THE COCKPIT OF THE RUBAIYAT. By Donald P. Rothschild. Archer Books. 175 pages. $15.
As Toledo native and author Donald Rothschild puts it, “Sailing provides a small glimpse of infinity in the universe. [It] has given me a perspective of what there is that is boundless in our lives.”
In his delightful new book, From the Cockpit of the Rubaiyat, Rothschild shares his values as well as the joys and tribulations of sailing in stories culled from 60 years of cruising.
An opening chapter takes place on Lake Erie, and part of the fun for Toledo readers will be guessing the real names of thinly disguised people and places. For example, Rothschild's sailing partner, referred to only as Julian in the story, actually is the founder of a local law firm who died in a tragic accident several years ago. A curmudgeonly sailor who could easily afford a large boat but preferred to singlehand a small one, “Julian” often told another version of the same tale.
Don't look for heroic sagas on the scale of Tales of the Titanic or The Perfect Storm. These stories are up-close and personal adventures laced with sly humor and served up with a twist of irony. When Rothschild, a law professor in his mid-50s, impulsively decides to buy a boat, his wife Ruth expresses serious misgivings. But, spurred by dreams of freedom and “capturing the perfect sail,” he manages to ignore or overcome them all. He names his boat for “The Rubaiyat of Omar Kayyam,” a witty commentary that laments the fleeting passage of time and urges men to fulfill their lives with joy, wine, and beauty.
Occasionally things turn out well, but more often than not he finds himself in a dangerous or embarrassing situation. Whether it is running aground, capsizing, missing the tide, hitting another boat, or getting caught in a storm, Rothschild tells it like it is, without sentimentality or sparing himself.
There is the time he made elaborate preparations to launch a new 22-foot boat only to have it sink to the bottom within 25 yards from shore, Or the summer he ordered a heavy canvas cover that fit over the boom of his next boat, a 36-footer, in a misguided effort to triumph over the insects and heat on Chesapeake Bay. Not only did it make the cockpit unbearably uncomfortable and restrict his vision to whatever lay directly ahead, but the bugs loved it.
“It kept out the wind that forced them to fly,” he recalls, “and instead created a cool dark atmosphere in which they could spend their short lives engaged in the joy of biting us and having illicit bug-sex.”
It wan't long after that fiasco that Ruth declared she had had enough and retired from sailing.
Undeterred, Rothschild turned to other crew and occasional singlehanding.
An astute observer, he paints a vivid description of his surroundings, providing the reader with a glimpses of numerous harbors.
Rothschild, now a retired professor emeritus from George Washington University law school, grew up in Toledo and was a member of Scott High School's class of '45. He graduated from the University of Toledo law school and is an expert on collective bargaining and labor law. He and his wife now reside in Rhode Island.
Donald Rothschild will sign copies of his book at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Thackeray's Books.