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The Cruise of the Jest

272 pages4 hours


The Cruise of the Jest tells a story of coming of age at sea.

The boy’s father, a well-known anthropologist, doesn’t think high school provides an adequate initiation process for an American adolescent, so he tells his sixteen-year-old son to sail Jest, a 35-foot boat, from San Francisco to Hawaii. In a newspaper interview, the father says that "our teenagers fail to undergo an adequate initiation. There’s nothing dangerous about high school, except drunken driving. Look at the high school role model, the football star. He goes from high school to middle age. He never grows up."

The boy doesn’t want to do what his father tells him, so instead of sailing to Hawaii, he takes Jest down the California coast to Mexico. When his father follows him on his own boat, the boy is forced to sail west, across the Pacific Ocean to the South Seas. As the boy sails farther west, he tries to lose himself somewhere on the other side of the world, until eventually he meets a girl.

The cruise around the world alternates between the sea and the land. So it is not just the demands of living at sea that forces the boy to grow up, but also the pressures of the land, where he confronts the assumptions and expectations of the adult world. As he learns, "The sea you can plan for: the land is a different matter."

The novel is based on the author’s experience. At the age of sixteen, he sailed from San Francisco for the South Seas with his family on the 57-foot schooner Fairweather. In Auckland, New Zealand, his father left the Fairweather and his mother became skipper, forcing the author, then at the age of seventeen, to take on more and more responsibility for the schooner, the cruise, and himself.

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