I first read this book in 1975, the year it was published. I actually had followed this voyage through 3 articles that were published in National Geographic magazine. These were eventual expanded by the author/sailor and turned into this book.
I remember when reading the articles in Nat Geo thinking “This guy is nuts!”. Circumnavigating Antarctica alone in a 32′ sailboat. Sure, it had a steel hull, but this was 1972. No GPS, no autopilots (except a severely malfunctioning, then lost windvane), rare sun sights due to cloud cover and arguably the most unforgiving seas on the planet.
People talk about the Roaring Forties. And those seas are enormous and definitely challenging. But Ice Bird was in the Furious Fifties and the Screaming Sixties. I won’t give it all away but 3 capsizes, frostbite, broken self-steering, broken radios, etc. You get the picture.
Obviously he made it so I’m not giving anything away there. And here is what Ice Bird looked like upon arrival in Cape Town after 14 weeks at sea.
David Lewis passed away on October 23rd, 2002 at age 85. He was a physician, sailor, adventurer and author of 10 books. You can read more about David Lewis on Wikipedia here. You can read more about the 32′ Ice Bird here. Ice Bird was donated to the Powerhouse Discovery Centre in New South Wales Australia. She has been restored and is on display. An interesting write-up on the restoration is here on the Powerhouse Museum website.
I’m just starting the book again, but I’m sure it will be an interesting second read. I was just 16 years old the first time I read it. But I can highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about the extremes of human endurance and will to survive against seemingly impossible odds.
I recently finished Ice Bird. This second reading gave me even more insight into the incredible voyage that Dr. Lewis undertook. Simply put, he shouldn’t have survived. I doubt most people would have. For example, frostbitten hands, a capsize, 12 hours of bailing seawater out of the cabin into the cockpit, followed by another capsize and more bailing. All this in freezing water with frostbitten hands. No radio. Very intermittent sun sights and days on end without any sights due to weather. He had to jury rig twice and spent hours on end hand steering through icebergs fields. He finally made it to Cape Town, complete with an incredulous audience.
I can highly recommend Ice Bird. Aside from being very well written (David Lewis wrote a dozen or so other books on sailing), I guarantee you that it is a story you will think about next time you are out in a gale offshore. Personally, I put this story right up there with Shackleton’s. Of course Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage will always be at the top of the list, but Ice Bird is a close second. Interestingly, David Lewis sailed right past Elephant Island (catching just a glimpse of it through the snowfall) which is where the marooned Shackleton crew waited months for Shackleton’s return and rescue.