I admit that it was a particular pleasure to reading this classic as I was on a vacation on the warm Canary Islands during cold, rainy winter season back in Europe: This particular antagonism propelled the joy of munching through the pages of this book and filled me with special pleasure – just stretching out my legs in the warmth of the Mid-Atlantic sun, finding a nice reading position and dive deep into the world of sailing through the Northern ice. Willy de Roos´ book on negotiating the North-West Passage by means of a sailing yacht may be dubbed a “must read” and should not be missed by any well equipped on-board library. It´s a short-whiled read, not the least because Willy de Roos compiles the memories of his remarkable journey on no more than 200 pages. During a vacation like mine the book may be read through completely within three to four days. Nevertheless, it will leave a deep impression on its readers though.

“North-West Passage” by Willy de Roos

The book, although not a really big one, is mainly comprised of three major books. Willy de Roos is in the first “chapter” giving a summary of his previous life and what brought him to sailing (he joins the sailor´s community at the relatively late age of around 50 years). This may be atypical and came to me as a surprise as I was expecting to read a maritime book on sailing – now I was crawling through numerous pages of his antecedent. He says this is important stuff to know in order to understand him, his character and what brings him to make decisions the way he does.

The Canadian and U.S. Arctic – this is where dreams are made

The next two big chapters are about his North-West Passage cruise, a remarkable piece of seamanship as done in the late Seventies – I know I do not have to state this in particular, but I will do it nevertheless: Negotiating the treacherous waters of the Passage was even more thrilling back then without all of these nice little electronic helpers like GPS, plotters and stuff. It´s two chapters because the sailing part is divided into one part which is done along with his crew member Jean-Louis and the last part is done single-handedly sailing alone.

Most enthralling part of this book

What was gripping me most in reading the North-West Passage by Willy de Roos was the last part of the book when he was forced to sail alone – left by his mate Jean-Louis. His descriptions of the weather, current and ice-conditions and how he managed to sail and navigate on the one hand combined with very vivid portrayals of his constantly deteriorating physical condition due to fatigue are indeed intriguing.

Willy de Roos, the author in the 1970ies

The reader is virtually captivated by the style of writing and feels the pain, the cold and the shortage of sleep creeping up one´s bones. You never know if Willy and his brave yacht will really make it to the next strait, to the next bay for safe anchorage and at least a handful hours of sleep. Storms raging, pack ice drifting, the uncertainty and the constant change of doubt and confidence paints a vivid picture of the inner and outer circumstances of this remarkable journey. The whole book (at least when the boat is underway) is a constant enthralling read.

What I particularly liked about this book

I enjoyed mostly to read about de Roos´ sailing in the Arctic of course. I found the first part to be slightly off topic and therefore it got too much of a room for my taste. When Willy finally sets sails aboard his 13 metre steel ketch WILLIWAW the fun part begins. Willy de Roos features a writing style one could easily rank as a mix between the prosaic and philosophic style of Bernard Moitessier and the factual hard-headed style of Robin Knox-Johnston. I enjoy reading de Roos very much.

A most enjoyable read: Willy de Roos “North-West Passage”

Willy de Roos manages to grab the reader´s attention by writing only about features which are important for the plot in the very moment you are reading. There is no filler story, no unnecessary strings of the plot and no waste of reader´s time in describing the obvious. It´s a short-whiled read, you virtually eat through the pages fast – and one of the best books on the North-West Passage I´ve read so far.


Other articles you may like to read about this topic:

All book reviews here, including Donald Crowhurst, Joshua Slocum or Bernard Moitessier

The Northwest Passage” by Cameron Dueck

X-Mas book recommendations