At 36, Nathaniel Philbrick found himself lost at sea. Ten years after stepping back from his journalism career to care for his children, Philbrick had an enviable life on Nantucket with a loving, healthy family; still, he felt “a sort of pent-up professional frustration. All my friends were in the middle of careers,” he said. “As a writer, I didn’t really know what to write about.”
So Philbrick took to the water. A lifelong sailor who had won the Sunfish North American Championship at 22, he decided to spend the year training again for the same race, a process he describes in “Second Wind: A Sunfish Sailor, an Island, and the Voyage That Brought a Family Together.” The book, which was originally published in 1998, comes out this month in a new edition.
Rereading the book for its audio version, Philbrick said, “was kind of a nostalgic rush. It was a different time — before cellphones, the Internet, all of that. Nantucket was a different place.” And the author was, in some ways, a different man.
“It was a really pivotal year for me,” Philbrick said, “the year I kind of discovered my voice as a historian.” At the time, sailing and writing seemed like different activities, but looking back, he said, “I think they’re inextricably entwined. There’s been a maritime bent about everything I’ve written as a historian. I almost needed to get back on the water to find my way into the archives.”
Now 61, Philbrick sounds a wry note when confronted with his earlier sense of midlife crisis. “When I look back now, I think, ‘Look at the energy you had to do all that’,” he said. “’What were you thinking? Your whole life was before you!’ ”
“I was talking with my wife today and she said, “None of us had a clue it was all going to work out’,” Philbrick said. “Fortunately for all concerned, it really did go somewhere.”
Philbrick will read at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Harvard Coop.
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