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Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings
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Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  845 ratings  ·  85 reviews
Inside Passage tells the story of Jonathan Raban who sets out alone in his own boat to sail from his Seattle home to the Alaska Panhandle, he wants to decode the many riddles and meanings of the seas in Indian art and mythology in the journals of Vancouver and his officers.
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published October 12th 1999 by Pantheon
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A watery, foggy, mildly adventurous book about a small boat trip from Seattle to Juneau. Raban covers the history of naming the geography on the coast between Seattle and Juneau, the legends of local indians, how the water shaped the people who lived on it and all kinds of other interesting things. This is not a one-sitting kind of book. It's best read over a period of months in small portions, otherwise it can become too slow - which is why I skipped the fifth star.
David P
A simple recipe: find an interesting subject--location, community, event, person--bring yourself close to it, open your eyes, ears and notebook, and once the story is captured, write and publish.

Yes, it requires an articulate writer, undeterred by obstacles, one able to smell out good stories, locate interesting persons, make them talk, and then frame it all in scintillating prose. Not a job for everyone, but when done right, the results are delightful. John McPhee was a master of this genre,
Beautifully written. Raban is a renaissance man with an unparalleled vocabulary, magnificent command of history, and a subtle appreciation of the nauances that separate the American, British, Canadian, and Native cultural and class landscapes he traverses. Raban, is, like the sea, very serious. Despite its linguistic artistry, the book is oftimes hardgoing for non mariners. Several surprises, keep the reader interested, with a somewhat foreshadowed ending to his journey and the book. For persona ...more
Discontinuous Permafrost
One of my favorite books. I love the encyclopedic knowledge of the sea, the travel story and the history. And I had a young daughter and was traveling a lot when I first read it. Great book, made me a follower of Raban.
Great book. Superficially a description of the author's 1,000 mile solo boat trip from Seattle to Juneau, the book is so much more than that. It started well, for me, with the author describing how he had chosen his boat primarily because it had mahogany bookshelves inside, shelves which he then populated with old books about the route he plans to follow. He then expands the writing format to stitch together his own cruise with that of Captain Vancouver in the 1790's, discussing the customs of t ...more
first off, I have absolute no experience with boats, boating, the ocean, a result my "review" may not be that informative...that said I did enjoy this book. The first 40-50 pages were a bit of a slog/took me a bit to get into the store, etc, however, from there it was enjoyable and extremely informative. Not an easy read in the sense it took some time to get through everything (book wrecked my 2012 reading pace a bit!). I found the author's writing to be really good and his explanations ...more
Stacy Bearse
Oh wow ... "Passage to Juneau" was first published in 1999. I can't believe that a dozen years have passed without discovering this wonderful travelogue. Anyway, add Raban to my growing list of must-reads. "Passage" describes, in wonderful detail, a sailing voyage through the inland passage from Seattle to Juneau. The author travels in the wake of Captain Vancouver, who surveyed the area for England in the eighteenth century. Yes, it's a thrilling sailing story. But it's also an insightful discu ...more
Martin Budd
I personally found this book a very meaningful and therapeutic read. A beautifully crafted book, multi-layered and bravely written. There are many interesting insights into the skills and craft of sailing, and he describes the people he meets and the voyage he makes with wonderful clarity.
The account of his father's death and funeral was deeply moving and authentic, I had just lost my Father and found that the writer was able to voice some of my unfocused feelings for me.One of Jonathan's fines
Keith Wilson
I picked this up to prepare for a trip to Alaska, but it's much more than a travelogue of a sailing voyage from Seattle to Juneau. Raban holds forth about everything from chaos theory, to the history of exploration of the Northwest, to our ideology about Native American spirituality, to the character of Alaskans. In the end he unexpectedly veers towards relationship issues, first with his father and then with his wife, something I would have liked more warning.

Another all-time fave, this book is a treasure: a man taking time to listen to himself think, to travel in an elemental way, to commune with nature and history, and taking us along for the ride. Introspective, historically thorough and informative, Passage to Juneau is a journey I take over and over, whenever I need the comfort of a wise friend and a sense of history and discovery to help me enjoy the world again.

Wow. I thought I had a pretty good reading vocabulary, but this guy is over the top. It almost made me put this book down, but I plowed on and got into the story. It WAS interesting, the parallels between his voyage and Captain Vancouver's. The best parts for me were when the author passed where WE have been with our boat over the past year. Perhaps I will re-read when we have completed our own trip to Juneau!
Mike Prochot

The historical, nautical and even naturalist details in this book carry it along. If it were not for Captain George Vancouver, Raban would have no book.


One half chapter into the book and I knew that his wife would be leaving him. By the time I got to the end of the book and confirmed my gut, I felt glad for her.

Outside of the insight to the art and cosmology of the Coastal Indian tribes and some details provided of Vancouver's voyage of exploration - the rest of the book is a
Val Wilkerson
This is the story of one man's journey through the inside passage from Seattle to Juneau Alaska, alone on his 35' sailboat. Along the way he compared his trip to the voyage of Vancouver in the 1700's, and he wove in tales of the native Indians, which were thoroughly enjoyable. His choice of words allowed you to feel the dampness dripping off the trees and the swirling of the incredible tidal action. My husband and I were lucky enough to have made this trip ourselves, about 15 years before the au ...more
Dean Hanmer
Sometimes slow - such is traveling by boat. 5 stars all the way - a haunting final chapter. Wow. I've been over much of this ground (and water) myself, so was an attentive reader. Even his trip to England fascinated me. This journey of discovery is one that I'm glad Mr. Rabin took and shared, much of it I wouldn't wish on myself. I enjoyed his cerebral style and while rating this book five stars, I can see the points of those who thought less of it. I'll look forward to reading Mr. Rabin again.
Dennison Berwick
The Northwest Coast of North America - up through the island-strewn Inside Passage of British Columbia and north to Alaska - is one of the most fascinating sailing areas in the world. Thousands of people travel up there on enormous cruise ships every summer; so when I saw that Jonathan Raban has made the voyage in his own sailboat I was eager to settle into my berth, forget the world, and enjoy a fascinating yarn of the sea by one of best contemporary English writers.

The writing is wonderful. Ho
Jonathan Raban is a wonderful writer. His ability to connect seemingly unrelated things and weave it all into an entertaining story is top notch. He creates such vivid scenarios, to the point where I felt like I was his first shipmate, riding the waves along with him. His detail is extensive and that's unfortunately where he lost me. I LOVED all the historical detail, but the exhaustive descriptions of the mechanics of sailing bored me to tears. Now, I'm not a sailor - if I were, I can imagine r ...more
As the one star indicates, I did not like this book. While the premise is good, in which the author takes a boat trip up the coast from Seattle to Juneau, while also interweaving bits of regional history (mostly focusing on the initial explorations by Vancouver), the writing is just...lacking somehow. I've read many of book with a similar mix of history and current travel and usually their seamlessly integrated. This one it's just jarring and confusing as he switches, seemingly at random, from p ...more
taking it back to the library today, so thought i'd say something about it.

basically, the book follows raban as he boats from seattle to juneau, roughly following the journey of manic-depressive explorer Vancouver. a lot of the book is about the history and landscapes of the northwest itself and the differing interpretations of nature among indians (who feared it), explorers (who wanted to profit by it), and romantics (who wanted to love it). exchange nature for 'the unknown' and you can get the
This is a book that is staying with me. I finished it a bit over a week ago, and despite having read some others in between, this books keep pulling me back.

One little section that I found the need to re-read this morning:
In the making of waves, first the air 'deforms' the water, which then begins to 'perturb' the flow of air across it; and it is out of this delicate intercourse between the elements that the wave is born. As the ripple turns into a wavelet, its slight convexity gives the wind so
Jul 18, 2007 Tristan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: travellers to coastal British Columbia/Southeast Alaska
I loved this book. It's true, there isn't a plot to keep one hooked. The long list of Library of Congress headings is an example of how wide reaching this book is, covering Raban's own voyage, a micro-biography of Raban's father, a psychological biography of George Vancouver, anecdotes of Tlingit Indian culture, several forays into marine biology of the Inside Passage.

Perhaps its my own scatterbrain characteristics that kept me from putting it down. As I was working on the Inside Passage while r
Mark Ballinger
"Chapters advanced rather slowly, but it was a good way of reading." (p. 426)

Really wonderful experience reading this. The intertwined history, ethnology, and memoir worked for me. The history was a great lesson, the stories of Salish and other coastal people were fantastic, and the personal narrative was alternately fun and a punch in the gut.

In class, I often use the section of Peter Puget in his namesake-sound. I also finished this book as my "Readers Workshop" with the 6th graders, using mor
Tony Taylor
With the same rigorous observation (natural and social), invigorating stylishness, and encyclopedic learning that he brought to his National Book Award-winning Bad Land, Jonathan Raban conducts readers along the Inside Passage from Seattle to Juneau. The physical distance is 1,000 miles of difficult-and often treacherous-water, which Raban navigates solo in a 35-foot sailboat.

But Passage to Juneau also traverses a gulf of centuries and cultures: the immeasurable divide between the Northwest's In
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Raban describes his travels through his own reflections . His writing is extremely evocative ("meringue-like gobbets of fog were caught in shady, north-facing hollows") and extremely leisurely in pace. Pages go by in which he hardly moves. Covers historical legends and reveals his inner thoughts, especially regarding his interpersonal relationships.

See also "Sea Change: Alone across the Atlantic in a Wooden Boat" by Peter Nichols. It is also a reflective journey undertaken by a man who seeks to
Bill Ibelle
Great travel writing. If you are sailor, you will enjoy it even more.
Lesley Nachum
This alternated between being fascinating and being a self-important 'I got dumped and isn't it unfair, what a b***h my ex is...' whinge. So, a four.
Raban is a remarkable prose stylist and an engaging, intimate storyteller. This is travel writing at its best (especially if you're enchanted by the sea, as most humans are!), combining seafaring tales, reflections on art & culture, meditations on family and parenting, etc. I was reminded of it recently when I taught a survey course on British Literature and recalled how smartly Raban discusses Romantic poets and composers during episodic moments of this book. Highly recommended!
This was very interesting, and worked well as a sporadic right-before-falling-asleep read. I learned some things about the Salish Indians, and I always enjoy this sort of interweaving of history with present-day observation and personal narrative. But I lost sympathy with the author--and so with much of the personal narrative aspect--towards the end, when his wife leaves him for reasons that seemed obvious to me but a hopeless enigma to him. So there you have it.
Stephen C.
One of my all time favorites. He sails a 35' sloop from Seattle to Juneau and generally follow's the course of the original British ship that explored and mapped the area. Along the way he covers sailing, his life and family in England, and his own issues with a wife and 6 yeat old daughter. Really interesting as he weaves nature into the overall fiber of life. Not an eapecially quick read as there is a lot to think about here. Have read it a couple of times since.
Mark Field
Very adept at describing the sea and sailing, Raban has a gift for picking the right words to open up a simple story into a whole new world. One of favorite books I've ever read.
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