Caribbean Cruise

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Ann Vanderhoof seems an unlikely adventurer. She has no stomach for choppy seas and is so phobic of dirt that she strides into each new town brandishing a pack of antibacterial Handi Wipes. She loves comfort, hates mess, craves routine, and fears cockroaches.

So what's she doing at the helm of a 13-metre sailboat named Receta, beating her way from port to port on a two-year voyage through the Caribbean?

Making her husband's dreams come true, or so it seems at first in An Embarrassment of Mangoes (Doubleday Canada, $34.95). Steve Vanderhoof is one of those fortunate people who seem born to sail, and as a freelance art director he's organized his career so that he can get onto the water almost anytime he likes. But there comes a time in any Toronto boater's life when the Great Lakes start to look like overgrown puddles, and so it is that, with winter coming on, the Vanderhoofs find themselves motoring the locks between Lake Ontario and the Hudson River, their destination the Intracoastal Waterway and beyond.

It takes some time for Ann to warm to their journey, and it will take some readers time to warm to Ann. At first, she's a bundle of worries. What is she doing quitting her cushy job in publishing? How will they stay on course during the long night voyages? Who'll look after her aged parents?

Settle down, you want to tell her, and in time she does. The sun, the surf, and a few gallons of cheap island rum help; after a few months afloat she looks in the mirror and barely recognizes the happy, healthy woman she's become. An Embarrassment of Mangoes is more a voyage of self-discovery than a cruising classic, but its blend of anecdotal insights, galley-friendly recipes, and marine lore is enjoyable nonetheless.