Author Johnathan Raban is no travel writer.

He's All Wet 

Author Johnathan Raban is no travel writer.

"I am not a travel writer," declares Jonathan Raban, author of Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings. "Travel writers sample other people's vacations."

The average travel reader is unlikely to try out the "vacation" Raban chronicles in his book: a solo journey from Seattle to Alaska by sailboat.

In Passage to Juneau, Raban addresses readers for whom the sea is just a vacancy, trying to "give the water back the kind of character it so obviously deserves." Kansas City readers may be his ideal audience, as the sea is nowhere more vacant than where it does not exist.

In one passage, Raban refers to people from landlocked towns who have headed out to the sea. "Many greenies came from flat inland towns ... but they'd read C.S. Forester, and they pined, in happy ignorance, for the yo-ho-ho of life at sea. In Des Moines, it's easy to dream fondly of the heaving deck, the gouts of freezing spray, the struggle with the net in fifty knots of wind, because nothing like that ever happens in Iowa."

Though he is fascinated by the fact that the sea serves as a metaphor for chaos and danger doused with adrenaline, Raban interprets the accompanying trepidation as a white, Western phenomenon. By contrast, people indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, he notes, have long believed that there is "more chaos lurking in the forests."

A native of London, Raban was himself an interloper among the boating and logging communities he en-countered on his trip. He played up his outsider status by wearing city garb from Brooks Brothers and the like. He won't play such games on Tuesday when he reads from his book at Unity Temple, in whatever crumpled garments he can find in his suitcase. After all, a book tour necessitates an entirely different mode of travel, prompting Raban to defend his casual style with the question, "How do you dress when you spend a week mostly inside airplanes?"

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