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Novelist Jim Lynch on Northwest sailing culture

Sailing on Puget Sound
Flickr Photo/Eugene Kogan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Sailing on Puget Sound

Olympia novelist Jim Lynch’s new book “Before the Wind” is about a Seattle family that builds, repairs and races a sail boat. They’re not blue-blazer yachtsmen; they’re the working class people who make and maintain the boats for the yachtsmen.

KUOW's Ross Reynolds talks with Lynch about his new novel and sailing.

On the boating culture in the Puget Sound region

This great inland sea is considered one of the boating wonderlands of the world. We have the mountaineering crowd, the downhill skiing crowd. And we have our boating culture. You really miss out on where we live when you're just seeing it from the land. You're missing one of the main angles of it and one of the things that's always fascinated me is just that.

What he loves about sailing

It connects me to my childhood. When I was a kid my dad was always in the best mood when we were on water. And so I have always sensed that this was something to be revered.

My father had love affairs with boats. We used to walk the docks. He would show me which boats were gorgeous. He had all the drawings of boats at home he was considering making.

Why running a boatyard is like running a dementia clinic

I’ve watched all these men and women who work in boatyards constantly having to counsel the boat owners and make them feel all right about the fact that they're spending far more on their boat than they can afford.

There are all these delusions boat owners have about their boats. They get so attached to them that they fail to realize that their boat is ordinary or, worse, needs a lot of work. They get a very sentimental relationship to the boat and when it’s beyond help, it's like telling somebody that you need to put their dog down.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Jim Lynch", "fid": "126049", "style": "placed_left", "uri": "public://201605/lynchphoto.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy the author"}]]It's a great way to blow excess cash. A brand new 30- to 40-foot sailboat can cost $200,000-$400,000. And if you want fresh new sales to race the following year, there’s another $10,000.

But what I was trying to capture more in this book is the flip side of all that. The common people and the poor people that are just in love with sailing. It's a side of them that they just have to deal with. Many of them can't afford it, but they can't resist.

His affection for a sailboat

I'm sentimental about my boats. I sold a boat that I'd had for 10 years, and I felt almost weepy leaving it. I've sailed past my old boat in my bigger, faster new dreamboat. I'm so happy that it's in the hands of some guy who takes really good care of it.

“Before the Wind” is Jim Lynch’s fourth novel. His last book “Truth Like the Sun” was set during the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Jim Lynch grew up near Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington. He was an itinerant  newspaper reporter in Alaska, Virginia and Washington, D.C., as well as at The Spokesman-Review, The Seattle Times and The Oregonian.