When Will Sofrin called an ex-girlfriend after two decades to say he wanted to write his first book about a once-in-a-lifetime adventure they’d shared, it was awkward. She told him: “This is going to be your version of what happened, but it doesn’t mean that’s what actually happened.”
But Sofrin created All Hands on Deck: A Modern-Day High Seas Adventure to the Far Side of the World as more than just his story. Being a 21-year-old sailor crewing a 6,000-mile journey on a tall ship is the memoir’s heart, but it also involves bestselling novels, an Oscar-winning movie, maritime history and lore, and technical aspects of sailing and shipbuilding.
Sofrin says he ended up writing the book as if he were “on trial” — going to great lengths to tell the truth. That included extensive historical research.
“I was worried about making claims that weren’t true and people making accusations,” he says. “I wanted to make sure that every line is completely true, and that the experts in the field would say, ‘He’s done a very good job.’ ”
The narrative centers on 2002, when Sofrin, uncertain about what to do with his life, became part of a hastily assembled group — “a ragtag crew of thirty oddballs and tall-ship fanatics” — tasked with sailing the Rose, a replica 18th-century English Royal Navy frigate, from Newport, R.I. to California.
The Rose would become the primary set piece for the Russell Crowe-Paul Bettany movie Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World. The 2003 film adapts Patrick O’Brian’s popular historical novel series set during the Napoleonic Wars.
Sofrin’s tale includes a fierce storm in the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”; sailing through two oceans and the Panama Canal; shore stops in Puerto Rico and Mexico; and the relationships, practical jokes, and partying along the way.
“The clock was ticking. Tens of millions of dollars on the line,” Sofrin writes. “We departed with a crew of thirty on a ship of questionable seaworthiness, came close to sinking, and could have died, all while trying to deliver a movie prop.”
The book was published in April, and Sofrin’s speaking tour includes a stop on July 6 at the Wellfleet Public Library. He’ll also talk at the Dennis Yacht Club on July 7 before making stops on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Sofrin says his presentation includes video footage to make attendees feel they’re on the Rose, including during a violent storm.
Writing the book allowed Sofrin to rekindle friendships with his shipmates. “I got to reach out to two dozen people who were part of a giant experience and talk to them about our perception of where we were then and where we are now,” he says. “I learned a lot about myself.”
After he and crewmates went their separate ways, Sofrin became a licensed captain, then settled on land, building furniture and consulting on historic architecture. He never went to college and wants to promote alternative career paths like apprenticeships. Less conventional paths to success will be the topic for his next book, he says.
Sofrin credits his literary agent, his editor, and movie director Peter Weir as mentors who taught him how to write. Even his ex-girlfriend helped and ultimately complimented him on the book, he says.
Tom Rothman, the CEO of Sony Pictures who pushed for years to get Weir to make Master & Commander, wrote the book’s foreword and reiterates a key point from O’Brian’s novels that became a focus for Sofrin’s book. “This isn’t really about sailing or about a tall ship,” says Sofrin. “It’s about people. This is a story of 30 men and women living and working together, most of us in our 20s, and we’re having fun.
“You can all make your own adventure. You don’t have to do it my way, but I hope you’ll find some courage to feel confident, take a couple of years and get uncomfortable, get out there, see the world, and experience other people and places.”
A Sailor’s Adventure
The event: Book talk by author Will Sofrin
The time: Thursday, July 6, 7 p.m.
The place: Wellfleet Public Library, 55 West Main St.
The cost: Free; limited seating