In the spring of 1977 Frank Stilwell launched Vingila, 17 tons of 11-millimetre steel plates welded together, in Durban harbour. An electrician by trade, Frank’s experience of sailing amounted to not very much – an unpleasant spell on a Scottish fishing trawler as a young man and a brief holiday on someone else’s yacht off the coast of Mozambique a couple of years before. Never one to be daunted by a challenge or to be resisted in any way, he took his nine-year-old twins, Robert and Nicky, out of school, persuaded his wife Maureen that they would all learn how to sail and cope with life on the open seas as they went, and prepared to follow his dream of circumnavigating the world.
Facing real danger from the elements and at first having to live more by their wits than their skills, the Stilwell family set off boldly, determined to become part of a community of sailors and adventurers who spend more time on the ocean than they do on dry land.
Thinking Up a Hurricane is the unique coming of age memoir of Martinique Stilwell’s recounting of her true life gypsy childhood. It is poignant and funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. With the wisdom and innocence of a child’s point of view, it is a powerful yet tender story of physical and emotional adversity, of family dysfunction and the ties that bind, and of the shackles and exhilarating freedom of growing up different.
Penguin, South Africa, August 2012