Simplicity satisfies in nautical adventure

By Arthur Ransome (1937)

It is all in the title: some kids are invited on board a yacht for a harbour cruise when the motor runs out of petrol and the skipper pops ashore for more: ''Nothing can possibly happen''. But the skipper never returns. The tide comes in and sucks the uncommanded vessel out to sea. Like the remainder of the ''Swallows and Amazons'' series, of which this book is about halfway, We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea is a frightfully jolly yarn about upper-class boarding school pupils. The masterstroke of the writer for this volume was to bring them out of their lakeland camping comfort zone. The scenes during a storm by night at sea are elemental and the characters are made to think and work harder than ever before in their shelf-full of books.

I have lost count of how many times I have read this children's sailing yarn. I think its appeal is in its satisfying simplicity: beginning, middle and happy ending. Children's literature is all about being brave and struggling through the hard times to come out the other end in good shape. It's a compelling message that never wears out.

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