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Retro Reading: Sea Trial by Frank De Felitta


The post-holiday blues are around the corner and wouldn't it be nice to just get away and relax for a few days in anonymity?

That's what Phil and Tracey Williams are hoping to do, but they have a secret. They're having an affair, yet they've also agreed to end their affair following a 14 day Caribbean cruise. Once the cruise is over they've decided to part ways and go on with their lives.

It begins on December 14, when Phil is sitting in the waiting room of his dentist. An advertisement on the back cover entices him regarding a cruise and on New Year's Day, he and Tracey arrive in Coral Gables, Florida to begin their adventure.

The couple had planned on spending the night at a hotel prior to departure, but after seeing the Penny Dreadful and meeting Captain Jack McCracken and his wife Penny, they ask if they can stay aboard the yacht. Captain Jack assures them that it's their home for the next two weeks and doesn't object.

Early the next morning, the couple is awoken to the boat moving through inlets and before hitting the ocean they stop at an island for supplies and Captain Jack informs them that there's a slight problem with the boat, but it can be fixed (which takes all day).

Tracey is a weak character and her weakness is preyed upon because she's afraid that the McCracken's know about the affair and she spends the first few days sleeping a lot. She does mention during dinner one night that it would be kind of fun if they encountered a storm at sea.

Her wish is granted when a squall comes up out of nowhere and damages the ship.

Captain Jack assures the couple that everything is fine and a passing boat will come to their rescue. He doesn't like the fact that they might have to be towed into Nassau and if this happens, Tracey is afraid that gossip will get to New York and the affair will get out.

As the hours tick by, Captain Jack tries to fix the damage and Penny enlists the aid of Tracey to do minor chores, much to the objection of Phil. He reminds her that they're paying customers and the McCracken's should still be catering to them.

Captain Jack delivers a bit of good news and he beaches the yacht on a deserted island and is able to fix the problem during low tide. With the problem fixed, he tells Phil that he'll have to pull the boat as the tide rises.

Phil objects to this, but the captain reminds him that he needs to steer the boat and Penny rows the dinghy next to him in an effort to help guide him. As the tide comes in, he struggles with pulling the boat but is able to maneuver it and they can get on with the cruise.

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That is until the propeller is damaged.

Again, the captain tries to get them into a shipping lane, but based on his calculations, he needs the couple to tow the boat by having the dinghy tied to it and the couple has to row.

Since this causes a hardship for Tracey, they are only able to row for half of their three-hour shift and the McCracken's take over.

Penny comes up with a work/rowing schedule that McCracken says must be obeyed and with the food running low, rations are put into place. Since Tracey isn't pulling her weight, her rations are limited, while Phil's are increased.

McCracken continues to deliver bad news about the progress of the rowing and after a couple of days, he tells them that they've just been rowing in a circle and they need to step up their rowing efforts. After another calculation, he assures them that they should be "rescued" within a few hours and should be enjoying a night in Nassau.

When help doesn't arrive as promised, Phil begins to believe that there's something more sinister on tap and has to figure out how he and Tracey are going to survive.

Since Tracey is a weak character, she believes that she's being punished for the affair and basically gives up hope, even though she continues to pray and make bargains with God. As she begins to break, the McCracken's thrive and take the situation in stride, while making plans for Phil's future.

This is one of those books that with every turn of the page another twist arises and is hard to put down.

It's a claustrophobic cruise into terror and I've always been surprised that this book was never turned into a movie.

Even though it had been a long time since I had read this, I was still drawn in (even though my copy is dusty and aged) and I was surprised that I remembered as much of it as I did. Plus, it's still a page turner.

If you're looking for something different and terrifying, this is a book you'll want to add to your reading list because you won't be disappointed.

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