A 'highly entertaining' clever book which allows you to sail to the sites of Greek mythology, says Yachting Monthly literary contributor, Julia Jones

In the Wake of the Gods

Sam Jefferson

Adlard Coles £20

This entertaining book is based on the simple premise that the mythical sites of Greek legend are real places.

It’s not an entirely new idea: archaeologists began investigating the reality of Troy in the 19th century and cruising companions are regularly enlivened with mythological reference as well as information from classical history.

These, however, can too easily reman scattered fragments, as incomprehensible and obscurely disappointing as some archaeological ruins.

Jefferson neatly switches emphasis: he puts the stories first and sailing second.

Assuming no prior knowledge he opens with a brisk and highly entertaining introduction to the gods – the residents of Olympians who are too often bored or angry and show ‘no interest in practising safe sex’.

He’s not much more complimentary about the legendary heroes; Jason is described as ‘hunk-headed’: Odysseus ‘often sly and sneaky’.

After such a lively opening it comes as a slight shock to turn the page onto a description of Mediterranean mooring techniques.

But if you can’t moor, you can’t explore.

The book’s structure is an extremely clever arrangement of narrative and cruise.

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The legends are vividly and hilariously retold in a sequence which leads so appealingly from one destination to another that one feels like plotting the co-ordinates at once.

An area chart might have been welcome to those of us who are geographically challenged. In broad terms the narrative moves through the Ionian Sea towards the Saronic Gulf and Athens.

It feels story-driven and is wonderfully readable even if one doesn’t have a realistic chance of heading to the Med any time soon.

Each chapter heading has its sub-title: recommended anchorages include Ammoudia: ‘Gateway to Hades’ realm’ and Strofades where one is invited to ‘Hang out with the Harpies’.

Paxos is described as Poseidon’s hideway’ and Zakynthos as Artemis and Apollo’s ‘holiday hotspot’.

Jefferson has little time for scholarly quibbles: if Odysseus is said to come from Ithaca and Ithaca is marked on the chart, that’s sufficient, whether or not Levkas or Cephalonia are claiming to be the ‘real’ mythical Ithaca.

If you like your gods and heroes treated with reverence, this book is not for you.

Otherwise, it is both a great introduction for people who haven’t read Homer, Ovid and Apollonius of Rhodes and full of unexpected laughs for those who have.

I loved the tongue-in-cheek description of the Odyssey as setting the scene for modern charter holidays.

Occasionally I wondered whether the physical design wasn’t a little over complicated – text on a strong blue background isn’t always easy to read – but overall this is an attractive and very clever book which manages to include plenty of invaluable advice on shelter and anchoring depths as well as a hilarious 21st century take on the classical legends.

I enjoyed it immensely.

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