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The Baltic, Bob and a boat
by Asa Butcher
Issue 16
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To the Baltic with Bob
Griff Rhys-Jones
Penguin, 2005

Many of you will know Griff Rhys-Jones as one half of the comedy duo Smith and Jones from their 1980's sketch show Alas Smith and Jones (or Lunta tupaan as the Finns called it), while those who have never heard of this Welsh comedian will know him from the following iKritic.

To the Baltic with Bob follows three men as they sail around the Baltic Sea in Griff's boat for four months during the summer of 2002. The book is written in the style of a travelogue, but despite not being quite as funny as Bill Bryson it has some amusing moments - the "At least three good jokes on every page" front cover quote by the Mail on Sunday is vastly exaggerated.

My primary grievance with the book is the heavy doses of nautical terminology and boating descriptions that Griff naturally uses throughout the book. It is understandable since the majority of the action (if that is the right word) takes place onboard the boat and each journey between destinations demands an explanation, but since I am among the genus of people who just don't get the idea of sailing these passages became a little wearisome in the end.

The book didn't really help me comprehend the fun of sailing because it seemed that the whole trip was one long moan about a lack of space, the arguing travelling companions, the lengthy hardships and countless other niggles that Griff narrates to us. It certainly didn't tempt me to re-evaluate my thoughts about sailing, which would be hard because I have a healthy fear of drowning.

The main reason I picked up the book was that it had the word 'Baltic' in the title and when I saw that their route took in Tallinn and Helsinki, the city in which I reside, I had to buy it. Griff's experiences and comments about Helsinki and Finland were the most entertaining chapters, so perhaps if I had visited the other places mentioned it would have been a fantastic read.

I don't want to sound too harsh about the book because I did actually enjoy it and there are perhaps three good jokes every two chapters; one or two made me stifle a laugh on the metro. One of my favourite parts is when the trio - Baines, Bob and Griff - are joined by another friend who asks them what wildlife they have seen so far on the voyage. Bob replies: "There was the pigeon which landed. That wasn't really wild, it was a racing pigeon, it had a ring. And there was the bee."

Griff Rhys-Jones does have his classic comedy moments and he describes his watery trek around the Baltic in detail, perhaps too much detail, but, like a boat in stormy water, you desperately hang on until the bad bit passes.

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