Maurice and Maralyn: A Whale, a Shipwreck, a Love Story by Sophie Elmhirst - review by Francesca Peacock

Francesca Peacock

Suburbanites Who Went to Sea

Maurice and Maralyn: A Whale, a Shipwreck, a Love Story


Chatto & Windus 272pp £18.99

It could be something from a novel or a film. A couple from Derby were sailing around the world, from Southampton to New Zealand, when disaster struck. In the middle of the calm blue Pacific Ocean, a whale appeared out of nowhere, ‘twisted and writhed’ and struck their boat, the Auralyn. It sank and the pair had to decamp to an inflatable dinghy and a life raft. With perilously few supplies they set about the business of survival. Against all the odds, they lasted for just over 118 days until a South Korean fishing boat rescued them. 

Though seemingly implausible, this is the very real story of Maurice and Maralyn Bailey, who left England in 1973 in pursuit of something beyond their ‘mundane’ lives. They ended up enduring weeks of boredom, starvation and terror, surviving off the fish and turtles they could catch and facing waves so high they couldn’t see over them. 

The couple’s story has been told countless times: in feverish news reports immediately after their rescue; in an exclusive series in the Daily Express; and, in 1974, in their own book, 117 Days Adrift. Now, journalist Sophie Elmhirst has written her own lyrical, moving account of their exploits. But in Elmhirst’s telling, the focus is shifted. While the book begins with the destructive bulk of the whale (‘a meteor landing in the ocean, showering spray’), she dwells on more than just the disaster. In her handling, the whole journey becomes worthy of attention. The decision to leave 1970s Derby, a place of ‘ring roads and roundabouts’, was distinctly countercultural; Maurice and Maralyn were remarkable, Elmhirst argues, even before their feat of endurance. 

Maurice – an awkward man who lived only for his hobbies – met Maralyn, a confident woman nine years younger than him. They married and moved into a suburban bungalow. So far, so normal. But, as Elmhirst tells it, they exchanged their ordinary life for a dream: a life away

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