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Testimonials & Reviews



Latitudes and Attitudes magazine review:
This is the true story of two American women cruisers who are stranded on a remote atoll in Papua New Guinea after their sailboat strikes a reef and sinks. This riveting adventure documents their struggle to live and work with the indigenous people, refloat their boat, repair it and sail back to civilization.
Lattitudes and Attitudes Magazine, August 2008


THE ENSIGN, US Power Squadron magazine review:
A Pacific Adventure.
In this true story, two experienced Pacific voyagers, Joy Smith, a former USPS member, and Leslie Brown, hit a reef in remote Hermit Island, Papua New Guinea, sinking their Bristol 34 sloop, Banshee. To make matters worse, Joy injures her finger and they have no suitable medication on board. They find themselves at the mercy of the local population but have a strong friend in Paul, one of the native chiefs. Joy has to seek medical attention 130 miles away, while Leslie, an expert diver, attempts to repair the damaged hull underwater. This is a fascinating tale of the skill and determination of two able women who refuse to give up in the face of almost impossible odds. – Burrage Warner, The Ensign Magazine


Two Women Salvage Their Sunken Yacht on Papua New Guinea's Hermit Island

Life in a remote village on a small Pacific island mirrors the structure of life in any city of the globe, with one significant exception: Every nuance of officialdom; every link in the hierarchy; every resident's personality trait is amplified to a deafening level. It's one thing to have your cruising yacht anchored off a village, visiting people of a very different culture in the day but snug in your own world at night.

It's quite another to live ashore in a primitive microcosm and have the complication of raising your yacht that has sunk on a nearby reef. Some people may add that for two women to conquer these enormous hurdles and end up with smiles on their faces would be an impossible feat. But that's just what Joy Smith and Leslie Brown did indeed achieve after their 34-foot yacht Banshee hit a reef in the lagoon of Hermit Island in northern Papua New Guinea on October 21, 2002. Joy Smith tells their tale in the book Escape from Hermit Island , published earlier this year by Seaworthy Publications..

The couple was returning to Luf village from a few days diving within Hermit's lagoon when they clipped a coral head and their huge depth sounder's external transducer imploded into the hull, creating a large hole and a six foot crack in the hull. Banshee sank within three minutes.

Worse, Joy was trapped in the flooded cabin: “I was in the forepeak at that point, and looked back into the main cabin and saw the water rising quickly,” she wrote. “Got to get out of here!” she thought, but on her way out the water's rapid inflow slammed the cabin door shut catching her fingertip in its hinge slicing it off. She then realized that her way out was blocked by the now floating companionway ladder. Leslie was unable to move the obstacle, but luckily their friend Ben was nearby. “Ben leaped out of his dugout canoe and into the cockpit, shoved the ladder down, and grabbed for Joy.” Along with their cat Booby, the Banshee family was given sanctuary in Ben's house with his wife Lynnah, who was to become their friend, confidante and translator of language and Hermit Island custom.

Reading the first chapters, readers may not yet grasp the enormous difficulty that Joy and Leslie were in and her early comments in Escape from Hermit may appear surprising. Later, it becomes apparent that Joy wanted to convey every feeling and event in complete honesty and, when looked at in this light, thoughts such as “They haven't been bleeding it (the compressor) like I told them. Damn, I can't leave them for a moment” or “Shit, it doesn't even occur to them to look in the hatch on the other side” become understandable. Two women, one with a severely injured finger, had just lost their home and they were on a remote island hundreds of miles away from anything they could call civilization. Communication was difficult; many of the islanders took vital gear or items from the boat; and as women there were many jobs they needed to do that are taboo for the often downtrodden women in PNG culture.

When the yacht sank up to the cabin top, it came to rest sitting close to the edge of the underwater coral shelf and was at risk of sliding into the depths. To avoid this, the first job was to stabilize the boat using anchors. Next came the plugging up of the hole and crack and then the building of an underwater ‘cradle' to bring the boat upright. After five days of back-breaking work in difficult conditions, the boat was finally floated off the reef. Each step required much discussion and debate with the villagers, who often had very different ideas from Leslie and Joy on how to proceed. This negotiation process was almost as tiring as the work itself. Through all of this, Joy and Leslie's descriptions of life with the villagers and the help they provided in saving Banshee provides the reader with a rich picture of what it would be like if he or she were to end up in a similar situation. “Our new shared home was a pandanus and sago palm thatched house built on axe-hewn posts,” Joy wrote. “We would share this small, three-room village house with our newly acquired four-member family. I stepped down from the veranda, crossed the tree-lined foreshore in front of our house to the beach, and walked into a chaotic scene. Men, women and ‘pikinini' were everywhere, swarming over our soggy belongings that were strewn along the beach.”

Some of the villagers were happy to help, but some were hostile, and hampered the couple's efforts, stealing many of their possessions. Added to all this, Joy was forced to travel to the larger island of Manus to seek medical attention for her finger and buy the necessary gear to get Banshee habitable and moving again, leaving Leslie behind to navigate her way through the villagers' politics.

As you turn the pages of Escape , you begin to cheer Joy and Leslie on as they become more used to the ways of Luf village and surmount one problem after another. By the end of the week of the sinking at last Banshee was afloat, but early Friday morning, to Joy's and Leslie's horror, some of the villagers decided they had the “right” to sail her off her underwater cradle on their own. They were understandably worried, especially as no one else on the beach knew where the men may be taking her. “ Banshee's large genoa slowly unfurled and caught the light breeze. Doing what she was designed to do so well, she effortlessly followed her helm and sailed away from her gravesite and into the wind… ‘The Ninigo Boys” (Ninigo is an atoll to the west of Hermit) “were on stage and they knew it. Their tacking maneuvers upwind with only a foresail were flawless. Banshee swung to her anchor in front of the village

In late January, 2003, Joy and Leslie got the boat seaworthy enough to sail the 300 miles to Madang on the PNG mainland, where they spent two years doing repairs on the boat. From PNG, the couple sailed to Chuuk, in the Federated States of Micronesia , on to Palau and then to the Philippines , where they again spent a lot of time working on Banshee . They are currently in Subic, the Philippines . “Now that the typhoon season is over, we plan to go south to Palawan , heading for El Nido for clean water and diving,” Joy wrote in an email. “From Palawan then there's Malaysia and Thailand…”

Karen Earnshaw. S/V Seal , Majuro, Marshall Islands, journalist and sailor

Listen to what others have to say about the book.

Hey Joy...met you at the Oakland Boat Show. I dug right in & read your book (out loud to Doug as we drove back to Oregon). After just a few pages, he wanted to know why I was crying (his manly comment was "Geez Jeanne you know she made it, we talked to her at the boat show...why are you crying"....to which I replied that they were tears of "Joy". Wow, what a thing to go through!! Just wanted to let you know that we thoroughly enjoyed the book. We still are shooting for taking off this winter (probably from South Florida) so if I come up with anymore of my “questions", I may send them your way as you seem to have a wealth of knowledge and I liked your spunk....if you don't mind. Best of luck to you and Leslie!
Jeanne, Oregon and South Florida

Hi Joy, We met at the Strictly Sail show. I'm the musician who gave you a copy of my latest CD. I thoroughly enjoyed your book. What a nightmare. I was happy and proud of you both at the end.
Ron S., Miami

Hi Leslie & Joy, It was so nice seeing you again after all these years, and of course meeting you Joy. Just finished reading your book.......WOW!!!!!!!!!! What a story. Leslie, I never knew you were so handy. Good thing huh? I really enjoyed it and let's try and stay in touch. Take care and all the best and of course happy, safe sailing.
Stacy Mathias, Florida

As Leslie Brown's mother quite frankly I lived through the horror of not knowing if my daughter was alive or dead while I waited for the call that she was alive and in the Hermit Islands. The book is an amazing read - and an awesome testimony to these women's courage. I can tell you that it expresses in all honesty the anguish and fortitude that it took for them to survive the conditions they were faced with. They survived conditions that few could. It's an inspiration to all that with courage and inner strengths that they showed - anything can be accomplished.
Suzanne E. Brown, Boca Raton, Florida

Joy and Leslie, I finished reading your book and want to tell you that I enjoyed it. I was so frustrated with the PNG guys!! I kept reading because I knew it had a good ending. I am getting anxious to go sailing on Blackbird our Bristol 34 (hull number 17). It is located in Havre de Grace, MD at the top of the Chesapeake. Hope to hear from you.
Perry & Irene, Old Willow, Maryland

Hey Gals, Thanks for writing back. I am reading your book and really enjoying it. What an amazing struggle with the PNG culture. I know that it is a difficult life enough for you two let alone the PNG and the SDA ways to deal with. We are looking forward to spending a week in Maryland doing boat jobs to get Blackbird ready for launch sometime in April. I have to go now to read "the book". Fair Winds
Perry and Irene

Dear Joy & Leslie, It is almost 2 AM., and I just finished the book. I didn't want it to end. Tried to go to sleep earlier but could not, had to get up and finish. I loved it. Take care.
Johanna, Connecticut

Dear Joy and Leslie, My husband, Jean Claude and I met you last week at the Strictly Sail boat show in Miami. We are the couple who had been to Chagos and the Maldives where we met Nancy Early in 1998. I just wanted to let you know that I loved reading your book. In fact, I had a hard time putting it down as I was so engrossed in the story. I still find it hard to believe all that happened to the two of you and how you managed to save your boat and survive all those circumstances. It is amazing to think how one's life can change in an instant and makes me think of how vigilant we have to been on a sailboat. I found the reaction of the people in the atoll very odd. Did you ever get the idea that they wanted to be able to claim your boat, thus making life so difficult for you? Were they just hoping you would give up and leave? Well, it was great to meet you before reading the book because I was able to see your faces in this story. We wish you all the best in your voyages and maybe we will cross paths one day when we get back out there. I am going to recommend the book to my women's book group as I found it inspiring.
Ellen Sokol, Florida

I just wanted to say that I am reading your book that I purchased at Navy Pier on Saturday at show closing. It is so uplifting to hear what can be done with persistence. I want to thank you both for your encouragement to me. I have very little resources of money but a lot of desire to sail my little 25 foot 1989 Catalina to where ever I end up at. I feel that more than ever you are telling me to follow my dreams also. If it is ok with you I may ask for your support. Don't feel that a right or wrong may happen. Just to mentally understand my dreams and desire to be on the ocean. Take care and good job.
letsgosailing@.............., California

What a riveting read! I'm afraid I lived through much of your tension and agony as if I were there. Yes, how well I know the knots in the stomach, the dread and the dead weight of knowing the mountainous work before you can get the boat repaired.

One of the biggest horrors, though, was the attitude and actions indulged in by some of the islanders. Fortunately, others were insightful enough to render you true aid and open minded enough to allow for the cultural differences and not condemn you or take advantage. Without those cool minds, you probably would have been overcome. To me that was the most scary part, how they pushed and prodded, becoming ever more insistent in taking all of your possessions. Both of you are to be commended for persevering despite the difficulties, physical, emotional, psychological. I would have been afraid to go to Port Moresby by myself. There are so many horror stories, especially concerning the treatment of western women there. What a shame that it has become such a violent place, under siege. Your book should sell well.

Jeannine Talley, PhD. University professor (ret.), author, artist, sailboat owner and transpacific bluewater sailor, Pinellas Park, Florida

Joy: I finished the book this weekend. I started, then I could not put it down...really so interesting...what an ordeal! Leslie is quite the gal…you should be proud! This could be a great movie....
Jay Mortimer, Connecticut

I finished the book last night--that is really fast for me as I can usually put a book down. The Escape from Hermit Island kept me wondering what was going to happen next--it's practically a mystery! I hope they do well with it. A true adventure I would never want to have. I was fortunate enough to be invited to hear a short talk given by these two women prior to the release of their book. (They were visiting family in the states two years ago). To hear the tale first-hand was captivating; to read the book was fascinating. It is a true story of a great, though difficult, unplanned adventure.
Shirley Dion, Minuteman Yacht Club, New Haven, Connecticut

Joy and Leslie: When you boarded the Miami Beach Local bus on the last day of the 2008 Miami Boat Show and joined us in the forward ‘SSCA section’, Paula and I were so impressed from our all too brief chat with Joy that we couldn’t wait to get our hands on Escape From Hermit Island, Frankly words can not express the admiration (astonishment) at what you two accomplished after the tragic accident that lead to the rapid sinking of Banshee.

Your book takes the reader right to the island and its people, their culture and prejudices. Actually, it kind of reminded me of an adult version of Lord of the Flies. From the use of underwater epoxy, to the coordinated EPIRB signals, to the re-flotation of your boat, to the dangerous trips for supplies, to the extraordinary work against so many adversaries, your story will be widely read, studied by cruisers and appreciated by all. Even your cat, Booby, survived with only 1 or 2 missing ‘lives’. Incredible.

I think your regrettable experience could be turned into a full-length movie and/or a multi-week television series as a successful REAL ‘reality’ series. The only problem would be that most people would not believe the story was true - much less possible. But it was true – and you two did it ! YOU actually lived a horrible, true disaster in a remote part of the third (? fourth) world and not only lived to tell about it – but, actually sailed away from it.
Paula and Bob Servis, S/V Calypso’s Mermaid

Joy and Leslie: I have to tell you, WHAT A BOOK! I loved it. I read it voraciously. I couldn’t put it down. It was one of those rare books that maintained the suspense from beginning to the “bitter end.” I was hooked from the beginning. I don’t know whose idea the “two voices” was, but it was a good one. Having met and talked with you, I could hear every word said as if spoken by you two. Very effective and very well done.

I thought the culture clash, which would be “you” (and us readers -- people in the modern, Western world) versus “them,” (PNG islanders with that layer of SDA thrown on top of them,) was actually handled quite tactfully and with sensitivity in how you presented both them and your views in the book. I’ve always looked at a globe or world map and seen Papua New Guinea as a void – I literally knew nothing about it. I learned more from your book than if I’d taken a course at the community college. You did a fantastic, introspective job of revealing the place, both at the atoll and on the mainland.

Maybe other readers will say this, maybe not, but once the boat was floated I wondered if that was the climax – maybe the sail away was going to be rough, but that “the worst” was over. Far from it. “The worst,” which can be read as “most exciting,” was yet to come! The pages around 200 had me wide awake at 2 a.m. (You as a "refugee," the ride back, and Leslie being harassed back on Hermit.)

So fortunate that you persevered. You floated that boat, made it fit to sail, and brought it home. Then recounted this incredible experience in a very well-done book, which no doubt was almost as challenging as the adventure itself. And by fortunate, I mean WE’RE fortunate. We, the readers. I am a big reader of nautical narratives and fiction. And I rank it up there with my favorites: Melville’s Typee, the Pardey’s Cruising in Seraffyn even O’Brian’s Desolation Island.

I just think you have written a modern gem. The chapters over at Lorengau Town and Port Moresby and dealing with all that while being separated and wondering what Leslie was having to deal with – very, very few readers could not be drawn into that. This book would make an excellent movie, by the way.
Kevon Andersen, S/V Ionia, author, Miami

Great read!! This is a great story about courage, independence and adventure! Although Leslie is my sister, I still came away from reading it thinking that these are two amazing women. We at home only knew small amounts of what was going on via email reports. Their experiences make for a compelling read...enjoy!!
Tammi Lauder, Chappaqua, New York

As Leslie's father's wife, I can say the story is entirely true. When the U.S. Coast Guard contacted her Dad, he did not know for days whether she and Joy were alive or not. This book relates the horrors of these two women and their harrowing experiences in raising their beloved sunken boat and surviving difficult third world conditions--no clean running water, minimalist toilets, limited food, etc. Even though I knew they survived, the story as told was riveting and I could not put the book down. For any person who dreams of adventure this is a fascinating read of courage and determination. A truly great read.
Barbara Brown, Westport, Connecticut

I read Escape and completely enjoyed it. I've read dozens of sailing books and rank this one up there with the best, it's nonstop adventure from the first page to the last. The story is really more than a just an amazing survival story of two woman and a sunken sailboat--it's about following your dreams and continuing to pursue them even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Because the story is so incredible, some may not believe it happened. I know Joy and went to her seminar on the book at the Oakland boat show and I am confident the book is a completely true and accurate account of what happened. Enjoy it!
David Fein, Colorado Springs, Colorado

This book fell into my hands as a gift not too long ago and I was totally engrossed after the first few pages. We don't often have the perspective of two women traveling alone, in a desolated part of the world, stuck and having to pull upon resources few of us have had to test. I was touched by their determination and zeal for continuing a lifestyle some might not understand. This is a story of grace under hostile fire and my admiration for the writers is large and appreciative. Bravo! I hope there is a serial!!
Charles Pierce, Connecticut

This is an absolutely amazing story. A must read for anyone who loves adventure, has sailed to remote places or dreamed of sailing to remote places.
Michele L. Ripple, Portland, Oregon

Out of five stars, Escape from Hermit Island deserves a six! Not only is it a gripping and well told adventure tale, it is also an interesting commentary on dealing with cultural conflict in an isolated part of the world known to few of us. As a cruising sailor, I read many books that chronicle the experiences of those that go farther than I and travel to the exotic places. This is a book that I couldn't put down. It is probable that a "nuclear" family would receive quite a different welcome than two women who challenged their social norms. The tenacity, perseverance and skills of these two women were extraordinary and their story riveting. A true story that reads like a novel and not just for sailors, their eventual triumph is uplifting for anyone who values success achieved against incredible odds..
Fred Braman, Capt USN (ret.)

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