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Christmas gift suggestions for the literate sailor
For the past couple of years I've enjoyed sitting down in early November with a large pile of maritime books read or sampled over the past year and writing up a capsule review to share with Island readers who may be looking for the perfect Christmas gift for friends, family, or even to put on their own wish list. In years gone by I've concentrated on books published within that year and on books pertaining to yachts. This year I've varied the agenda somewhat, including a few old (possibly out of print) classic cruising tales, several books about oceanographic and naval subjects and an encyclopedia as well as the general run of art books and yachting books. I'm not partial to maritime fiction, so that category is omitted, but if you are looking for good fiction, the Patrick O'Brian series, or better yet, the Horatio Hornblower series by C. F. Forester (much better than O'Brian in my opinion), and any of the stirring nautical thrillers by Sam Llewellyn should provide hours of pleasure for any sailor. In deference to local authors, I'll start by mentioning several titles that have already been extensively reviewed in The Times.
Dr. Michael Jacobs is familiar to many Islanders in his role of medical doctor, primary care physician, and medical examiner. He is a familiar figure along the waterfront as he is also a sailor, with extensive off-shore experience, and a kayaker. He and Dr. Eric A Weiss have co-authored a very useful and handy book titled A Comprehensive Guide To Marine Medicine. Edited by Islander Nis Kildegaard, this little book of essential medical information for both the coastal and the offshore sailors was published recently by Adventure Medical Kits.
Tora Johnson is the author of Entanglements, The Intertwined Fates of Whales and Fishermen, which is a compelling and sobering account, from every perspective, of the intersections between fishermen, scientists, whale advocates, and the whales themselves. The book is based on Tora's many years of personal observations as a mariner, fisherman, and college professor (at Cape Cod Community College and at the College of the Atlantic in Maine) as well as an author and journalist. She wrote a waterfront column for the MVT during her years on Martha's Vineyard with her family. The book was published in 2005 by the University Press of Florida. There is an index and extensive reference material. For those of us who have sailed with whales and watched them in their element, or been fishermen whose fishing grounds or gear has been affected, or have been involved in whale rescue efforts, or all of the above, the situation is fraught with many booby traps and presents no easy solutions.
Sea Struck by W. H. Bunting is a multi-award-winning account of the final decades of square-rigged sail under the American flag; it is based on three shipboard journals kept by Carleton Allen, Frank Besse, and long-time Island visitor and resident Rodman ("Tod") Swift as young men, during deep sea voyages in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The book is illustrated with many photographs including an extraordinary collection of photos taken on board by Carleton Allen, and contains copious footnotes in Bill Bunting's inimitable authorial style, along with a detailed index. Captain Swift owned and sailed the lovely little schooner yacht Tyche and he also owned a camp in Aquinnah. Several years ago his daughters donated many of his belongings to the Historical Society in Edgartown and it is the Historical Society who, with the New Bedford Whaling Museum and the publishers Tilbury House, have published the present volume. At publication in 2004 David McCullough described it as an instant classic and the public and critics have agreed.
Striper Chronicles, by Leo N. Orsi Jr. (privately published by AKMO Publishers), is a loving memoir of fishing legends, lore and history from two sister islands: Block and Jamestown Islands in Rhode Island. Captain Orsi has been a fisherman all his life and this is his book about the fish he's caught, the people he's met and his many adventures over the past 30 years while fishing for striped bass. He was on Martha's Vineyard this fall for an author's publication party and to meet some of our island's legendary fishermen and his enthusiasm for fishing and for the natural world were infectious.
The Encyclopedia Of Yacht Design is the definitive work, spanning several hundred years, about yacht designers worldwide. Edited by Lucia del Sol Knight and Dan McNaughten and originally conceived as a much simpler book (and a year's work) this magisterial work includes detailed biographies of well over 500 yacht designers, including photos and line drawings, as well as explanations of the principle yacht racing rules, classes, and a wealth of other information and data. It has an exhaustive 30-page index, includes entries by 88 different writers from all over the world, and the content was guided by a maritime advisory board which reviewed each entry for accuracy and helped to meld everything into a cohesive whole (many of the writers had to be translated, or their manuscripts edited for clarity), so the book is truly authoritative. Nat Benjamin has an entry and Rebecca of Vineyard Haven is pictured. The book was edited by Jim Mairs (formerly one of the owners of When and If) for WW Norton, publisher, and in the interests of full disclosure I have to note that I helped Lucia with many of the entries. This book is very expensive, no question about it, and the year or two project stretched to eight years, but the ENCYCLOPEDIA (whose actual publication date is 2006) will remain the benchmark reference work for many years to come. It's a must-have book for any serious nautical library.
Although most of us pass through Woods Hole on a regular basis on our way to and from the Island, it is doubtful that we think more than a passing thought about the extraordinary collection of scientific institutions that make Woods Hole, and Falmouth their home. It is in fact the home to a unique and world-renowned group of marine science institutions, laboratories, and research facilities. Chief among these is the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. More familiarly known as WHOI, it has just celebrated its 75th anniversary and remains one of the world's premier oceanographic research establishments. Down To The Sea For Science by Vicky Cullen is an engagingly written account of the events leading up to WHOI's founding as well as pivotal projects, characters, and decisions in the years since 1930. Subtitled 75 Years of Ocean Research, Education, and Exploration at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, it was written to coincide with the 75th anniversary celebrations. Here one can read about the ketch Atlantis, and subsequent research vessels, about Columbus Iselin, the longtime director (and Island resident), about Alvin the deep submergence vessel, along with various research projects, and scientific discoveries, all well illustrated by black-and-white photographs, maps and charts, time lines, additional reference material, and a detailed index. This is a fascinating book written for the general reader with charm and humor but provides enough information to enable a serious scientist to dig for more. I highly recommend it.
An old favorite volume of those folks who admire the Gloucester fishing schooners is Fast And Able, by Gordon Thomas, published originally in 1952 (when a few of the schooners were still fishing) As Builders Of Gloucester's Prosperity, and republished in 1968. In 2002 an expanded and extensively revised edition was published by Commonwealth Editions under the aegis of Captain Jeffrey Thomas, Gordon's son. This paper book is deceptively slender; in fact it is a seminal reference with capsule biographies of many of the Gloucester fishing schooners, glossaries, time lines and chronologies, "fantastic facts and figures", nicknames of the fishermen, photos, lines drawings, and a detailed index. This is a must-have volume for any nautical library, particularly for owners interested in traditional sailing working watercraft.
A Mariner's Miscellany by Peter H. Spectre, published by Sheridan House/Seafarer Books in 2005 follows in the Spectre tradition of the highly successful Mariner's Book Of Days, with additional roots in the Mariner's Catalog; it expands upon a variation of the concept. Peter says it best in his introduction: "This book is an amalgam of the two, a combination of the tangible and the intangible - practical information about boats, anchors, rope, and ballast, cheek by jowl with poetry, legend, lore, superstitions, language of the sea, art, thoughts about literature, and more" Paperback.
Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Started Sailing by John Vigor, paperback published 2005 by Sheridan House. This paperback is an interesting and engaging compilation of the author's thoughts, containing advice on everything from anchoring to zincs. It is written in a succinct and informative style, with a lot of details and humor, and includes plenty of tips such as, "If you must have an obsession, boating is better than most."
An Irregular Sort Of Life by C. Dana Densmore (who also wrote "A-BOAT" about his adventures aboard the oceanographic research vessel, the ketch Atlantis - still remembered by many older Islanders) is a self-published paperback book available from the author. It details his life at sea and on oceanographic expeditions aboard WHOI vessels from the 1950's to the mid 1980's, including cruises on the Crawford Atlantis II, Chain, Knorr and other vessels, mostly in the Atlantic, Med and Indian Oceans. If you read his earlier book about research expeditions on Atlantis and enjoyed it, you'll enjoy this one.
The Great Classic Yacht Revival by Nic Compton was published in 2004 by Rizzoli International Publications. It is a coffee table type of book with many gorgeous color (and early B & W) photos accompanied by a narrative which outlines the changes in thinking about boats over the past 25 years - from the days when fiberglass boats were the new best thing to the revival during the 1980s of a growing interest in classic boats (mainly wood), generated at first in the US. The book has chapters covering various topics, from the legacy of wooden boats all the way through to the new generation of "modern classics." This is a very interesting book, covering on a global scale what is actually a rather narrow topic, but as in any such work coverage is diluted from having to cover so much ground and time (and so many boats). The author was the editor of Classic Boat Magazine in England for four years and has been traveling to many classic boat regattas and gathering places since.
Deep Water And Shoal by W. A. Robinson is a classic cruising story from the late 1920s - the story of a young man who sailed a small boat around the world over the course of three and a half years, visiting many Pacific Islands, which at that time were still very primitive by our standards, along the way. His cruising budget of $1,000 for the whole circumnavigation is unimaginable today and equally unimaginable is that he visited so many places and had adventures and experiences that the rest of us can only read about. The Pacific Islands were much changed by the arrival of "civilization" and WW II essentially finished the process of changing them forever. My copy is #4 in The Mariners Library and it is well worth trying to find a used copy somewhere.
Published in 2001, Fight For The Sea by John Frayn Turner details "Naval Adventures from World War II" chronologically arranged and for both the Pacific and the Atlantic. Although published by the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis, Maryland, the author is British and so there is a bias towards British stories and British sources.
An Unsung Hero, Tom Crean - Antarctic Survivor, by Michael Smith was published by The Collins Press in Ireland and my paperback edition is a reprint from 2004. Crean accompanied Sir Ernest Shackleton on his legendary expedition to the Antarctic in Endurance in 1914; he was aboard the James Caird with Shackleton when they sailed to South Georgia from Elephant Island after Shackleton's party was forced to abandon Endurance and attempt to sail to safety when she broke up in the ice. He was also with Robert Scott on an earlier expedition. His story, exhaustively researched (not easy because he did not keep a journal or log and was semi-literate) and written with enormous care and copious detail by Mr. Smith, is fascinating. Ironically, after such an adventurous life, Crean died at 61, in his native Ireland from infection caused by a perforated appendix. He is revered on the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland where there is a permanent exhibition commemorating his life and as an early explorer who ranks up with the legendary names.
Another Irish book, which will be of interest to devotees of traditional working watercraft, is The Galway Hookers, Sailing Work Boats of Galway Bay, written by Richard J. Scott and published in 2004 by A K Ilen Co in Limerick, Ireland. An exhaustively researched and well-written narrative of an unusual type of sailing craft, the book has pages and pages of photographs, a glossary of terms in both English and Gaelic, details about many of the Hookers (and the varying types), a map/chart showing the geographic location, lines drawings, and construction details. I got my paperback edition in Dingle, but I've seen it offered in several maritime book catalogues.
A voyage that fulfilled a life-long dream was undertaken by a British grandmother of 88 when she sailed across the Atlantic with her son in 2002, in a 26-foot wooden boat designed by her husband and built in the 1930s. The background: Helen Tew, by then a highly experienced sailor, was supposed to sail with her father Commander R. D. Graham in 1934 on the 7-ton cutter Emanuel across the Atlantic, but in a last minute decision he refused to take her, citing the dangers of such a passage. He wrote about his passage and adventures in Rough Passage (well worth a read) but his daughter refused to read the book or discuss the trip until after her own successful (and far less rough) round-trip trans-Atlantic voyage in 2002/2003. Her experiences, and a chapter about an early voyage with her father to the Faeroe Islands, are included in Transatlantic At Last, a paperback published in 2004 by Seafarer Books. The book is illustrated by a grand-daughter's drawings, and there is a "companion book" by her son Captain Ian Tew, titled Sailing In Grandfather's Wake, about his simultaneous circumnavigation (the various Tews sailed in company on their respective boats, for the passage back to England). Although Mrs. Tew obviously relished the experiences and the islands visited as well as the ocean sailing, some of us would have preferred more specific details about the boat and their preparations. That minor quibble aside, her voyages are remarkable in many ways, not the least of which was her age. She died in November of 2004 just as her book was published, but friends report that she was sailing in dinghies and on her gaff cutter Mary Helen until the summer of 2004, and she was narrowly beaten in being honored as British Yachtswoman of the year in 2003 by Ellen McArthur who gave Mrs. Tew her celebratory bottle of champagne as a mark of respect. All of these books are available in paperback although you may have to look in used book catalogues.
Maritime Britain By Paul Heiney, was written, in part, to celebrate Britain's Maritime Heritage, and in part to take advantage of the fever-pitch interest generated by the 200th celebration of Nelson's victory. This handy sized paperback, published in 2005 by Adlard Coles includes detailed information about ports and museums, historic ships, and coastal attractions. If you are going to visit England and wish to do a nautical museum crawl, you'll need this book. And even if you aren't, there are lots of fascinating stories and bits and pieces of information.
William Stark was a crew member on the historic 1949 voyage of the square rigger Pamir, and he wrote a book about his experiences, titled The Last Time Around Cape Horn, published in paperback by Carroll & Graf in 2003. Stark sailed 16,000 from Port Victoria in Australia to Falmouth, England around Cape Horn on the last grain run made by Pamir and her sister Passat. The narrative is accompanied by maps and contains additional information including bibliography and index.
A Yachtsman's Eye, The Glen S. Foster Collection of Marine Paintings by Alan Granby, published in late 2004 by WW Norton and the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, is an extraordinary book of fine paintings, beautifully produced with an outstanding narrative and highly detailed captions plus additional information about exhibitions and details of each work of art. Glen Foster had a legendary collection of British and American maritime art which, upon his death, was dispersed at auction. This limited edition book has won awards for the quality of the editorial content and the reproduction of the art work.
In contrast, Wooden Ships And Iron Men, The Maritime Art Of Thomas Hoyne authored by Reese and Marilyn Palley, and also produced by Independence Seaport Museum and WW Norton, is a book whose original high promise remains unrealized. The reproduction of the paintings is good but the somewhat skimpy narrative is in an unfortunate, breathlessly gushy style and is riddled by typos and inaccuracies. Tom Hoyne died tragically young but his oil paintings, which number around 100, of Gloucester fishing schooners, are simply wonderful. This book, produced with the help of Tom's widow Dori (in securing introductions to private owners), was scheduled to coincide (and serve as the accompaniment to) with a retrospective exhibition of Hoyne paintings in Philadelphia last summer. Unfortunately, the book was delayed and the exhibit was almost over before publication. Some of Hoyne's paintings are in the permanent collection of Mystic Seaport Museum, while others are in other museums as well as in private collections. Hoyne painted from models which he commissioned and one very interesting chapter in the book was written by Erik Ronnberg, junior, who built many of the models. Charlie Sayle of Nantucket and Gloucester residents Gordon Thomas, and Dana Story, and Erik himself all served as a "support team" providing historical research and advice on technical details to Hoyne, and his attention to detail and historical accuracy is reflected in the paintings.
The Wreckers, by Bella Bathurst, is "A Story of Killing Seas And Plundered Shipwrecks, From The 18th Century To The Present Day". It presents historical facts and stories of wrecks all around England. Published in 2005 by Houghton Mifflin in hard back, the book has maps, photos, an extensive bibliography of articles and books, plus a detailed index. Ms. Bathurst is a Scottish journalist, and the acclaimed author of The Lighthouse Stevensons. I have this book on my "to read" pile, but a skimming reveals that it's a fascinating history of a somewhat neglected subject.
Another book on my "to read" pile is Sailing For Home, A Voyage from Antigua to Kinsale by Theo Dorgan, a hardbound book published by Penguin in Ireland in 2004. The author, one of a crew of four, details a 4,000 nm passage from Antigua to Kinsale in Ireland via the Azores, on the 70' modern schooner Spirit of Oysterhaven. The book is based upon his log of the voyage.
The New Bedford Yacht Club, A History, by Llewellyn Howland II, was published in 2002 by the NBYC to celebrate its 125 years and although it's mainly a history of the Yacht Club, the members and their boats, it's also a history of New Bedford, the port and the region, during a very interesting period of history - as sail gave way to steam, and steam gave way to diesel and the nuclear age. Louis Howland is a member of the Howland family of South Dartmouth (think everything nautical from whaling vessels to Concordia yawls), a superb editor and the proprietor of Howland and Company which specializes in maritime books. He is also a wonderful writer (he's working on a book about Starling Burgess, I believe), and he's had a hand in many of the books that I've written about. This book incorporates pieces from other authors (including Everett Allen), photographs, maps, lines drawings, a very detailed bibliography and a voluminous index. This is a beautifully produced book with much to interest even the non-nautically inclined.
The Sailing Companion, by Miles Kendall, was published in 2005 by Robson Books as part of a British series in which each book contains snippets of information pertinent to various hobbies and interests (Cooks, Gardeners, Politics, Wildlife, etc.) It's a charmingly produced little volume designed to be picked up and read during those periods of time when you have but a few minutes. The author/editor describes it as an eclectic collection of nautical knowledge. I suspect that it will end up next to the throne in the world's best reading room but it would be great on board, or in the car to be read while waiting for the kids to get out of soccer or your wife out of the Mall.
I've saved one of my favorite books until last: Oyster River by George Millar (who died last spring at age 96) is a classic gem of a cruising yarn. Millar and his wife Isabel sailed a lovely white 24 T Frederick Shepherd yawl Amokura from England in the 1950s to spend two months cruising in the Gulf of Morbihan, an island-strewn body of water - an inland sea as the subtitle reports - on the west coast of France near Vannes in Brittany. This is one of the most interesting cruising tales that I have read, and although originally published in 1963 I believe that it is still in print. George Millar, in real life a journalist, spent WWII in the British military, much of it behind the lines in Europe (he had been captured in N Africa, imprisoned in Italy, escaped on the way to Germany and spent time with Resistance forces in France) before taking up yachting after the war. He and his wife also took an old wooden powerboat through the French canals to the Med and many of his adventures are chronicled in various books. He was a very interesting writer and I highly recommend all of his books, including those about his war-time adventures. They are all well-written and fascinating, but Oyster River is really special.
Virginia Jones of West Tisbury is a sea cook, a long distance sailor, and the former office manager of Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway.