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For Christmas 2006 - Books to please mariners and mariners to be
Every year around Labor Day I start to pile up books to recommend as Christmas presents for mariners or wannabe mariners, and every year it gives me a lot of pleasure to look through favorite books, reading passages, checking photographs, looking at art work or gauging their value as reference works, when it comes time to write the reviews. This year my pile is short. In April, a small house fire that began as an electrical fire and spread to a foam cushion created an incredible mess in the house. It started - and caused the worst damage - in the room where all the maritime books lived. Seven months later, the house is back together, and the surviving and/or salvaged books are back on the shelves, but there hasn't been much time for reading new books, nor have I acquired many. However, as a grandmother of two small boys, I know that there are many other grandparents who will be looking for suggestions, so the adult maritime pile has been augmented by inclusion of some of our favorites.
Hooked, Pirates, Poaching And The Perfect Fish, by G. Bruce Knecht, published by Rodale. Mr. Knecht has written an informative and well-researched book about the worldwide piracy of fish in remote areas, in this case focusing on the Patagonian toothfish, renamed Chilean Sea Bass to improve its market image. The book begins some years ago with the discovery that a little-known fish from the far reaches of the Southern Ocean could be dolled up a bit to become an almost overnight best-selling fish - at considerable peril to the resource. The dust jacket comments that Hooked is at once a thrilling tale and a revelatory popular history that shows why our tastes have all manner of unintended consequences for the world around us. It is also, a white-knuckle seagoing thriller/chase story, a geo-political/legal study, and an environmental cautionary tale. I read it and added several more types of fish to my "do not eat" list (swordfish has been there for over 30 years). Knecht has also written a critically acclaimed book about the disastrous 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race titled The Proving Ground.
A Race For Real Sailors by Keith McLaren, published by David R. Godine. Any book by Godine is a work of art and this book is no exception. Written about the Fishermen's Races that took place between the schooners and fishermen of Lunenburg & Halifax, Nova Scotia and Gloucester and Boston, Massachusetts in the 1920s and 30s aboard the Banks fishing schooners such as Esperanto, Columbia, Henry Ford, Haligonian, and of course the Bluenose and the Gertrude L Thebaud, this wonderful book gives details of the intrigues and politics, the personalities (Angus Walters, Ben Pine, and Clayton Morrisey, for starters), the schooners themselves and the races. Exhaustively researched, and including numerous (51) photos, maps and an extensive glossary as well as an appendix of the "ever-changing race rules" and an index, this book is about the races in general, but most specifically it is the story of the Bluenose. McLaren is a fine writer who is also a sailor (he sailed on Bluenose II for two years) and professional mariner.
One caption on a photo of two America's Cup contenders (Shamrock IV and Resolute) sums up the impetus for the fishermen's races and the theme of this book: "What schooner fishermen disparagingly referred to as the timidity of these racers when faced with a good breeze provided the impetus to develop another series, hailed as a test for 'real sailors.'"
John Rousmaniere, a very skilled maritime author, has published several recent books in 2006. The first is A Berth To Bermuda, 100 Years Of The World's Classic Ocean Race, which was written to coincide with this year's Bermuda Race. Begun in 1906 as a race for "amateur sailors on normal boats," the race course currently takes the participants on a 635-nautical-mile course from Newport, R.I., to Bermuda on a bi-annual basis. Since 1906, "some 40,000 men and women have raced 4,200 boats over (and often through) more than 2,500,000 miles of rough seas on their way to Bermuda." Co-published by Mystic Seaport Museum, and the Cruising Club of America (who sponsors the race) the book is chronologically arranged, has extensive photos, numerous appendices, and all sorts of acknowledgements, sources, notes, and information.
This is a lovely book and a charming read. My only quibble is that I would have welcomed more specific details about the rebuild and a bit less about the peripherals. However, I applaud anyone who rebuilds a classic, and Bolero is a classic. She often sails into Vineyard Haven Harbor - keep your eyes peeled for the large dark blue yawl.
Worthy Of The Sea by Maynard Bray and Tom Jackson is a handsome book detailing the designs of K. Aage Nielsen, one of several largely unknown but highly respected 20th century yacht designers. I purchased a copy and sent it up to Maynard to be autographed, and I'm still waiting for it to return so I can't give you a detailed review but I can tell you that it is a carefully researched and well-written book including lines drawings and photos of a broad range of designs by this designer who also worked for several of the large yacht design offices such as John Alden in Boston.
Glass Plates And Wooden Boats, The Yachting Photographs of Willard B. Jackson at Marblehead, 1898 - 1937, by Matthew Murphy, published by Commonwealth Editions in Beverly, Mass. Murphy is the editor of Woodenboat Magazine and the narrative benefits from both his writing abilities and his access to all the reference resources of the WB library and the Peabody Museum and Hart Nautical Collections at MIT. The book is arranged chronologically, the chapters titled From Workboat To Yacht, to Knockabouts and Such, One-Designs, Sonders and Square-Meters, Schooner Yachts, The Universal Rule, and so forth. Sources are detailed and exhaustive and the index is very complete. The photos are lovely and cover the full range of working and pleasure boats in the birthplace of small-boat racing; the narrative is fascinating.
My abilities with both computers and electronic navigation tools often leave me wondering how I can walk and talk at the same time. It is a feeling that afflicts many. Tom Cunliffe, a British maritime journalist who is also a Royal Yacht Association Yachtmaster Instructor Examiner, has done a DVD in conjunction with Raymarine Inc. titled The Electronic Yachtmaster. It incorporates the use of modern navigational electronics into a detailed exposition on "how-to." Cunliffe's dialogue is thoughtful, engaging, and each section builds on the material presented in the previous section. Shot on Westernman, his own boat, a very traditional gaff cutter, in the Solent, his engaging and comforting style will inform and guide you in "the black arts." Although this is a British DVD, the principles are the same, and Tom's narrative is very confidence-building. This DVD is available in the US through United States Sailing Association for $40 at USSA, Box 1260, Portsmouth, RI, 02871-0800, 401-683-0800.
Of special note this year is The Little Ships, by Louise Borden - subtitled The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II. This is a fictionalized version of one of the most astonishing stories of WW II, and the watercolor wash pictures by Michael Foreman are great. Published by Aladdin in paperback, this is a wonderful story.
The Mousehole Cat, by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley, is another Aladdin paperback and it is about the tiny Cornish village of Mousehole. Bayley's pictures of lovely and the story is charming if a bit far fetched. Kids love it however, and the book was a Booklist Editor's Choice in 1990.
How I Became A Pirate, by Melinda Long with pictures by David Shannon, has very interesting graphics - appropriately piratical - and an entertaining story. Published by Harcourt, this is a great choice for a kid who longs to slip away to join the pirates.
Salty Dog by Gloria Rand, illustrated by Ted Rand - an Owlet Book. The cover notes that this is based on a true story. It is the tale of a puppy named Salty and his owner, named Zack. Zack is building a boat and Salty observes the process, as well as the outfitting. The story also tells about Salty riding on the ferry that runs back and forth to the island where the boatyard is, and of the friends he makes. And the story tells of the shakedown cruise. The boat looks - in frame - like a Gannon and Benjamin boat; the ferry looks like the Governor. The text is charming and the watercolor pictures are detailed and lovely. This book is a winner for kids.
If you have recent favorite books I'd love to hear about them. If you are getting rid of any nautical books, please contact me first, because I'm going to slowly replace my more badly damaged books.
Virginia Crowell Jones lives in West Tisbury.