With the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the north easter that followed still readily visible, it seemed like I should include some books that spoke of severe weather to my annual list of the best nautical books.
A must-read hurricane piece is The Eye of Edna by E. B. White. This essay is included in his book The Points of My Compass. I just looked up the book on Amazon out of general interest and noted that a 2000 edition is selling at $155, but hopefully can be found cheaper elsewhere.
Recently I heard a radio commentator mention reading Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey to her kids. Mr. McCloskey was an award-winning New England author whose books for kids of all ages (Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal and others) are some of the finest kid books ever. Time of Wonder is a longer book, 64 pages, and set along the Maine coast. It is about a family vacation interrupted by a late season hurricane.
As an enticement for the next hurricane-related book, visit YouTube to check out a documentary film made in 1988 on the 50th anniversary of The Great New England Hurricane (1938). The film was made by M. L. Baron, with a script compiled from past writings of Everett S. Allen. It uses documentary photo footage, newspaper clippings, eyewitness reports and other material. Watching it is a compelling and sobering experience that reminds one of the incredible power of the ocean.
Everett S. Allen was a Vineyard boy, born on a farm off Tea Lane in Chilmark. He was the son of Joseph Chase Allen, who wrote the Wheelhouse Loafer column for the Vineyard Gazette for many years. Everett became a cub reporter in 1938 for the Standard Times in New Bedford. He was hired on the 19th of September, received his social security card on Sept. 20, and began work on Sept. 21, the same day the storm hit the New England Coast.
Mr. Allen’s book about the storm, A Wind to Shake the World, was an award-winner. He went on to write many other books, including Children of the Light (about the New Bedford whaling industry and the end of the Arctic fleet), The Black Ships (about rum-running and prohibition) and Arctic Odyssey – The Life of Rear Admiral Donald B. MacMillan.
With regard to nautical books not beset by hurricanes, a very special one that I’ve been mentioning for several years in expectation of publication is G.L Watson, The Art & Science of Yacht Design by Martin Black.
Published by Peggy Bawn Press last winter, this is an excellent book about yacht design. At 495 pages it is more than just a biography. It is an exhaustive history of the life and times of George L. Watson, the peerless Scottish yacht designer. Mr. Watson designed gorgeous sailboats for cruising and racing (including some that competed in early America’s Cup races) and steam yachts. He is also credited with being the designer of the modern life boat.
Another book, or in this case, a two-volume set of books, representing an obsessional devotion to boats
is Carriacou Sloops, written and published by Alexis Andrews.
The first book is Vanishing Ways, Sailing on the Last Carriacou Sloops. The second book is Genesis, Building A Traditional Carriacou Sloop.
Mr. Andrews has focused on these Caribbean beach-built vessels since 1995. The photos in these books are beautiful; the text is succinct but well detailed and the production is superb. Finding these books may be difficult, though. I found mine on the internet and there was only one copy available at the time.
Two books have been published this year about very special boats, written by long-time owners. The first is Aida: N. G. Herreshoff’s Finest Shallow-draft Yawl, written by Maynard Bray and published by the Herreshoff Marine Museum and Noah Publications (the publishers of the annual Wooden Boat Calendars). Maynard and Anne Bray bought Aida, a 33-foot, 6-inch centerboard cruising yawl, in 1967 and over the years lived onboard with a young family of three kids. In 2007 they sold her to Michael Mills “with the understanding that she’d immediately undergo the first-class refurbishing that was due her after eight decades of use.” That took place at Doug
Hylan’s yard in Brooklin, Me. This book is the result of Michael asking Maynard to write about her origins, history and the process of Aida’s rebuilding.
The other excellent book is Home Is the Sailor – With the Nyes Aboard the Three Carinas, written by Richard Nye and published by Bruce Farr Creative Publishing. This is the story of an extended family and their purchasing or commissioning the design and building of three ocean-racing/ocean-cruising yachts, all named Carina. The first was a wooden yawl designed by Phil Rhodes and built in 1940. The third Carina, a sloop, was made of aluminum and is now owned and sailed by Rives Potts of Westbrook, Conn.
A book that came late to my desk but which will be a valuable addition to my reference shelf is Mariner’s Guide to Nautical Information by Priscilla Travis, published by Cornell Marine Press. This is an extraordinary guide, very detailed and easily accessed as it is arranged alphabetically. Ms. Travis is described as a very experienced yachtswoman with thousands of miles of offshore sailing, including many miles in the higher latitudes and around the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Classic Classes by Vanessa Bird is a slim volume packed with detailed information and photos of more than 140 of the most enduring yachts, keelboats and dinghies. Published by WoodenBoat Books, this is actually more focused on British designs, but many American designs such as the Optimist Pram, Concordia Yawl, Luders 16, Herreshoff S-boat, Yankee One-Design and New York Thirty are included.
There were also some excellent Vineyard books that came out this year.
One such book, Mr. Hardy Lee, His Yacht, was re-published by the late Tom Hale, who labored for several years on this project before its publication late in 2011. I wish I had been able to review this before Tom’s death as I know that he would have been pleased to hear how much readers have enjoyed this book, first published in Boston in 1857 and written and illustrated by Dr. Charles Ellery Stedman. Tom Hale was the great-grandnephew of Dr. Stedman.
From Tom’s own introduction: “the book is a compilation of an amusing series of sketches rendered in considerable detail of the building of a handsome schooner, together with a running commentary on the undertaking . . . Mr. Hardy Lee appealed to me as a child as a wonderful story; as a teenager, a rollicking adventure and as an adult, a superb piece of artistry.”
Aside from the wonderful detail and the humor of the sketches and captions, there is a strong presumption that the stone “sketches” were actually done by Winslow Homer, who was a good friend of Dr. Stedman.
Two other Vineyard books published this year by Vineyard Stories feature the photography of Alison Shaw. To The Harbor Light with text by Brenda L. Horrigan is an easily-accessible guide to the lighthouses of the Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod. The Chappy Ferry Book (Back and Forth Between Two Worlds – 527 Feet Apart), written by Tom Dunlop, covers over two hundred years of history of the ferry. The afterword notes that the Chappy ferry is the fourth oldest business on the Vineyard, after the Kelley House in Edgartown, the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven and the Allen Farm in Chilmark.
My final choice for this year is Tide Lines about the British artist James Dodds and his work. The book is written by Ian Collins and published by Studio Fine Art Publications and Jardine Press Ltd. This book charts Mr. Dodds’s journey from boat builder to artist, printmaker and publisher, and contains innumerable sketches, woodcuts, linocuts, paintings and photos. This is more than a coffee table book – although it would be a star attraction on any coffee table. It is a work of art.
As always, when winter approaches and the nights are long I urge you to settle down in a comfortable chair with a cup of tea (or something stronger) to read one of these books. You won’t be disappointed, and if you’ve watched the videos about the various hurricanes, you’ll be glad to be tucked up safely ashore while reading about some lovely boats.