Nautical Book (and Other) Reviews Pt3

NOTE: These reviews are by a US reviewer and may be a bit America-centric. Most if not all however will appeal to anyone who loves classic yachts and traditional boats, their design (and designers), construction and history.

Face to face – Ocean Portraits by Huw Lewis-Jones published this year by Conway in England is another visual feast with a wide-ranging focus (no puns intended). The foreword is by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and there are photo portraits from all over the world from the late 1800’s to date. Not only are the photographs extensively captioned and annotated but there are chapters about the state of the sea, bibliographies and indexes as well as resources for further reading. This is a book that leads you ever onwards…

Dip into the selections and you’ll be hooked; you’ll just have to look for more information and books. For instance, read about Richard Wheeler, a Buzzards Bay resident who, in 1991 at the age of 60, undertook a 1500 NM trip from Newfoundland to Buzzards Bay along the migratory path of the now extinct Great Auk, and from that he made an award winning documentary entitled The Haunted Cry of a Long Gone Bird. His mission for the past 20 years has been to further our understanding of the marine environment. Or look at the photo of Starling Burgess perched on the upper most fin of a submarine conning tower – dated 1938 in the Gulf of Maine. Or Sylvia Earle, the Cousteaus, Eric Tabarly, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Charlie Barr, Sir Francis Beaufort, Nathaniel Philbrick, or Frank Beken. This is an obsessively addictive book.

Samuel Llewellyn is a well-known and successful writer of popular marine fiction – with punchy titles such as Riptide, Maelstrom and Blood Knot. As you might guess these are all gutsy books full of skullduggery, a hapless but capable hero (capable of sustaining almost endless hard knocks) and nefarious criminal activities on board various boats, usually in British waters. Last year Mr Llewellyn switched gears and moved to pursue a long cherished dream. He is now the editor and publisher of The Marine Quarterly, which is a handily sized and beautifully produced little soft-cover book full of short articles, stories, book reviews and various works of art. This is not a glossy magazine found on any newsstand, nor have I seen it advertised anywhere, you have to subscribe at the substantial expense of £55 annually (in the US). There is no advertising and this is the type of semi-scholarly journal for a nautical collector of ‘lovely things’. A recent edition (not the one shown) had a lovely painting on the front cover by James Dodds, who is a marine painter currently very much in vogue.

Last year Messum’s Gallery in London held an exhibition of Mr. Dodds’ iconic paintings, and the catalog was available for £15, with a standard hardback edition with jacket for £35. It is very difficult to describe his paintings but once you see one you’ll never forget it. They are detailed but simple and you get just the boat without any extraneous detail or background. If you want a catalog try: [email protected].

Sailing Yachts and Yarns is by Tom Cunliffe and published by Wiley Nautical. Tom is a raconteur par excellence – if you want to watch a brilliant example of Tom ‘at work’ order a copy of the BBC TV’s The Boats that Built Britain, which also comes in American format DVD from S, Y & Y is a compilation of many of the columns that he’s written for the fine British sailing magazine Yachting Monthly. The columns range from the sacred to the profane, most are loaded with more than a soupcon of humor and informative prose, and each chapter is a stand-alone piece. Tom’s introduction notes that being a journalist allows one to express one’s own thoughts and opinions, and that the column has given him a soap-box. Those of us who have been privileged to hear Tom speak, or to spend some time with him know that he’s never short of an opinion and that he is a very common sense, practical sort of person, as well as a seaman (and teacher as well as Yacht Master Certificate Examiner) of the first rank. Just read the first piece entitled Holy Cow and you’ll be hooked.

The Little Black Dog has Puppies by Joyce Spooner, with illustrations by Terre Lamb Seeley, was published last May as the third in a series, and it is just as engaging and charming for kids of all ages as the first two books. It is, of course, about the original black dog owned by Captain Bob Douglas of Shenandoah (102ft square topsail schooner from Vineyard Haven Harbor), the dog who whelped the Vineyard whitefoot pups, and whose image has helped to fund the rebuild of several classic boats. The book – both narrative and the lovely images – are enchanting. If you are thinking of sending a book to a favorite relative, this is the book. My grandsons love this series and even though they are now growing up they still enjoy having me read these books to them.

why read moby dickNathaniel Philbrick has just written Why Read Moby Dick? a slender intellectual treatise encouraging all of us to read what has been described as the greatest piece of US fiction. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, has inspired films, cartoons, comic books, festivals, all sorts of other events and even some rap music, while remaining an allegorical and classic novel. Philbrick, from our neighboring island of Nantucket, describes Moby Dick as “one book that deserves to be called our American Bible,” and he wants all of us to read it.

Right up front I have to admit that not only have I never read Moby Dick but I have steadfastly refused to read it, based mainly on a biased and contrarian belief that anything that has been so highly touted, or so ruthlessly analyzed by one and all, is not for this stubborn and independent woman. I’ve read many other maritime classics (some several times) and loved most if not all, but at Moby Dick I baulk. Besides ‘I saw the movie’ at least the movie from 1930 starring John Barrymore and Joan Bennett. And doesn’t that count?

Mr Philbrick is an award winning writer for virtually everything he publishes and friends confirm that this book is just as fabulous as his others. Just a note, Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex recounts the real-life shipwreck that served as the inspiration for Melville’s book. So this year there are two sure to be best seller books about white sea-creatures, this book and JAWS!

Without any shame I have to recommend to you my own, recently published cookbook: Fresh from the Vineyard. Written to showcase (and support) our own farmers and fishermen, and to promote local produce. Every recipe has at least one ingredient – and preferably several – that can be sourced locally to the Vineyard. A portion of the proceeds will be used to support farm-to-school programs and the Vineyard Conservation Society’s assistance with Agricultural Preservation Restrictions. Copies are available locally at the Bunch of Grapes, and various farm stands or stores, or you can call me if you would like a dozen or so! I’d be glad to autograph or personalize them, and there is an insert map of island farms and other valuable info. Watercolors from the late Juliet Kraetzer illustrate the ring-bound book. I’ll even mail them for you, although I do not wrap. Contact me at [email protected]

For those of us lucky enough to have an island painting or two, there is a group of local painters whose works we revere (and lust for) more than those of (perhaps) wider currency and greater value. Thinking quickly I can name: Stan Murphy, Julia Mitchell (for her incredible tapestries), her sister Lucy Mitchell, whose works defy an easy description (detailed, realistic, covetable), Lucy’s husband Res Williams (his series of dramatic ‘portraits’ of fishing vessels document a passing era of the maritime world), Allen Whiting, whose seascapes – whether his native island or from Bequia – always enchant, and Kib Bramhall. When I sailed from Hawaii to Port Townsend, WA in 1999, and again on a trans-Atlantic sail in 2004, I had a postcard of a painting of butterfly weed in bloom in a field at the edge of the sea by Kib posted in my galley. It kept me grounded.

Kib has now published, through our own Vineyard Stories (Jan Pogue in Edgartown), Bright waters, Shining Tides, Reflections on a Lifetime of Fishing. He attributes the title to his two favorite books, one of which is West Tisbury resident Nelson Bryant’s Fresh Air, Bright Water (also a favorite of mine). Kib’s recollections of fishing expeditions and the accompanying paintings are magical. This is a great book for the outdoors person in your life or for your own bookshelf.

Occasionally I find useful and unusual sailing products. One that I’ve read about but have not been able to locate in the US is called the Safasail cap. Designed to resemble a baseball cap, it has a well hidden hard hat interior to help protect from head injuries. It is available from Nauticalia in England and unfortunately the shipping is so expensive (in relation to the cap) that I decided not to order a sample. It is a product with such a sensible design and purpose that presumably some American company will make something similar available. Now if someone could only make a product that allows you to move around the deck barefooted but avoid cleats, fairleads and other painful obstacles…


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