The title of this guide to boatkeeping reflects the fact that the author, who has cruised for many years, is a woman quite content to be a first matewhich does not mean she is passive. Because there is plenty of good advice here, the book should not scare off either men or women who are skippers, although some (I suspect more males than females) may not be delighted by Joy Smith's irreverence. Her good humor and common sense will encourage and assist people who, while they enjoy sailing, worry less about theoretical perfection, such as when to adjust the cunningham control, than about good food, a dry bunk, and a happy ship.
If you're looking for how-to, on-deck seamanship, read elsewhere. There is less here about anchoring (two pages) than about fitting a couple into a V-berth (three pages). The sour smell of mildew (what she calls "boat breath") earns five helpful pages, as does taking pets on board. There are six pages on marine heads, and 18 all told on seasickness and protection from the elements. Preparation of good simple food gets 23 pages including 18 recipes.
A steady concern is interpersonal relations. Seamanship manuals have plenty about radar and anchoring, but few have much to say about how people should deal with each other, including the topic identified in the index as: "yelling, 174 (see also captain, dealing with)." In turn, the topic "captain, dealing with" includes the importance of tempering machismo while still feeling free to take some reasonable risks. From time to time a short dialogue appears in the text to illustrate that there can be male and female approaches. For example, in the excellent chapter on stowage we have:
He said: "Well, I have to run over to the marine store."
She said: "Before you go, where are you going to put all this gear?"Maybe I should feel insulted that the pearls of wisdom always appear on the lips of "she." After I read one of these dialogues to my wife, she asked if she could have The Perfect First Mate after I finished this review. So I guess I'd better stop here. But I want it back.
Joy Smith, The Perfect First Mate: A Woman's Guide to Recreational Boating (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Sheridan House, 1999). 229 pages, drawings, paper bound, $16.95. ISBN 1-57409-083-6.