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Summer Time Reading

Summer is historically the time for serious lounging and catching up on your reading. To that aim, we profile a short list, yet enough to satisfy sailors of every ilk.

With apologies to Dubose Heyward for that title, summer has long been regarded as the time to catch up on one’s reading. For those who haven’t had a chance to check the nautical listings recently, there are few new items out there that bear mentioning for sailors. Here’s a brief round up of some interesting new reads, and some that are not so new yet still interesting nonetheless:

The Proving Ground: The Inside Story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race by Bruce Knecht. Little, Brown and Co. 2001—The tragic 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race, which claimed the lives of six sailors and sank five yachts, remains one of the worst moments in sailboat racing history. Unlike Rob Mundle’s "The Fatal Storm" (published in 1999), which takes a comprehensive look at the tragedy, Knecht’s work eschews the overview and delves in to the viscera of the event by concentrating on three principal players—Larry Ellison’s maxi Sayonara, the Sword of Orion, and the renowned Winston Churchill, which suffered the greatest death toll in the race. (Mundle’s book does offer more dramatic photographs of the storm.)

Knecht, a veteran sailor and foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, was the only journalist to interview Ellison in depth. He uses this advantage to mine the depths of the Internet mogul’s obsession with victory. His treatment of how the action unfolded reveals the despair that the crew of Winston Churchill endured (three crew were lost) and chronicles the heart-stopping rescue of the sailors aboard the Sword of Orion by the Royal Australian Navy:

"Within minutes, the wind skyrocketed from less than 15 knots to more than 40. As Sayonara was pushed over on its side, Ellison grabbed for soemthing to hold on to and made his way to the nav station. Even with the water damage, Rudiger’s instruments and computers were still working. On one of the computer screens Ellison saw what looked like a hurricane. ‘We didn’t go through a front; we’re in the eye of a hurricane!’"

A Voyage for Madmen, Peter Nichols; Harper Collins, 2001—When Donald Crowhurst presumably went mad and stepped off his 40-foot, ketch-rigged trimaran Teignmouth Electron in the mid Atlantic in 1969 after reportedly racing around the globe, it touched off a barrage of renewed interest in the Golden Globe single-handed race around the world. Unfortunately, Crowhurst’s duplicitious reports and subsequent infamy have long overshadowed the stories of the eight other contestants, including eventual winner Robin Knox-Johnston, Chay Blyth, and Bernard Moitissier. Nichols’ new work gives these sailors their due, revealing in detail their personal lives and the extreme conditions they faced aboard vessels that bore more resemblance to the seafaring ships of old than contemporary craft.

Nichols knows the realm. He spent 10 years as a professional yacht captain and logged numerous sea miles aboard his own small wooden boat. As a novelist, his grasp of detail serves to bring this epic adventure readily to life:

"Although Knox-Johnston tried beating to windward again, Suhaili was swept away like flostsam. He started to reef the sails to slow down, but the mainsail halyard chose this moment to jam at the top of the mast and the best he could do was raise the boom and tie it and the flapping sail to the mast."

Changing Course, A Woman’s Guide to the Cruising Life by Debra Ann Cantrell; McGraw Hill, 2001—Drawing on personal experience and a study she conducted of more than 100 women over a five-year period, the author—a PhD who specializes in self-help work—offers an incisive look at the many aspects and considerations involved in making the decision to live at sea. Effectively, Cantrell’s 176-page work is a guidebook for the uninitiated.

She addresses issues as diverse as "Managing Fear" and how to maintain the trappings of life ashore while you’re time is spent at sea. Much of the book offers practical advice ("Sixty-four ways to make cruising more appealing"), but there’s still plenty of broad generalities: "Discovering Yourself, Discovering New Strengths." Ultimately, any woman facing the enticing dilemma of such a decision will find nuggets of value in this 176-page work:

"For many women, the cruising life represents a loss of the vital relationships that have long enriched their lives. In my experience, most males do not experience the intensity of relationships with family and friends to the same extent as most women."

The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat, A Guide to Essential Features, Gear, and Handling by John Vigor; International Marine, 1999—Every boat owner finds the need for reference materials from time to time and John Vigor has prepared a condensed manual that offers advice on a broad range of topics including boat construction, fitting out, and sailing theory. He offers an in depth discussion of seaworthiness along with a four-page test for individual boats that is probably worth the price of the book on its own.

The comprehensive nature of Vigor’s book means that on some topics he simply provides an overview (he covers navigation and the applicable gear in 15 pages), but frequent sidebars offer information on additional reference materials and time saving techniques:

"Simplicity—If your engine needs are minimal, simplicity is the way to go. Up to about 10 to 12 horsepower, there’s nothing more reliable than a hand-start, raw-water-cooled, single-cylinder diesel with good, big fuel filters."

Kydd by Julian Stockwin; Scribner, 2001—Stockwin, a veteran of the Royal Navy, intends to pick up where the late Patrick O’Brian left off, offering nautical fiction about the days of maritime derring-do. Stockwin’s protagonist, Thomas Paine Kydd, is a young English sailor pressed into service by the Royal Navy in 1793. Europe is ablaze with war and the time is ripe for heroes. According to the publishers publicists, Kydd "is a boy of ordinary birth whose character and honor dictate his destiny."

Kydd’s exploits are rooted in the author’s own experience. Stockwin joined the Royal Navy at age 15 and became a lifer, seeing service all over the world. His prose in this work—much of which takes the form of dialogue—is credible in its authenticity:

"A fierce joy touched his soul. It didn’t matter that the situation was perilous or the ship doomed. From that moment on Kydd knew in his heart that he would be a seaman. He clung to this revelation, taking bursts of spray in his teeth and grinning madly. The bows would rise, then smash down, flinging the seas apart, shuddering and racking, then gloriously rise again."

Around the World in 79 Days by Cam Lewis with Michael Levitt; Team Adventure Press, 2001—If you didn’t catch it the first time around, Lewis’ stream-of-consciousness journal based upon his record-setting ride around the planet aboard the 86-foot Commodore Explorer in 1989 with Bruno Peyron has been rereleased and it's still wholly engaging. Written in inimitable Cam-speak, the book quickly immerses the reader into the details of this bold venture while alternating the ocean-going action with chapters drawn from Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days (upon which the Trophee Jules Verne is largely based).

In this new edition, Lewis and Levitt include a compact Afterword that updates readers on the author’s activities in last winter’s globe-girdling event The Race aboard the 110-foot Team Adventure. True to form, much of this update was penned as Lewis battled the extreme southern ocean conditions during that voyage. The author is certainly well on his way to becoming a classic, and the book may one day attain that status as well:

"Compared to them [the albatross], we were strangers in a strange land—wary, never quite comfortable. Always expecting the 102-foot wing mast to topple, someone to fall overboard, or the 86-foot carbon-fiber hulls to strike something and turn to dust. We were in a boat that defied nature; these birds hardly noticed it. ‘The Falklands must be Birdland,’ I wrote in my journal."

"There’s only one rich man on board and there’s 25 poor men, and they enjoy it more than the rich man does."

The Quotable Sailor by Chris Caswell; The Lyons Press, 2001—If you’re like most sailors, your enjoyment of the sport goes beyond time on the water, and here’s one way to truly maximize that pleasure. Written by a veteran nautical scribe who knows the sport and its personalities from the inside perspective, this book offers a compilation of remarkable utterances, true gems from some of sailing’s most learned and outspoken sources.

Caswell’s material for The Quotable Sailor spans centuries from Homer's Odyssey right up to recent editions of the America's Cup, and runs the gamut from tactical tips to worldly observations.You’ll find quips from such notable sailors as Joseph Conrad, William F. Buckley, Eugene O’Neill, John F. Kennedy, Farley Mowat, Sterling Hayden, and Jimmy Buffett:

"When former Maxi World Champion Jim Kilroy was asked if yacht racing was a rich man's sport, he replied: ‘There's only one rich man on board and there's twenty-five poor men, and they enjoy it more than the rich man does.’"

Recent and Reissued

Here are few titles you might have missed in your last trip to the book store:

Paul Elvstrom Explains the Racing Rules with Soren Krause; McGraw Hill, 2001—The book that’s been accompanying sailors to regattas since the 1950s is back in a new edition that includes the 2001-2004 amendments and additions to the racing rules. The ‘Great Dane’ offers clear and concise explanations of each rule's meaning, intent, and implications, enhanced by hundreds of two-color, bird's-eye-view drawings. With this, you have no excuses.

Sailing to the Reefs by Bernard Motissier (translated by Rene Hague); Sheridan House, 2000—Forty years after its initial printing, this classic by one of the world’s most iconoclastic mariners has been reissued. A chance to learn and dream with the master.

Knockdown, the Harrowing True Story of a Yacht Race Turned Deadly by Martin Dugard; Pocket Books, 2000—another examination of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race tragedy. This one offers color photographs.

Spindrift by Brian Hancock; Great Circle Press, 2000—This veteran offshore racer offers amusing passages and useful insights gleaned from over 200,000 miles at sea, including three trips around the world.

We’ll All Go Sailing by Richard Thompson and Maggie Spicer; Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Ltd., 2000—Three intrepid young sailors launch their boat into the great wide sea and explore waters of many different hues as they meet a colorful array of sea creatures. Cleverly designed gatefolds in this picture book invite young readers ages 2 to 5 to turn over each page and delight in the simple, yet highly recognizable shapes while learning about sea life.

Suggested Reading:

The Cruising Woman's Advisor reviewed by Kathy Barron

The Ship and the Storm, Hurricane Mitch and the Loss of the Fantome reviewed by John Rousmaniere

Classic Coffee Table Gems reviewed by John Rousmaniere

Suggested Purchase: Books for Sail

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