February 21, 2010

Some exceptional books

(See this space every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column by John Vigor.)

A LETTER FROM BOB, who sails a Sabre 28 on Lake Michigan, says:

Dear John,
As a past member of your Silent Fan Club (having been expunged from the roster by you last year) I feel empowered now to comment at will . . .

So, I was just reading the latest copy of Good Old Boat and pondering the article by Perry on Cruising Design and the nature of keels. It suddenly struck me that if I had to leave the house in an emergency and could only take two sailing books with me (in addition to other essential non-sailing items) which ones would I take? Now my modest sailing library is about 100 titles. Of them all, it just as suddenly occurred to me that if I had to dash to safety I would take Yacht Design According to Perry, and your book, Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere.

That left me wondering — what two you would take?

► Well, Bob, first off, I’m not sure that being kicked out of the Silent Fan Club entitles you to comment at will. I know about the First Amendment and all that, but the club has rules, you know. I shall have to consult the chairman on this and ask for a ruling.

Meanwhile, because I am such a just and principled person, and being fair of mind as well as fair of visage, I will tell you what popped into my mind when I read your final question.

I would grab Swallows and Amazons and Four Winds of Adventure.

This is straight off the top of my head, of course, my very first instinct, because there are literally hundreds of boating books out there, and scores of them are excellent enough to be grabbed in an emergency.

Swallows and Amazons was the first of a phenomenally successful series of children’s sailing books by Arthur Ransome, written in the 1930s. It has never been out of print since. Like all the really good classical kids’ books, it appeals to adults, too. I love it dearly and it brings me great joy every time I re-read it.

Four Winds of Adventure, by Marcel Bardiaux, is a wonderful book about one of the greatest voyages in the history of small-boat sailing. Bardiaux built his wooden 30-foot cutter, Les 4 Vents, in France, in a workshop some 20 yards from a railway bridge being blown up by the retreating Germans in 1945.

He spent eight years sailing singlehanded across five oceans and rounded Cape Horn the wrong way in mid-winter. His book is an extraordinary chronicle of hardships overcome by a man who should really be known as the Superman of the Sea.

I remember seeing Bardiaux and his boat as a teenager, but I never spoke to him. He was a very modest man, and to this day he’s almost unheard of in English-speaking countries. He wrote in French, of course, but luckily the book has been well translated.

Today’s Thought
Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice.
— Cyril Connolly

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #17
Blistering. One in four sailboat hulls can be expected to blister in its lifetime. New boats are experiencing fewer problems with osmosis as our knowledge of blister prevention grows, but the basic rule is this: as soon as you notice blistering, seek expert advice. It will only get worse. Don’t panic, though. A slight case might need nothing more than sanding down and recoating. With better ways now available to fix the problem, we no longer regard blisters as a death sentence.

“Dad, a boy at school said I look just like you.”
“Great, what did you say?”
“Nothing — he was bigger than me.”

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