May 7, 2013

Some shameless self-promotion

WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER, and suddenly interested in sailing, I started tearing pages out of yachting magazines and collecting wise sayings of the sea. I was obsessed with the idea of owning a deep-sea yacht of my own, and I thought all this knowledge would come in useful one day.

It did, in fact, and by the early 1990s I had baskets overflowing with clippings and a drawer full of files with handy facts culled from yachting books.

One day I was sailing with a pupil in San Diego Bay and he happened to mention that he was going to make a fortune by writing a book of rules of thumb.

“What sort of rules of thumb?” I asked.

“Oh, household hints and tips,” he said vaguely. “Haven’t given it much thought yet. How best to iron a shirt. How to peel an egg easily.  How to sort the washing. That sort of thing.  Small pieces, easy to read, very useful to have at hand.”

I wished him luck and (seeing where he was steering the boat) I warned  him never to sail downwind into a narrow strait unless he was sure he could beat out again. Almost as I said it, I realized it was a rule of thumb. A nautical rule of thumb.  And I also realized that I had baskets and files full of nautical rules of thumb. Well over 400 of them, actually.

That’s how The Practical Mariner’s Book of Knowledge got started, though I’m afraid I never gave my pupil any credit for the idea.  McGraw-Hill’s nautical publishing department, International Marine, published the book in 1994 and it went on to become a best-seller in terms of the sailing-book industry. It sold solidly for 18 years until 2012, when the powers that be decided that it needed to be updated and expanded to keep pace with the technological changes that had taken place.

Now, you’d think that mariners’ rules of thumb would be valid forever. After all, things don’t seem to change in the oceans where sailors work and play.  Out among the blue waves it looks the same now as it did millions of years ago.  Mankind has left no permanent marks on the face of the sea, no pyramids, no Stonehenge. 

But, in fact, the sea does change. The ice caps are melting. The sea level is rising. Conditions for boaters, whether under sail or power, are changing also.  Most of all, the science of the sea and  boats is changing.  In the nearly 20 years since this book was first published, there have been great strides in many areas, but particularly in electronics.  Satellites and computers have taken over from sextants and chronometers in the navigation department and safety has improved immeasurably with smart phones and such aids as CARD, AIS, EPIRBs and personal locator beacons (all of which are described in this book). Long-distance communication has been revolutionized by satellite phones and the internet. Diodes capable of emitting light are changing the way we illuminate our cabins and our navigation lights.

And so I had to saddle up my trusty PC again and revise the whole darned book. This spring, International Marine has published the second expanded edition of The Practical Mariner’s Book of Knowledge. It now contains about 460 rules of thumb for almost every boating situation and should be good for another 18 years.

I’m not much of a one for shameless self-promotion. Apart from any moral considerations, it involves too much hard work. But I have always loved the little description my original copy editor wrote for back cover: “The Practical Mariner’s Book of Knowledge is either the most useful boating book ever designed to entertain, or the most entertaining book ever designed to be useful.”

I wish I’d said that.

Today’s Thought
No rule is so general which admits not some exception.
— Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy

Love is the great poker game of life. It starts with a pair. She gets a flush. He shows diamonds and, before you know it, there’s a full house.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


BB said...

Mr. Vigor, some shameless self-promotion is well justified. I just bought your book, I think the third or fourth one that I have of yours now, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

Thanks for the blog.

Bruce Bradford

John Vigor said...

Thanks, Bruce, that's very kind of you. I hope the books prove useful to you.

Best wishes,

John V.

Colin said...

Just received the book, splendid stuff and lots of food for thought, I suspect just scanning through it has added a few points to my black box.

John Vigor said...

Colin, It's a handy book to have on board at all times, and just having it there adds to your score of points in the black box. Incidentally,the cover is supposed to be waterproof, but I haven't tested it yet. Thanks for buying the book and safe sailing to you.


John V.