February 16, 2015

Two for the grab-bag

SOMEONE ONCE ASKED ME which two books I would grab in an emergency to read on a desert island.  I said I would take Swallows and Amazons and Four Winds of Adventure.
That was 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, (The Four Winds)  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 when I was 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
Tailpiece “Dad, a boy at school said I look just like you.” “Great, what did you say?” “Nothing — he was bigger than me.”  

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

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