My boat lies on the hard, enshrouded in canvas and all but indistinguishable from the hundreds of other lonely boats hibernating in the yard. Her truckload worth of gear is piled in disarray in the garage, awaiting some sort of organizational storage skill to put things in order and make the space usable again. Her books and finer instruments are in boxes in the office, while her charts lie on my office couch. Little doubt that I’ll sit beside them sometime in the coming weeks and peruse voyages both past and future.
The weathered boards of the wharf mirror the slate grey of the sky, and the black water of the harbor bespeaks nothing but the cold to come. There are no boats out on the mooring field, only a smattering of floating docks, mine included, tentatively set out there rather than on the hard with the hope and prayer that the winter ice, storms, and tides will not be too abusive. So far, so good, as all had just weathered the highest tides of the year.
Winter is coming, boating is done, so time once again to retain the flavor of the sea with the help of old school virtual reality known as books. If you are a boater, then I am positive that you will love these great reads as much as I did. And, if not a boater, there’s probably one on your Christmas list who would undoubtedly love any of these great titles:
WestViking: The Ancient Norse in Greenland and North America
Better known for his naturalist treatise “Never Cry Wolf” and the humorous “The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float,” Mowat’s history of the Viking exploration of Greenland and points west is by far the most comprehensive and fascinating account of Viking seafaring history I have ever read. Based in large part on the Nordic sagas and archeological evidence, Mowat provides a detailed account of four centuries of western exploration by what were among the most accomplished mariners in history. The oceangoing narrative over the centuries is a page-turner unto itself, but the nautical details included in the 100-plus pages of appendices is equally engrossing. There are ingenious, yet-totally-primitive-for-our-time, navigation methods I’ve played with, and I would love to feel the timbers of a knorrir glide effortlessly over the waves. I first read WestViking 15 years ago, and picked it up again as my first read for this offseason selection. It remains a page-turner and kept me up late last night.
The August Gales: The Tragic Loss of Fishing Schooners in the North Atlantic 1926 and 1927
This book, which I received for Christmas last year, was also a page turner. While ostensibly focusing on two major storms that decimated the Banks fishing fleets that sailed out of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Massachusetts, the author brings the reader on board these beautiful boats for an up-close and personal look at what it was like to live the life of a Banks fishing schooner sailor back in the 1920s. The renditions of what it was like to be on board during foul weather was certainly riveting, but the reporting on fishing techniques and the industry itself, along with day-to-day onboard routines and nautical detailing, was equally fascinating. And it is all brought further to life with a great selection of haunting photographs, maps and drawings.
In Hazard: Four Days of Terror at Sea
Speaking of storms at sea, In Hazzard has got to be the best accounts of what it must be like to ride out a hurricane on a freighter. Written by the author of the critically acclaimed “A High Wind in Jamaica,” Hughes takes the reader through four days of riding out one of the most powerful hurricanes of the 20th Century, by detailing the experiences of the various crew and officers, all of whom faced their own individual challenges—from keeping the boilers going, to maintaining course, to keeping one’s sanity in the constant face of imminent watery death. I will use the word “riveting” again here, if only because the storm was so powerful it popped rivets out of the hull of this ship, periodically sending one whizzing through the engine room or cabin like a bullet, just one of many terrors faced by the sailors on this voyage.
How to Sail Around the World: Advice and Ideas for Voyaging Under Sail
I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this book, as I often just pick it up and read a chapter or few pages just because it’s there…and because one of these days I am going to slip my mooring lines and take off on that extended voyage around the world. This book is beautifully written, and with a focus on making such a voyage simple, relatively non-expensive, and non-reliant on modern gear and technology, reminds me that achieving my dream is within reach. Of course, as my wife reminds me, gotta get the kid through school first…. Doh!
Heavy Weather Sailing
Adlard Coles and Peter Bruce
If you’re going to sail around the world, you’d better be prepared for stormy weather. Much like the previous book is the Bible for successful small boat circumnavigation of the world, this book is the Bible of small boat storm management. I have read it several times, as well. It’s not like anyone is going to have time to reach for the book when facing a storm at sea, but it’s a great resource for determining appropriate storm gear, and familiarizing one’s self with the myriad small boat storm management tactics. It should also give impetus to actually go out and practice some of these tactics in calmer weather, you know, like on a “dry run.”
Well, just writing about these great maritime reads has lightened my offseason blues. If you also suffer withdrawal symptoms with the end of the boating season, or know a boater who bemoans the end of the season, consider a great nautical read, such as one of the few I have profiled above. While not a complete cure from the offseason malaise, it sure does keep the maritime spirit alive enough to help dream of the season to come.
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