Three books (maybe four), a video for winter

Reviewed by Sandy Marsters
For Points East

book-160201-herreshoff I have never met author Roger Taylor but he has nevertheless had an outsized influence on my boating life. First it was his 1977 book, “Good Boats,” a luscious coffee-table catalogue of the cruising boats that Taylor felt represented the cream of the crop, illustrated with photos and drawings paired with Taylor’s analysis of what makes a boat great.

As a young dreamer with no money, this book was a source of endless inspiration for me, and it remains so today. So do its sequels – “More Good Boats,” “Still More Good Boats,” “The Fourth Book of Good Boats,” and, in 1992, “The Best of Good Boats.” Whenever I see a sailboat that interests me, I turn to my bookshelf to see if Roger weighed in on it.

For his most recent project, and certainly his most ambitious to date, Taylor teamed up with Mystic Seaport in Connecticut to publish a biography of one of the world’s greatest yacht designers, L. Francis Herreshoff. It is an enormous project, more than 400 pages that will enlighten even Herreshoff devotees with insights into the family and the times that gave life to hundreds of stunning designs, many of which continue to be built and studied today.

This is a book to spend a long winter with. Taylor’s writing is crisp and precise. His research is exhaustive. As with all of Taylor’s books, “L. Francis Herreshoff: Yacht Designer” is lavishly illustrated with photographs and extensive technical drawings. Production by Mystic Seaport is exquisite. The Seaport has extensive Herreshoff correspondence and drawings in its archives, upon which Taylor drew to develop a compelling portrait of both the man and his work. Taylor had also known Herreshoff in school and later, and interviewed many who had known him to collect anecdotes that bring this complicated artist and engineer to life.

book-160201-designSensible Cruising Designs

For a longer winter, pair this book with Herreshoff’s own “Sensible Cruising Designs,” first published in 1973 by Roger Taylor when he was at International Marine in Camden, Maine, and still available, with extensive drawings and Herreshoff’s own text: opinionated, funny, philosophical, and revealing.

For decades, Roger Taylor has had a huge influence on the sailing and boatbuilding community. With his Herreshoff biography, he and Mystic Seaport have created an important and lasting study of a key figure in the history of boating and design.

book-160201-slocumSailing Alone Around the World

As Herreshoff is a household name in the maritime world, so is Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail around the world singlehanded. Slocum’s “Sailing Alone Around the World” is every sailor’s favorite cruising book, continuously in print since 1900, with at least 25 editions. This is a book that just won’t quit, and for good reason – Slocum’s voyage in a 37-foot boat that had been rotting in a field in Nova Scotia is still impressive today. The book is a wonderful travelogue about world cruising when world cruising wasn’t done for anything but commercial reasons.

So here it is again in yet another iteration – this one a coffee-table book by Geoffrey Wolf and Zenith Press that adds historic drawings and modern photographs meant to supplement the text with a rich, visual experience. The idea is to offer readers a way to see what Slocum perhaps saw, but through a camera lens rather than through the wonderful drawings that accompany the original text.

Sometimes it works, but, at other times, it seems forced and contrived, as when early in the book a modern cruising boat lies safely at anchor in a calm harbor at dusk with the caption, “At sea alone in the dark.” Huh?

Another shows a modern sailboat just completing a tack on a nearly windless day with the caption, “Like the sailboat shown here, the Spray was in open waters once again, where Slocum ‘sailed alone with God.’”

Elsewhere, old paintings of sea scenes are used to illustrate situations that Slocum may have encountered. One shows a square-rigged vessel broadside to stormy seas, with the caption:  “Ships much larger than the Spray, such as galleons often used from the 16th to 18th century, can be keeled by waves at sea.” Aside from the irrelevance, there is no such nautical term as keeling, unless it’s “keeled over,” as in upside down.

Rather than add to Slocum’s wonderful story, these annoyances detract from the experience. Still, new editions at least ensure that the greatest cruising story ever told will be around to inspire and entertain sailors for generations to come.

One Simple Question

Finally, a wonderful, cheerful, beautiful cruising video, “One Simple Question,” in which a young couple sets off in a small sailboat to find the largest iceberg they can, which ends up being about 1,600 miles away, off Labrador.

With a very resourceful use of modern video equipment, a chase boat and a lot of grit, Ben Eriksen and Teresa Carey offer a realistic view of what it is like to go to sea in hostile conditions in a small boat. It’s not just starry-eyed stuff – there are plenty of “tell me again why we are doing this?” moments. It is the visual story of a voyage to far-off places. The engine of the trip is the curious and engaging Teresa, who seems always up for an adventure and brings lots of energy to the production. It is wonderful and encouraging to see young people keeping the cruising lifestyle alive, when it seems everyone would prefer to stay home. Check it out or order it at simplequestionmovie.com. Teresa also has a fun blog, sailing simplicity.com.

Sandy Marsters is co-founder, with Bernie Wideman, of Points East.

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