Category Archives: Sailing Books

Winter Small Boat Sailing Reads from England

Product-Shot-Lugworm-300x400“Is there ANYTHING to equal the first chuckle of water under your hull at the start of a new summer cruise. The thrill of response as the boat heels under the press of her sails, free as the wind itself and all the cares and tribulations of life ashore sailing away like nightmares from a waking man!”

Elsewhere I have noted the fine books coming out of Lodestar Books, a small English publishing house run by Richard Wynne, which specializes in “new and neglected nautical writing.” This fall, having laid Ebony up for the winter, and having completed my fall construction project of a garden shed and cider press I have had the opportunity to put my feet up and sample a number of the recent Lodestar offerings. They have certainly helped me face the long winter evenings and the mind and body numbing view of a frozen harbour and have stirred the imagination planning for my next season of sailing.

The Lugworm Chronicles is a nearly 500 paged omnibus edition of three books by Ken Duxbury first published in 1973, 1975 and 1976 respectively. Duxbury recounts his fairly low-key adventures sailing in the Greek Isles, taking the boat back from Greece to England, and finally thinwater sailing in the Scilly Isles and the Hebrides. The fact that the boat in question is an 18 foot Drascomb lugger makes for stories to which I can relate. These are not nail-biting tales of struggle against the sea, but rather are more sailing observations of the trip or trips filled with the minor triumphs and challenges, the like of which I often face in my own boat.  However, the first two books in this set are a little too much travelogue and a too little sailing for my taste. The third volume has more about the boat and the sea and to my mind is the best of the three volumes. Incidentally a Lugworm is a type of large sand worm often used as fishing bait. Unlike some of the earlier Lodestar books this is softbound but does have sewn bindings and high quality production. The Chronicles has drawings by the author and charts and illustrations from the earlier volumes. My sole production criticism is that the published did not take the opportunity to have a few better charts drawn as the typescript originals look shabby compared to the rest of the text.

Product-Shot-Under-the-Cabin-Lamp-300x400The second volume is by an author with the intriguing name of H. Alker Tripp. The Trip book is the fourth by this author published by Lodestar. The first three volumes first appeared in the 1920s and are “casual explorations” of sailing in the Solent, Sussex and Essex. Beautifully produced, these are excellent examples of the English small-boat sailing tales. Under the Cabin Lamp was first published in 1950 and consists of  yarns and reminiscences of fifty years spent in England’s coastal waters.  Although written about harbours and channels a full ocean away from Atlantic Canada and from a time a century ago, many of the incidents strike a familiar note to someone sailing today. Romanticized just enough to suggest the atmosphere of an imagined snug cabin on a small craft at anchor these tales told under the cabin lamp are a good read.  This too is a quality soft-cover edition, the hard cover production costs pushing the price up too much for the publisher to have any return on his efforts.

sea  country001I am a big fan of Tony Smith’s blog Creeksailor which details his continuing explorations of the Thames Estuary and Essex  Coast in Charles Stock’s old boat Shoal Waters.  Writing in the immediacy of a blog his travels and accounts seem to have a freshness to them which disappears when the writings are brought together in this book which he has called Sea-Country. The book is pretty slight with just over 130 fairly large-print pages.  The other problem is that its been done already and done well. Stock’s book, In Shoal Waters (also published by Lodestar),  covers his fifty-year experience in sailing a lot of the same territory in the same gaff-rigged centre-board 16-foot boat and to my view does it better.  The latter book also has maps or charts which I always find are a necessity to Product-Shot-ISW-510x679understanding the text.  It is interesting to contrast both of these recent volumes with H. Alker Tripp’s account Shoalwater and Fairway published in 1924 (90 years ago) and still available through re-publication by Lodestar.  It has almost twice the content of Smith’s book. An interesting and contrasting companion to both of these books is Dylan Winter’s Keep Turning Left video series, the first part of which explores much of the same geography and includes the bonus of Winter’s wry humour.

The publisher’s website has his full catalogue with reasonable prices for overseas shipping. As he notes, the purpose of the imprint is to furnish “new and neglected nautical writing” and the list now numbers eighteen volumes with a couple of more books already out of print.   His success in the venture is evident in the increasing shelf footage that his books occupy on my book-case.

There is incentive here for next sailing season but in the meantime it is certainly nice to  use these volumes and be able to transport one’s self to the cockpit or cabin of a thin water boat.  I am content that Northumberland Strait holds the promise of as many inlets and harbours as are documented in the Lodestar volumes… now  if we could just change the climate to allow for a longer sailing season.


Logbook of the Steam Yacht “Waturus”

Normally ship’s logs can be more than a little boring, recording little more than time barometer reading, position, weather observations and occasionally the sighting of another vessel to break the boredom.  And this, by and large, is a description of the log of the steam yacht Waturus. But there are exceptions. Sometimes even the captain’s calm observations give a hint of unusual circumstances.

waturus001The 200 ft. Waturus was built as a yacht for one of the several archdukes of the Austrian Empire in 1900. Two years later it was purchased by Randal Morgan an American millionaire and in 1906 he took it on  a cruise to the Mediterranean and north to Holland and England returning to home port in Philadelphia via St. John’s Newfoundland.  Morgan had the ship’s log for the 1906 cruise privately published and presented copies to those on the trip.  Luckily the captain, John F. Cushman, also included his observation on many of the ports of call and the activities of his passengers, for whom this was the “grand tour” of Europe.

And what, you may well ask, does this have to do with Charlottetown and Northumberland Strait? Well, after other adventures the Waturus became the Hochelaga. The vessel was a fixture in the Strait as the daily summer steamer between Charlottetown and Pictou from 1924 until 1940.

For those involved with sailing the log is also an interesting document.  Some of the most riveting passages deal with the encounter with the remains of a hurricane the ship met with in mid-Atlantic.   Following are a few excerpts

Sunday, September 2nd 1906 – Gale continues with unabated fury. 4:00 a.m. Tremendous seas running, ship laboring hard and shipping small quantities of green water, with a gradually rising glass.

8:00 a.m. No change in the conditions … Tremendous sea running, ship rolling 45 degrees.

10:45 a.m. Crew occupied in setting up the starboard fore rigging. About this time carried away both bowsprit guys and foot ropes, also sections of port rail forward and a number of feet of bow plating on both starboard and port sides together with the gratings. Mustered all hands forward to secure the bowsprit. Ship down to three knots,  practically hove to.   …

Monday, September 3rd 1906  7:30 am Slowed to seven knots and at 8:00 a.m. was down to five; violent gale, high capping seas; ship buried in spray and taking some green water. Unbent the fore-sail and secured it on the after sun-deck. Barom. 29.60; temp 58. It is blowing harder than at any time yet – at least 65 miles  

Tuesday, September 4th, 1906  5:00 a.m. Wind gusts of great violence, and at 7:30 a.m. sea half-mast high, with terrific gale raging, glass having dropped to 29.64. and still going down. All this time we are hove to, and in all my years at sea I have never experiences such continuously terrible weather, in which any ordinary ship would have to fight for her life. The mid-winter gales of the North Atlantic could not be worse…

Wednesday, September 5th, 1906 12:00 noon. No improvement in the condition. Lat. by dead reckoning 51 degrees 5 minutes north; long. 35 degrees 30 minutes west … Our passage across the western ocean, this far has been a record breaker for weather, this being the fifth consecutive day of continuous gales from forty to seventy-five miles an hour, with mountainous seas, combing and dangerous, hovering over the little ship like a great wall ready to topple in their seething course. She responds, however, to the call in a manner that would put a gull to shame.   

Thursday, September 6th 1:30 a.m. No change is perceptible; still, the ship is riding easier, the sea being lashed to a milky whiteness and flattened by the fury of the blast. One’s anxiety finds momentary relief in the grandeur and weirdness of the scene, when now and then the moon sheds its silvery rays through the rifts of dark driving scud, as the little ship crystalized with spray from truck to deck , wrestles with the mountains of the deep, climbing to the crest of the big fellow, only to fall into a valley beyond, and  taking the next one quite as bravely; this, without doubt being the worst night yet, simply a roaring gale, attended by uncertain conditions, ass one realizes that no ordinary state of affairs exists.

8:00 am – We were able to send a man forward and ascertain the conditions in the fore-castle, which we found full of water, having been untenantable for the last three days, the crew finding shelter in the shaft alley of the engine room.  Barom. 29.69.

4:00 p.m. – Frequently the bowsprit disappears to the anchor davits. Mr. McKowan, the first officer of the ship, is off duty with a fractured knee, having sustained a heavy fall on the bridge; while the chief engineer is suffering from an ugly cut on the chin, received by a similar fall, also on the bridge.   

Finally on the morning of September 9th they made St. John’s Harbour. After  two days in port they left again into the teeth of another gale, finally reaching Philadelphia on September 16th.

Reading the sea

Docs_CH007The best sailing book I have read this season is subtitled “A Journey on Foot”. On the surface Robert MacFarlane’s The Old Ways  (Penguin Books 2012 $16.00) is about travelling on foot. MacFarlane writes eloquently about the impact that journeying on foot has on both our souls and our civilization. However, two of his chapters move off shore and he follows the ancient sea roads among the Scottish northern isles.

For him “Sea roads are dissolving paths whose passage leaves no trace beyond a wake, a brief turbulence astern. They survive as convention, tradition, as a sequence of coordinates, as a series of waymarks, as dotted lines on charts, as songs and stories.”  In a startlingly simple way he sets out the understanding that the sea roads do not set things apart, they bring them together. Before the train and car and plane a boat was the fastest way for long distance travel.  The communities that were linked by the sea were outward looking communities, closer to the unseen lands over the horizon than they were to the ones behind them inland.  The sea is “not a barrier, but a corridor”.

This is not an academic exploration of the concept of the sea, for MacFarlane, as he does with other pathways sets out to retrace and experience the “way” – the voyage, the journey.  In his travelling he meets people who broaden his experience and ours and weaves throughout the observations and passions of poets and philosophers as well as postmen and priests.

For the two sea-based chapters alone The Old Ways is worth the cost of admission. The land-based journeys are a bonus.  It took me weeks and weeks to read this book. It was not a book I could rush through and I kept putting it down to think about what I was reading and how it related to my experience.   I know that next season when I am making my own trips on the sea roads I will be seeing them with different eyes because of this book.  Do yourself a favour – read the chapters titled Water North and Water South. And read the rest as well.