The 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.
I am not exactly sure how I got to the Marine Quarterly but I think it started with a link from Dylan Winter’s “Keep Turning Left” site which led me somewhere else and after about a dozen links I ended up at The Marine Quarterly. I’m a sucker for little magazines and journals and this one looked great on the website so I ordered the first and second numbers from when it started its publication in 2011.
It is a true miscellany with little bits of very British nautical articles. The two issues which I have seen are just over one hundred pages each. Most articles are five or six pages with the odd major piece going to twenty-five. I like the English approach to sailing and the sea and the simple narrative form for cruising stories – especially those in small boats. In the second number for example there is a big article on the Thames Sailing Barge and about a dozen on topics ranging from Falklands Islands Hydrography to the life of the Grey seal to sailing advice from Hilaire Belloc which is worth repeating:
- Cruising is not racing
- Get everything shipshape and, so far as you can, keep it shipshape
- Keep tight decks
- Have an anchor heavy enough for your craft
- Don’t keep too close to the wind, let her sail, keep her full
There is a nice listing of the editor’s book shelf with short reviews of noteworthy books – not all of which are new publications. The whole package is very nicely put up with some very fine line drawing illustrations. All in all, an enjoyable read and I was tempted to subscribe. Given what is on offer the price is not unreasonable 10 pounds per issue whether in single copy or subscription with a flat 15 pounds for shipping. A year’s worth for 55 pounds. And yet…. I have been heavily into buying used books and could get quite a bookshelf of sailing literature and guides for what amounts to about $90.00. However I will keep an eye on the webpage with the table of contents listings and can always order anything that catches my eye.
The cold wind of reality is blowing outside, schools and work are canceled because of a late-season snowstorm and the daydreaming of getting the boat in the water in the next few weeks has been given a bit of a wake-up call. It gave me a chance to put a coat of varnish on the gunwales, transom of the boat. The spar varnish was about five years old and had a bit of a reddish tinge but as the first coat was more of a sealer and would be lightly sanded after drying for 36 hours or more it was a good opportunity to use up the bottom of the pint. If the weather improves this afternoon I can go out and get a new tin as well as the properly coloured paint for the tender interior. My experience has been that a good quality exterior house paint will work just fine and will be 1/2 the cost of fancy marine paint. The tender is, after all, a working adjunct to the yacht and not a yacht in and of itself.
The forced holiday gives me a chance to catch up on a little reading. While cruising the internet recently I followed a thread to Lodestar Books http://www.lodestarbooks.com/ a small publishing house un the UK promising “new and neglected nautical writing”. The emphasis thus far seems to be on the “neglected” and I for one am very glad. I had ordered three books in their Lodestar Library Series at a very attractive price and they were delivered by airmail within a week. Handsome books . I had intended to put them into the Ebony on-board library to read while cruising but I fear that I will not be able to resist getting into them…..True confessions… I have already read the first 25 pages of two of the volumes.
Reading isn’t sailing, but reading about sailing seems to help the off-water time more quickly. I am particularly fond of British books about small-boat, thin water sailing because I can really relate to it. The three Lodestar books were published in 1892, 1932 and 1934 respectively and with a few technology changes allowed for they could have been written about sailing today. I look forward to curling up with these volumes.
In the meantime I will add a new page to this site to post my acquisitions, and when I have consumed them – my comments and reviews. This (like the entire site) is mostly for my benefit.