- by Carol Standish
The Rudder Treasury A Companion for Lovers of Small Craft edited by Tom Davin (Sheridan House, 352pp, $16.50)
The Rudder Magazine for Yachtsmen was first published in 1891. Seven hundred and forty-four issues later, in 1952, the first Rudder Treasury, A Companion for Lovers of Small Craft was published. The Treasury is a selection of articles from the first 62 years of the magazine. The then current editor of the magazine remarked in his introduction to the original compilation that “so much material by which our yachting tradition was molded is no longer available to the reader of today. Not only is it instructive, but it gives a yachtsman perspective and a respect for the old timers who, after all, not only knew a lot but tried almost everything.
The magazine’s founder and first editor, Thomas Fleming Day is a apt case in point. In 1890 he was a boat salesman for a shop on Dey Street in New York which also produced a catalog of nautical wares. His boss thought that “getting out a little paper” and charging for advertising space would be more lucrative than producing all those free catalogs. Salesman Day, whose dream it had always been “to launch and sail a yachting paper” allowed that he might be fit to tackle such a job.
The second edition of the Treasury is a reprint of the 1952 volume with the exception of a forward by contemporary boating writer/editor, Peter Spectre. He asks what was so special about The Rudder and cites Mr. Day as the reason. Day “knew what he was talking about. He was an enthusiast with a deep knowledge of the subject and a well-founded point of view. He treated his readers as intelligent human beings. He didn't pander to advertisers. He recognized yacht design as an evolution, with a connected past, present and future...he was a literate, literary man of strong opinion.”
Treasury editor, Tom Davin said of Day that he “inspired the building of thousands of small boats across the country and encouraged the formation of small yacht clubs to make readers for The Rudder.” In other words, in an effort to be a successful capitalist, he democratized boating. Without Day, it is quite possible that yachting would still be an exclusive pastime of the very wealthy. Instead, zillions of small boaters can say today that “the sea is the great equalizer.”
According to Day, his magazine was “a well-rounded bilgeful of dogmatic advice, arbitrary opinion, clever devices and methods—the sort of thing that you are always meaning to paste in your hat.” The Treasury is a lively assortment of all that. A large selection of articles from the 1890s to the 1950s cover just about everything you always wanted to know about boating, from the excavation and analysis of a Viking ship to the history of Long Island Sound. The lone woman author in the collection contributes an account (with advice) of a 10,000 mile sea voyage undertaken in the late 1930s. “Mascots: Every ship needs one—a parrot or a turtle or a cat. Some dumb animal that can't answer back,” she says. On the subject of the attitude of ship’s owners (with whom she was sailing) she says, “Most yacht owners are as touchy as husbands in a French farce. You can't criticize their treasures...I understand that very well. No one beats my dog, either, and I run my house to suit myself.”
Designers whose names are now legends often contributed ideas and drawings to the magazine. The Treasury section called “Dream Ships” includes hull and sail plans by John Alden, Philip Rhodes, William Hand, L. Francis Herreshoff, Charles Crosby and many others. “The Care and Feeding of Yachtsmen” section includes two essays on cooking at sea from 1938 and 1940 which express quite opposite approaches. One “galley-slave” starts from scratch, and provides some of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite recipes. The other swears by heating up canned food—in the original cans “then give them the deep six.” (So much for dishwashing.) Another food article addresses “single-handed eating.”
Ship board first aid is covered by “a doctor who talks like a man—and a yachtsman at that.” His advice (written in 1950) is surprisingly applicable today: don't leave home without codein, aspirin, whiskey, benedryl and bicarbonate of soda.
If you have a spare couple of hours you can learn morse code, understand the technical derivation of the term “horsepower” or the nuanced meanings of a barometer. The Treasury is just that, a treasure of good writing, good humor and good advice from the old timers “who knew a lot and tried everything.” Buy two copies and leave one on the boat.