Amazing Sailing Stories|
True Adventures from the High Seas
Dick Durham, editor
Wiley Nautical, 264pp, $22.95
The title of this collection suggested that it would be the perfect volume to take along on your summer cruise. After reading it, my advice is to wait until you get home and are basking in pleasant memories. This collection, though well balanced between triumphs and disasters, will have you thanking your lucky stars that you got home in one piece. Sixty, three to six page vignettes, are organized into eight categories such as "Survival", "Calm", "Human Error", "Deliverance". You get the picture. The stories are gleaned from historical documents, diaries, news reports, and previously published books that cover the decades between 1891 and 2010.
I couldn't put the book down. I kept saying, just one more...it's only four pages... and all of a sudden I was late for work. Most of the familiar tales are included in excerpt...Shackleton, Robin Knox Johnson, Miles Smeeton, Bligh and the Fastnet race of '79. While Durham mines all the big stories he also includes a good number of the obscure and the charmingly humble ones, like The Magic of Swatchways by Maurice Griffin, a contemporary Englishman who loves the shallow creeks and tidal hidey-holes of his native island.
My personal favorite is the last in the collection, "The Smallest Boat to Sail Round the World" which is the teasingly abbreviated account of Shane Acton who started his voyage from Cambridge, England. "Not many circumnavigations start in landlocked Cambridge because the river there is too small to float the sort of boat you'd expect to take on an ocean voyage." Shane's budget was 400 pounds...enough to buy plywood for an 18-foot Caprice class bilge keeler, "Super Shrimp" designed "to hop along the coast when the tide was in and sit up on the mud when the tide was out." Her name was "Shrimpy."
You could call the entire experience as a "work/sail" project. Between hops to the Atlantic, Acton worked as a builder's laborer and also crewing and navigating for other sailors in the Canaries. In November 1973, he made himself a self-steering system out of driftwood and dumped car springs and set off across the Atlantic. The crossing took Shane and Shrimpy 40 days during which the captain of a huge freighter tried to rescue him, thinking Shrimpy was a lifeboat. All in all, it was an eight year circumnavigation and the name of the book is, Shrimpy. What else?
However, there is bad news for those of us who want to read the whole book...on Amazon the copies of both of Acton's book are rare and out of print, one selling for $150 and up, the other starts at $60 per copy. (I'm going to start combing libraries.) If anyone has a copy, I'd pay to have it sent to me as a lend, insured accordingly!
The editor, Dick Durham is a news editor and a feature writer for Yachting Monthly, a British glossy. Before joining the magazine in 1998, he served on the last working Thames barge. Allowing for the idiomatic differences between American and British English, I would nevertheless have to say that the prose in this collection is rough and tumble. However, the stories are so compelling that the apparently careless language is easily overlooked. My best guess is that it was hastily compiled and/or never copy-edited. If so, I'm volunteering for that humble position for Durham's next book!