Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Important maritime books

The illustrious maritime discussion list, MARHST-L, which has been active on the internet for what seems for ever, has been exploring a fascinating thread.

It started off with the simple challenge to each lister to name four important books from his or her bookshelf.  The moderator who posed this set the ball rolling by naming his four choices, each of which was very different from the rest:

A Camera on the Banks: Frederick William Wallace and the Fishermen of Nova Scotia (2006), by M. Brook Taylor. "Frederick William Wallace will be known to some as the author of Wooden Ships and Iron Men (1973)," ran the helpful comment. "He spent time on the Banks in schooners and square sail but finally decided to make his living ashore as a journalist. That might have been a bit of a disappointment to him but it was a gift to us who read with profit his many books and articles. Some regard Wallace as among the first to reveal a rich history of the Canadian east coast fishery."

Mr Bligh's Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theater on H. M. Armed Vessel Bounty. (1992), by Greg Dening.

The Sea: A Cultural History (2011) by John Mack.
"I bought this many years ago while visiting Wales in search of the author and shantyman Stan Hugill," the poster reminisced, and added the publisher's puff: "This is a valuable history of the ships, builders and ship owners of Aberdovey, Borth and the Dovey estuary, many good pictures of not otherwise well-known vessels. Mainly schooners but also brigs and brigantines. The author gives a detailed account of the geography and economy of the Dovey including accounts of local life, voyages, building costs of several ships and a list of all vessels built locally between 1840 and 1880. The account closes with the arrival of the railway, when all trade by sea ceased”.

 Listers responded (and still respond) with enthusiasm, and -- probably encouraged by the variety of the four samples -- sent the thread off in several directions, as members ruminated about the books that (a) inspired a lifelong interest in ships and the sea, or (b) were the most enjoyable, or (c) taught the reader the most.  Surprisingly, there are few novels, maritime enthusiasts preferring books that are readily looked up when instant information is needed. 

Many remembered the books that inspired them in their youth.

"My interest was inspired at a very young age by a book called A Boy's Book of Warships," wrote one lister. "It listed each type of warship in the RN in WWII  and gave an example - the destroyer was ESKIMO, the corvette ANCHUSA, the cruiser DEVONSHIRE and so forth."

"For nostalgia as well as literary merit," a seafaring member recommended, "a couple of books that I read as a youngster (with a flash light, after bedtime, under covers): Ransome's Peter Duck and the rest of the Swallows and Amazons; and a little later, Peter Heaton's "Sailing" which came out the same year as my grandfather made me a boat owner (a rather leaky 13 foot "cutter" -- yes, a bowsprit and two fores'ls) and was the final encouragement, if any was needed, for me to go to sea."

Some loved the stories of life at sea under sail.

Burgess Cogill, When God was an Atheist Sailor: Memories of a Childhood at Sea (New York, 1990)

"This is a delightful tale of a young girl who was born on the 5-masted schooner SNOW & BURGESS, and brought up onboard for the first eight years of her life," commented the poster, then added:

Captain James S. Learmont, Master in Sail (London, 1954), saying, "This is an outstanding memoir by a man who held command under sail, and made good passages. Full of useful information, and his account of saving his ship by cutting away the masts after a cargo shift is outstanding. Highly unusual for giving full credit to ‘Frank’, a black sailor, for both keeping control of the crew, and his exceptional exertions."

Other replies were very technical.  Special interest needed here!

"I read Costello and Hughes' Jutland 1916 in my senior year of high school," remembered one. "That book started an interest in late 19th and early 20th century naval technology that continues to this day, 37 years later. Pride of place in my library I think goes to a 1917 edition of Naval Ordnance that used to reside in the library of the pre-dreadnought battleship USS MINNESOTA."

Intrigued by submarines?  A lister recommended SUBMARINE DIARY: The Silent Stalking of Japan by Admiral Corwin Guy Mendenhall Jr. USN (ret)  "An excellent day to day record of the submarine operations the USN," said the poster.  "Very frank from a young man who went to war as an ensign in a submarine and grew with experience. As a former RN submariner I found the detail fascinating."

Another added a short review of a book that was waiting under his Christmas tree:  Horatio Clare's Down to the Sea in Ships. "This book describes life aboard two container ships, MAERSK GERD and MAERSK PEMBROKE," he wrote; "the former a top-of-the-line far-ranging monster, the latter, a smaller, older North Atlantic commuter."  Remarkably, as well as being a page-turner, he found, "This is very much a tribute to the underpaid, overworked, and all but invisible Filipino seafarer who does not have the luxury of escaping from what is in many ways a life of shipboard imprisonment."

Recommendations from the readers of World of the Written World most welcome!

MARHST-L is an INTERNATIONAL electronic discussion group sponsored and administered by the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston with the assistance of Queen's University at Kingston.

No comments: