Old books are a lifesaver on the stormy seas of circumstance. This is especially true as the autumn mornings descend icily on sailors that are landlocked for the coming season. It is time to seek comfort in book-lined anchorages where time is suspended like a boat in a gale hanging on the crest of a wave. Somewhere beyond the multitude of whitecaps is a blue sky and a kinder wind.
There are various kinds of book collector. The antiquarians are seeking the oldest and rarest volumes. Speed readers tend to get through a volume and then pass it on to someone else. I like to savor a book and will reread some if they are particularly useful, meaningful or well written. Selling books is interesting because you can get an insight into a person by what they choose to read.
A niche market grows from niche interests. If you are a stamp collector you will like selling stamps. If you are a sports fan, sports memorabilia, autographs or trading cards are will suit you. I am a sailor. You can get an idea of the depth of my interest by looking at my other blog: Seaward Adventures. Although I have always followed a broad array of interests sailing is the one that never wanes in my worldview. Back in 1985 I spent a year of my spare time and a lot of money getting my private pilot’s license. I have an interest in aviation that goes back to my childhood. My passions have been expensive ones and in deciding between boats and airplanes the winner has always been sailboats.
Books are at the foundation of all my interests and so it is with sailing. They teach, entertain and encourage like loyal friends. Thus, I have always been a collector of books on my favorite subject. Life sent me in directions which have caused me to leave behind a large library of precious friends but I am making an effort to recover them. In the world collecting few things are as ubiquitous as books. The opportunity to find new treasures or replace old ones is everywhere. There are used bookstores in every city. Antique malls always have a loose selection of old books and often some very good dealers in printed matter. Flea markets and estate sales teem with boxes of books to be had at dirt cheap prices.
There are many classic stories of the sea, from Moby Dick to Mutiny on the Bounty. Everybody knows these from school but the wider body of work is immense. Fiction is just a part of the whole. There is a vast array of real life accounts of voyages short and long. There are instructional books on sailing, navigation, boat-building, seamanship, pirates and more things naval than I care to contemplate.
Certain classics have been in print for many years. Ashley Book of Knots is a big heavy book. It is formatted in an encyclopedic style showing every conceivable way to use rope From the practical to the irrelevant. If you are into marlinespike seamanship it’s an essential text. When I settled into life in Washington state it was the first book in my new library.
Maritime history in our country has had no stronger preservationist than Howard I. Chapelle (1901–1975). He roamed the country documenting and measuring traditional working craft that were disappearing from the waterways. His books are part history and part studies in naval architecture. I have been rummaging through these volumes since electronic cigarette brands I was a high school student hiding out in the library. The Search for Speed Under Sail, The History of the American Sailing Navy, Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction, and American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development and Construction are essentials of which I am still missing two. As money allows it will be easy enough to pick them up on ABE books. Fortunately they had a long print run.
L. Francis Herreshoff (1890-1972) is one America’s premiere yacht designers. He published several of my favorite books, The Common Sense of Yacht Design, Capt. Nat Herreshoff: The Wizard of Bristol, The Writings of L. Francis Herreshoff, Sensible Cruising Designs and An L. Francis Herreshoff Reader. The Compleat Cruiser: The Art, Practice, and Enjoyment of Boating is one of the most engaging and informative books on cruising under sail ever written. Some would find the book to be very outdated but if you are paying attention you will learn more than you expected about anchoring, boat designs and simple navigation tricks. Such tricks might save your bacon when the GPS goes unexpectedly silent. I will never understand why the same people who will deny the existence of a holy God will put blind faith in battery powered electronics in a salt water environment.
For the kind of entertainment that can only be had in the pages of fiction I have always preferred C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series. These 11 novels tracing the career of a British naval officer during the great age of fighting sail ring with authenticity as well as drama. I have read the whole series at least five times. I also like to have a shelf full of Alexander Kent’s Richard Bolitho novels. More ripping yarns from a British pen. Many people like the more modern equivalent in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian but I have never quite warmed up to the characters.
A favorite part of the nautical book genre is books that review various sailboat designs or feature the work of a particular designer. They are usually illustrated with photos and plans. Prime examples are Good Boats, More Good Boats and Still More Good Boats by Roger C. Taylor. It’s a little like motorheads who can tell you the make and year of any car you see on the road and can give you an opinion on it’s performance. In my head is a catalog of boat designs built up over more than 40 years of absorbing everything I could about sailing vessels. Wooden boats take precedence but I don’t discriminate against other materials. The best boat I have owned so far was fiberglass.
The best of vintage nautical books have either great engravings or maps bound in. One of my other collecting passions has always been maps. This goes hand in glove. The art of navigation begets the art of topography. I cannot see a detailed chart, old or new, without concluding that it springs from an artistic sensibility as well an applied science. I give all the credit to God for creating both the canvas, the paint and the brush.
Nothing makes me feel more secure and at home than to be snuggled up among my books. A chill is coming and the soul must have some fuel. Literature can be a beacon to a sailor, even on dry land, as snow falls softly amid the ranks of sleeping hulls in the Wintry boatyard.