19 December 2007

26. Spring Tides by Samuel Eliot Morison

A short little number published in 1965. This is a sailing book that I have never heard of before. I have heard of Morison, though. He's written quite a bunch of books about WW2, especially the War in the Pacific.

The book is divided into six sections: Spring Tides; A Yacht's Cabin; An August Day's Sail; A September Cruise; The Ancients and the Sea; A Summer Cruise in the Aegean.

Some good insights into the beauty of sailing. And Morison tries to explain the mystery of why a yacht's cabin, despite it's cramped quarters and mix of funky aromas, is as cozy as it is. And the chapter on late summer sailing is excellent.

The chapter on the Ancients could be better explained. I mean, reading it made me wish I had studied the Ancients.

25. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad's classic that was turned into a great movie, although mediocre version of this story.

In the story Marlow and his pals are sitting around on the deck of the cruising yawl Nellie, waiting for the tide to shift and the sun to go down. To pass the time Marlow decides to tell a story of the time he was a freshwater sailor and had to taken a steamer up a river in the Congo. He had gotten a position with an ivory trading company through the influence of an aunt and as his first job he was tasked with taking a station manager up the river to retrieve Kurtz.

Now Kurtz is a trader who has gone nuts with his own unlimited power over the natives. His followers are not willing to let him go and attack the steamer as it draws closer to the clearing where he has set up camp. Marlow and the station manager dock the boat and meet up with Kurtz, who, it turns out is quite sick and near death. He resents the fact that he is being called back. After all, he's gotten so much ivory for the Company that it's piled up at camp.

The end of the movie is not exactly the same as the book, so I'll stop here.

There is some really great writing here.

03 December 2007

24. Learning to Sail by H.A. Calahan

Also posted at: http://theredwing.blogspot.com/

First off, let me just say that I have wanted to read this book for a good, good long time. Published for the first time in November 1932, it's not an easy book to find. And by find I mean find, not search for, if you get my meaning.

This book has everything - nice thick paper, great illustrations and photographs, no author bio about his living on the Maine Coast with his wife, three kids, and two cats, one of whom enjoys sailing, and all that modern luggage a new book must ship. This one is just pure salt.

Now, naturally, one cannot learn how to sail from a book. It's one of those learn-by-doing jobs, so this is a book for people who have just finished, say, their third or fourth lesson. They know the vocab, they feel good, and have enough experience to be able to listen to advice.

And this book has a lot of old-time advice. And some plain old good writing.

From the chapter on Helmsmanship:

"After the beginner has learned to maneuver his boat with a fair degree of confidence, he is quite certain to slump and become careless. If at this point he could understand that he has mastered the very rudiments of sailing and the finer touches are still to be acquired, he would progress rapidly. As a rule, however, the beginner continues as a beginner until he starts to enter races. Then with the other boats passing him as if he were standing still, it begins to dawn on him that he has not mastered the fine art of helmsmanship" (135).

And again from the same chapter:

"A sailboat is the most alive creation ever made by man. She has her whims and moods and there must be a sympathy and understanding between the helmsman and the boat" (135).

From the "What to do in a Thunderstorm" chapter:

"A thunderstorm is carried in the direction of the tide and may pass out with the ebb and return again on the flood. When you see a thunderstorm approaching, try to get in the lee of a shore or rather hide behind the shore that will be to windward when the thunderstorm breaks. It is easy to forecast the exact direction of the wind of the storm by watching the movement of the approaching clouds. Rest assured that the wind will not be blowing from the pre-storm direction when the storm breaks. Just before the storm comes, it irons out the wind and you find yourself in a flat, ominous calm. The longer and more pronounced the calm, the more violent the storm will be when it breaks" (176-77).

From "Fitting out:"

"Springtime! What does that mean to the sailor? Not the sinking of the plowshare into the moist, brown earth nor the return of the birds, the first green buds upon the trees or the gay new apparel in shop windows.

"No, spring expresses itself to the sailor in the tapping of the caulking mallet, the pungent smell of copper paint, the good will and the hard work and the cheery good fellowship in the shipyard; the warm sun overhead and the cold, forbidding, empty blue water just beyond. Spring is a joyous time in a shipyard. The boats emerging grimily from their winter covers seem to stretch and yawn and cast an eye seaward. There is a joy in the scraping and painting and puttying; in the overhauling of gear and equipment. And when at last the old hooker slides down the ways and bobs gayly in her new coat of paint, it is a moment of sheer, unalloyed joy" (307).

And finally, from the afterword of the printing I found (at my university's library), from a section called, "What it's all about:"

"There is a fraternity of the sea, not understood by landsmen. You may golf or ride or drink with a man and never see below the surface. But sail with him and you know him. Go through danger and hardship and adventure together and the knot of friendship is firmly tied. Yachtsmen visit one another in the ports they touch. The yacht clubs compete in extending hospitality. Yachtsmen help one another whenever possible. There is more genuine good fellowship among yachtsmen than among among almost any other group of humans. Perhaps it is the salt water in the blood" (318).

23. Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry by Mildred Taylor

The other side of the To Kill a Mockingbird coin - the sad situation of the Jim Crow South with the friction, heat, and armed conflict that is missing from Mockingbird.

Set during the 30s, the Logans own their own farm, 200 acres that have been in the family for going on three generations. They farm but are left with so little money left over that the father is forced to leave the family to work the railroad in Louisiana. The mom holds down the fort, teaching at the local black school (with hand me down books from the white school), and organizing a community boycott of the white grocery.

The main conflict comes from this boycott, which is in response to a half-lynching by the family that runs the store, the Wallaces. They are a mean bunch, and they light two guys on fire for flirting with the checkout girl. One of the guys dies immediately and the other lingers.

Naturally nobody is punished for this crime and the black community is split between the that's-just-the-way-it-is crowd and the we're-not-going-to-take-it crowd.

The story is told through the voice of Cassie, who is about twelve. She's one tough cookie, getting into fights, mouthing off to her elders, and disobeying direct orders from her mom.

It was good, better in many ways than the Watson's book (#22), and would be a perfect pair with Mockingbird.