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).

1 comment:

xose said...

New reedition made by Dover Publications: http://store.doverpublications.com/0486407284.html