Sea-Boats, Oars and Sails by Conor O’Brien

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Many readers will know that gun-runner, naval officer and circumnavigator Conor O’Brien’s book Sea-Boats Oars and Sails is a classic of small boat sailing and cruising – the good news is that it is now available again in an elegant paperback format from the Lodestar Books.

The prices are £12 sent to the UK, £13 to Europe, and £15 to areas of the world beyond Europe.

The photo above is of a François Vivier-designed Ilur, which is said to embody the qualities advanced by O’Brien in this book – the boat in the shot belongs to Tim Cooke and is sailed by him in the waters of south-west Ireland.

If you’re not convinced you need a copy, perhaps the following few sentences (and the link to a chapter below) will help demonstrate why it deserves a place on the bookshelf.

Just in these few lines, you’ll likely find he’s dogmatic about something he has experience of, reveals a little sense (on luffing) that may not be as common as it should be and, of course, in his spare style, he draws a picture that’s only too easy to conjure in your imagination. (He was writing in 1941, a time when taut writing was coming much more into fashion.)

‘The sailing boat referred to in this book, which excludes all racing craft, is not a miniature yacht. Their functions are different; the boatman is dependent on the shore, and has to make his port in good time, the yachtsman can keep the sea as long as he likes. But a sailing boat, as I define the term, is not merely a small yacht stripped for action; the significant difference is in the method of handling them. The yacht is almost uncapsizable, and, if luffed head to wind, heavy enough to carry her headway for some little time after the sails have ceased to draw. The boat stops immediately the propelling force fails. In a yacht the main sheet is belayed, keeping the sail at a constant angle with her keel, and to spill the wind out of the sail in a squall she is luffed, or turned towards the wind’s eye with the helm. In a boat the main sheet must be held in the hand, and with it she is played through a squall as a fish is played with rod and line, while she is kept sailing smartly all the time. It is fatal to luff, for if she loses headway she will not recover it till she has fallen off broadside to the wind, and if she is caught in that position with no way on she is easily capsized. Then, if the boat’s sails have to be taken in, they must come in at once, while in a yacht there is never great hurry about reducing canvas. These considerations limit the size of a boat’s mainsail and enjoin simplicity and certainty in working on her gear. As a set-off it should be remembered that the crew can get about their work with far more ease and safety in an open boat than on a small yacht’s deck.’

Read more on this topic in a chapter from Sea-Boats, Oars and Sails here.

 

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