David Seidman’s Sailing: A Beginner’s Guide is available again

David Seidman Sailing: A Beginner's Guide David Seidman Sailing: A Beginner's Guide
David Seidman Sailing: A Beginner's Guide

Some typical pages from David Seidman’s book. It’s not all about modern boats and racing

I’m pleased to be able to say that our favourite sailing tutor is available again, and now in its second edition in its current version from Adlard Coles.

In a much earlier edition David Seidman’s Sailing: A Beginner’s Guide was the best how-to sailing book on my shelves when I was learning how to sail, and many years later it’s now also become a favourite with both my wife and daughter.

I gather the main addition to the new edition of the book is a section on GPS and some new stuff about roller furling, and I’m happy to report that the rest of its contents seem unchanged.

One of the things that makes Seidman’s book special and will likely make it a recognised classic in years to come is that he doesn’t assume that we all have the latest boats and wish to race them.

Most sailing tutors seem to have been made in conjunction with one of the manufacturers and often feature whichever of their models is exciting them at the time. But that approach leaves out most of us. It may be most of the points relevant to the latest boats apply to old boats too, but this focus on shiny new boats can be off-putting for learning sailors, many of whom are likely to be learning in older boats and are also likely to choose an older boat when they come to buy.  It’s true that many of the points relevant to the new boats will apply to the older boats also, but that’s not necessarily obvious when everything looks so different.

If an analogy is needed, it’s rather like the situation where you buy a basic model car and read the manual only to discover that most of it is taken up with added De Luxe GL gizmos and luxury designer features that don’t apply to your bargain basement jobbie with the barest floor covering: it’s deflating, and in a strange way makes you feel oddly wrong.

And then there’s the issue of racing. Seidman doesn’t ignore it, but he does recognise that there’s much more to sailing that rushing round the buoys and arguing about it all afterwards, having a drink and handing out pots. Actually, there are many kinds of leisure sailors, including potterers, picnickers, RYA-style club racers, thrill-seekers, explorers, adventurers, not forgetting the absolute beginners who don’t yet know which way sailing will take them.

Overall, probably most of us are non-racers or once a year racers, and part of Seidman’s charm is that he doesn’t make you feel that you’re inadequate of wrong if that’s not the way our sailing instincts run.

Seidman covers the broad spectrum of sailing, including Bermudan sloops and Marconi single-handers as well as traditionally rigged boats, and makes his intentions clear through his sweetly drawn illustrations. There’s even a practical section on rowing, and he also sneaks in quite a lot of context and history. Sailing doesn’t seek to rival more specialist books like Tom Cunliffe’s Hand, Reef and Steer: Traditional Sailing Skills for Classic Boats, but he does reflect sailing as many of us encounter it. He also has an infectious enthusiasm and is a good, clear writer.

If you’re looking for a book that explains how to sail, I recommend Sailing: A Beginner’s Guide. It’s available in its second edition from good bookshops including Amazon.

Wooden Boatbuilding – a review

Wooden Boatbuilding Jean-Francois Garry

Baffled by the difference between a futtock and a fashion piece? Would you like to be able to read a set of offsets or take off some lines? Would you like an attractive, nicely illustrated guide to the principles of traditional-style boatbuilding to read over Christmas?

Wooden Boatbuilding could well be the book for you.

The first in a new series about classic boats from Adlard Coles, this is a very attractive and nicely designed book written by a well known French boatyard and chandlery owner Jean-François Garry, and translated into English.

There are sections discussing boat plans and how to choose between designs, taking-off lines, lofting, timber types, the various components of traditionally built boats and the techniques required to plank hulls and decks, boat carpentry and maintenance. Despite the book’s claims for itself, I wouldn’t want to attempt any of this stuff having read this book alone, but it certainly provides a useful introduction.

There’s a very Gallic theme among the photos and illustrations, and the occasional appearance of words in settings unfamiliar to a native English speaker remind one that the material was originally written in French. In the foreword, for example, we learn that the book gets to the point in a helpful manner ‘by deliberately overlooking difficulties that an amateur would not encounter’. Elsewhere, ‘oak is widely used for classic yachts but so too are red woods’. We know what’s meant but we haven’t heard it put quite like that before.

Happily, the technical side of the translation seems to be correct throughout, so I don’t think there’s any danger of learning something that later turns out to be misleading. There’s also a very useful collection of recommended reading, a short section on the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) and a glossary. The only thing that lets it down are some rather dodgy and fuzzy photos that look like they’ve been placed at low resolution by mistake.

This very attractive and useful package would make a nice gift for many people interested in traditional boats, and is available from Amazon.

Book review: London’s Waterways

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Thames barge, River Thames, London

London’s Waterways is an attractive and account in photos and captions of the capital’s rivers and canals by waterways cameraman and writer Derek Pratt, and published by Adlard Coles. You can pre-order a copy from Amazon as the book isn’t out until 1 March 2010: London’s Waterways.

I’ve lived in and around London for much of my life, and either cycled or walked along most of the canals, but I confess I hadn’t heard of the Rivers Crane and Brent, and the Wandle was only known to me as the name of a line of buses. More, I’ve always connected the name Tyburn with public executions and barely noticed that it could be the name of a river.

So, although Pratt has done a good job of many the great set-piece River Thames photos – pleasure boats, the busy London Pool and so on – as well as the canals, there are quite a few surprises here.

For example the little River Tyburn feeds the lake in Regent’s Park, and runs through Grays Mews Antiques Market, where it provides a home for a colony of goldfish.

The prosaically named New River runs for an astonishing 38 miles and was laboriously built in 1603 to carry fresh water from Hertfordshire into London. It’s still in use.

The River Neckinger, which meets the Thames near London Bridge, is said to have got its name from a spot where pirates used to be hanged using a rope called a neckinger or Devil’s neckcloth; in the 19th century it was a seriously unpleasant place that it also went by the marvellous name of The Venice of Drains.

My only complaint is that although he’s a boating writer, Pratt hasn’t devoted much of this book to boats, or, more particularly the traditional boats of London’s rivers. Perhaps these are yet to come in a future volume; it would be nice to think so.

What we have here is a coffee-table book full of nice big photos, including many set-piece scenes – Pratt seems to be particularly good at catching brightly sunlit bridges with moody backgrounds of black cloud – but it’s also more informative than many similar books, and would make a great birthday or Christmas present for anyone who has a soft spot either for London’s history or for old waterways water, or both.