Ransome’s Amazon on show at Coniston

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Amazon was one of two boats purchased in 1928 by Dr EHR Altounyan, so that his children could learn to sail with the help of family friend Arthur Ransome, by then an established author and journalist, and cruising and small boat sailing enthusiast.

She later was the model for the boat Amazon featured in some of the Ransome’s popular children’s novels, beginning with  Swallows and Amazons, which he wrote in 1929.

The Altounyan family children featured in the fictional stories under their own names, and one, Roger Altounyan, later invented the cromoglycate inhaler used to treat asthma – an achievement for which us asthmatics will be forever grateful.

In real life the sailing dinghy was named Mavis, and was renamed Amazon in 1990 by Aruthur Ransome Society president Mrs Brigit Sanders, who appeared in the books as the character ‘the Ship’s Baby’.

Amazon still belongs to the Altounyan family, but is on long-term loan to the Ruskin Museum at Coniston and is on show.

Amazon is not varnished as described in Ransome’s famous books, but was probably painted from the beginning – it’s said that she probably looks today very much as she did when Ransome knew her.

Ransome himself remains a complex and intriguing character – as his Wikipedia entry shows.

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.

Johnny Tyson builds a 14ft Whitehall at the Boat Building Academy

Johnny's boat leaves the workshop

Johnny’s 14ft Whitehall leaves the workshop on launch day

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And thats all there is to it AK Johnny champagne Johnny Tyson

Boat Building Academy student Johhny Tyson built this John Gardner-designed 14ft Whitehall together with his pal Jerry Reeves, and launched it down at Lyme along with other students’ projects back in June.

The materials Johnny used were West African mahogany on oak with a West African mahogany keel. I gather that following the launch he took it to the Portsoy Scottish Traditional Boat Festival.

There are photos of the build here at Johnny’s website.If you happen to run a boatbuilding business, need staff and like what you see, I gather he’s looking for a suitable job…

I should point out that John Gardner’s books are a tremendous body of work if you’re interested in American boat types, and some of them have been available at very keen prices in recent years it’s well worth checking Amazon – I’d suggest in particular that Building Classic Small Craft including 47 sets of boat building plans is a bargain at less than £15.

My thanks to Academy principal Yvonne Green for the photos.

For more on student launches at the Boat Building Academy, click here.