Francis B Cooke’s writing republished in blockbuster manual of traditional yachting

Cruising Hints FB Cooke 450 pixels

Francis B Cooke was one of the great yachting writers of the 20th century and more – a long-lived man, he was first published in 1883 and was still writing in the early 1970s, by which time he was in his early 100s .

He has been one of my favourite authors for many years, and so I’m delighted that Lodestar Books led by Dick Wynne have brought out a compendium of his writing.

I think it’s high time Cooke was rediscovered – a very popular sailing author for many decades, his books are full of practical information and advice peppered with beautifully told stories about his experiences and descriptions of the East Coast areas of Essex, Kent and Suffolk. However they are now rare in the second-hand bookshops.

Cruising Hints: The Traditional Yachtsman’s Compendium is a big book of 686 pages including the index priced at £30 from the Lodestar website – or something around 5p/page. I will make a great Christmas present for many Intheboatshed.net readers. (That’s a hint, but the way!)

What you get is a very complete manual of old-fashioned small boat cruising, that’s still relevant for traditional boat owners and enthusiasts today, intermingled with pieces of writing that demonstrate a deep and abiding enthusiasm. For example, the section ‘The boat’ includes chapters with titles such as ‘Yachting with economy’, ‘Selecting a yacht’ and ‘Size for the single-hander’, but it also includes a chapter headed ‘A perfect love of a boat’ that turns out to have been drawn by Harrison Butler.

This quotation from ‘A perfect love of a boat’ encapsulates several of Cooke’s regular themes of economy and practicality, enthusiasm, adventurous single-handed sailing (in contrast to many of his 19th and early 20th century cruising contemporaries, who required the help of a hired man) and of course his beloved East Coast:

‘She is a perfect love of a boat, and when my ship comes home, I shall be tempted to have her built. That is of course if I still remain in the same frame of mind… The design I am in love with for the moment comes from the board of that enthusiastic yachtsman Dr T Harrison Butler, and was published in the Yachting Monthly of November 1915… an exceedingly pretty and comfortable little cruiser. The boat has a very nice sheer and a bow that reminds me of the excellent small cruisers designed by Mr J Pain Clark. The underwater lines suggest weatherliness, and with a good length of keel she should be very steady on her helm… Length over all, 18 feet 6 inches… Of course, the boat is very small but it is astonishing what a lot of fun one can have even in a ‘tabloid’ cruiser. She strikes me as being just the thing for knocking about on the estuaries and creeks of the East Coast at weekends, whilst a trip up to Lowestoft would be quite within her capabilities in any ordinary summer weather.’

The phrase ‘when my ship comes in’ is mildly amusing – Cooke was a successful merchant banker, so I’d be surprise if he was short of a bob or two.

The new book Cruising Hints includes chapters and sections describing the classic East Coast sailing area, a substantial collection of Cooke’s design commentaries often describing craft that are now considered classics, and an extraordinary number of beautiful lines and layout drawings – it’s a real feast of the draftsman’s art.

There are also sections on sailing cruiser equipment, the ‘Domestic economy’, ‘Maintenance’ and ‘Seamanship’, and ‘Desirable East Coast anchorages’ – just the stuff to read while waiting for the tide, or in peaceful moments at home, if there ever are any…

Have I persuaded you it’s a good buy yet? I hope so! If not, there’s more information at the Lodestar Books website including this pdf including samples from the book.

PS – I’m reminded that the wonderful compendium of George Holmes’ writing and drawing that Lodestar published in 2009 been reprinted. See a review here.

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Keep Turning Left film-maker Dylan Winter in the Walton Backwaters

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Round Britain slow sailer and film-maker Dylan Winter has put up an 18-minute piece of film about sailing around the Walton Backwaters, and about the explosives dock at Oakley Quay.

The video is part of his ongoing Keep Turning Left video project and is his first paid-for film download – for the princely sum of $0.99. There’s a taster on his homepage.

Dylan calls the new video 18 minutes of pleasure and the next best thing to sailing. It seems a trifle hyperbolic as claims go – but as we emerge from yet another nasty winter of bad weather and grimmer news and disasters, I’d say that he definitely has a point.

Just looking at the taster, clock the lovely yawl pictured in evening light early on – do I recognise a well known and recently built Alfred Strange yawl? I think perhaps I do…

The Backwaters are a small area of estuary packed with islands and channels, and make an interesting sheltered sailing areafor visiting boaters with a series of quays and settlements around its perimeter. I haven’t been there myself, but it’s definitely on my agenda, and it happens that I’ve been reading about the area while travelling to work in London this week, along with the sad, tired army of London’s commuters.

My companion on the train has been FB Cooke’s unconventional pilot Coastwise Cruising, which turns out to be as refreshing as Dylan’s film. For more on Cooke, click here.

He starts for the Backwaters from the Stour, and as he setsoff I can just smell the sea and the hot summer day to come.

‘After studying the chart we come to the conclusion that we must start at about 8am to make sure of carrying the ebb out of the Stour and down Harwich Harbour to the Cliff Foot buoy… It is a jolly morning, with just a suggestion of haze which means heat later on. We are sorry to say goodbye to Wrabness, but at the same time we are anxious to visit Walton Creek and Hamford Waters which on the chart look intriguing.

‘Getting our anchor, we start away down the Stour close-hauled on the starboard tack.’

Ahhhhh! I think Dylan and old FB Cooke have a lot in common…

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