Some how-to books are bad, some good, and just a few become classic texts on their topic that will be read and occasionally argued over for decades – and I think this volume from Dinghy Cruising Association president Roger Barnes is one of the last group.
It’s frankly stunning to look at, hugely informative and interesting.
It is also persuasive, with many descriptions of sailing trips and superb photography. Dinghy cruising has had some good books and good authors in the past, but The Dinghy Cruising Companion outlines the dinghy cruising formula better than any I’ve seen.
Both on the Internet, in my observation, and in print, Roger is a man of firm views backed up by powerfully made arguments, and in the area of cruising in dinghies his opinions are supported by a wealth of experience.
The topics he covers include everything you’d expect: choosing a boat, fitting out for day-sailing, boat handling, mooring and anchoring, preparing for open water, coping with the tides, currents and overfalls, the chop of the open sea, coastal navigation, and how to be as comfortable and safe as possible. This is all within limits of what can be achieved in a small boat, of course.
He does it superbly. The Dinghy Cruising Companion explains aspects of small boat sailing I have never found elsewhere, or had explained to me by other sailors.
Opening the pages pretty well at random, I learn that bars form across rivers because at the point the river’s rapid movement stops on meeting the sea, it then drops its silt and sand. It seems obvious once it’s been explained, but most sailing books don’t mention it. Over the page, Roger explains that the white water of a storm is dangerous to a small boat because it loses density, which robs a small boat of its usual buoyancy, which in turn means it will crash through the water rather than rising over it. A couple of pages later he reminds us that when in danger of broaching when sailing before the wind, sheet in to spill wind rather than out, as you would in other points of sailing.
The whole book is like this – packed with useful instructions and advice, much of it as relevant to those of us who sail small yachts as it is to dinghy sailors.
To be frank, most of the rest of us are unlikely to assemble such experience for ourselves. While dinghy cruising has its undoubted charms and dinghy day sailing remains a popular and pleasant activity, for many of us it remains a romantic and appealing idea that is unlikely ever to be fulfilled, partly because of the discomfort and danger, and partly because while we’re mostly social animals, most of the time dinghy cruisers sail alone. It’s not an activity for a young family, for example, and by the law of averages an individual who enjoys dinghy cruising will be very lucky to find a life partner or even a friend who shares their enthusiasm to go sailing with.
But as I say, much of what The Dinghy Cruising Companion has to say is relevant to all cruising sailors. My concern is that I’m unlikely to remember it all when I need it, but at least I’ve read it in Roger’s rather awesome book… And in the runup to Christmas, it’s available from all good online bookshops!