The latest issue of the wonderful The Marine Quarterly and two books: Mike Smylie’s Traditional Fishing Boats of Europe and an account of cruising in canoes in the 19th Century


Novelist Sam Llewellyn’s other project, the unfailingly beautifully edited The Marine Quarterly,  continues to impress, and I’m enjoying the new edition as much as I have each of the previous nine editions. I say it’s essential reading, and that a full set – if one could keep them together – would be an asset when waiting for the tide.

This issue includes an illuminating history of pilots and piloting by Tom Cunliffe, Ken Duxbury’s account of visiting his first Greek island aboard his Drascombe Lugger Lugworm,   and an introduction to the story of pier-head painting by artist and illustrator Claudia Myatt.

In fact, if anything it gives me even greater pleasure because it includes a piece from Ben Crawshaw. Ben, as regular readers may remember, built one of my small boat designs, the Light Trow, and his book Catalan Castaway recounts his remarkable adventures. (See the ad at the top right of this weblog.)

Mike Smylie Traditional Fishing Boats of Europe

I’m also just beginning to read Mike Smylie’s latest book, Traditional Fishing Boats of Europe, which aims to tell the story of how the various types of fishing boats evolved over hundreds of years in line with the catches they were built to chase, the seas and climates in which they must work, and of course the cultural influences involved.

It’s a complicated story and clearly an important project, and I’ll be fascinated to find out just how he can cram all of that information between two covers! No doubt he can, though, because he’s done this kind of thing before and knows what he’s doing…

Those Magnificent Men in Their Roy-Roy Canoes

Jim Parnell’s Those Magnificent Men in Their Roy-Roy Canoes is clearly a must for  anyone interested in the remarkable story of sailing in these little boats.

It’s really a historical record of the adventures of the three New Zealand canoeing Park brothers, George, William  and James, who were active in the late 19th and early 20th Century, and includes material from their logs and from newspaper cuttings, and is written very much in the quite formal, slightly detached style of that era.

Still, the adventures they describe are quite something, and include crossing South Island (including a long portage, naturally) and crossing Cook Strait on a night with no moon. I needn’t mention how dangerous the Southern Ocean can be – but the Parks, particularly George Park, seem to have been indomitable.

The Marine Quarterly, summer 2012 edition

The latest Marine Quarterly arrived a couple of weeks ago, and I must say that once again the ‘the thinking sailor’s sea journal’ does not disappoint.

In fact it’s full of interesting surprises. A 1912 account of a Cowes Week involving Meteor, the Kaiser’s huge racing schooner, reveals some comically dreadful seamanship from the skippers and crews.

It also provides a reminder that before 1914 relations between the German leader and important and rich British and American figures were sufficiently amicable that they were competing regularly. It will always be a mystery to me that the horrors of World War I that followed were allowed to take place – but I guess the scary answer is that once the world embarks on a particular track, the momentum can quickly become unstoppable. I’m sure we all hope today’s leaders are listening.

There’s a well researched piece on Scottish sea monsters, an article describing the history and joys of gig racing in the Scillies and Cornwall (I didn’t know that gigs were developed for racing as much as for the piloting trade); a description of the strengths and weaknesses of the Falkland Islands’ defences (I’m sure the Argentinians will examine this closely); and an explanation of the techniques used by amateur lobster fishermen.

Keep the numbers of lobsters you catch very small, and you don’t need a licence, it seems.

But the article that amazed me more than any other is a superb piece about the sailing events of the 1948 Olympics, which took place off Torquay. For those who know me well, the simple fact that I studied an article about a sporting event from beginning to end and declared myself rapt will be powerful evidence that this is worth reading.

Subscribe today, I say: .

The Marine Quarterly summer 2012

The summer issue of novelist Sam Llewellyn’s charming, informative and plain entertaining The Marine Quarterly is due out any day.

It think it’s well worth a sub. We greatly enjoyed the last two issues and excitement is rising at the prospect of a new one.

If you haven’t seen it, you should know that it’s a 112-page compendium of what Sam calls ‘intelligent sea reading’ in a pocket sized format, printed on hefty, creamy paper and illustrated with charts, woodcuts and line drawings.

Here’s a sample paragraph snatched from the last issue and written by a chap called Ernest Gann, who was at the time in the throes of realising his dream of owning and sailing a square rigger. I like the colour in the writing, but its candour is even better:

‘To gain experience in a square rig of any size you must either be a foreign cadet, or serve in the US Coast Guard’s Eagle. So I had to depend heavily on Holcomb, who caressed his dolphin-striker jaw and allowed as how there were enough menaces to navigation in the Bay without turning me loose in a rig which at least looked complicated. To serve as crew I had assembled a heterogeneous group of people who believed that as I had managed to captain the Albatross all the way from Rotterdam without calamity, certainly an afternoon in the Bay should be a lark. I did not bother telling them how little I knew during a sort of rehearsal just before leaving the dock. It was easier demonstrating what I did know. I lectured slowly and with many repetitions, since I was aware that as soon as my supply of book learning was exhausted we would be obliged to sail.’