What's a good buy for the boat's bookshelf?

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Plenty of tools

We'll update this feature with newly published books which may be of interest to our Members. If you have a book you've enjoyed, please send a review to the Editor. If you're a publisher or author, let the Editor have all the details in time to include it here and in the printed Gaffers Log newsletter.

log [at] oga [dot] org [dot] uk (subject: Book%20review) (Contact the OGA Editor)

For OGA Members visiting Bristol in January, 2020 for the Association AGM, these three books from Amberley Publishing make ideal background reading. 

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SS Great Britain

‘SS Great Britain’ by Helen Doe
304 pages, 40 illustrations: £20

This meticulously-researched and referenced hardback provides an extended narrative history of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ship ‘SS Great Britain’, charting it’s revolutionary design and construction through her working life at sea, time spent abandoned in the South Atlantic, the beaching at Sparrow Cove and finally her return to Bristol for restoration. Alongside this detailed history of the vessel are fascinating insights into the lives of passengers, crew and officers told through extracts from archive material including newspapers, diaries and other official documents of the day.

‘Brunel’s Ships and boats’ by Helen Doe
96 pages, 100 illustrations: £14.99

This well-illustrated book provides an excellent overview of all the shipping ventures of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Alongside the more well-known boats are chapters about other maritime interests. The style is readable and engaging, an ideal book for anyone to dip into or use to extend their knowledge.

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Brunel's Ships & Boats

‘Sailing ships of the Bristol Channel’ by Viv Head May 2017
96 pages Colour photos and diagrams throughout Amberley Publishing £14.99

On our regular forays into the Bristol Channel from Cardiff, the local OGA BC Area gaffers’ skippers and crew seldom see many other craft. An occasional transporter ship operating out of Bristol’s Royal Portbury Dock, a dredger, perhaps, and some other leisure craft, but this is not the busy end of a British seaway and one might well conclude that it has little signi cance in the history of seafaring and sailing ships. Viv Head’s new book puts such superficial deductions well and truly into the recycle bin as he opens up the incredibly rich maritime history of the Bristol Channel, reaching back to when men first went to sea in ships powered by the wind.

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'Mascotte' races, 2017

‘Boswell’s Holland’ by Patrick Boswell, Dudley Publishing
Available from: www.patrickboswell-artist.co.uk £20

Anyone who has ever sailed in Holland will love this new book from Norfolk artist and sailor Patrick Boswell. Patrick’s deep love for the Dutch people, their waterways, landscape and old classic boats shines out of every page and painting. Full of fascinating anecdotes, East Anglian sailors will love the links between their maritime landscape and that of the Netherlands. Dutch sailors will enjoy a walk through the East Anglian history which links our two countries. Everything is here from the bustling markets and harbours of Delft, Gouda, Enkhuizen and the Ijsselmeer to the lonely shores of the Waddenzee teaming with birdlife, now a World Heritage Site which runs as far as the Danish coast. Patrick’s confident grasp of East Anglian and Dutch history sets his magical Dutch townscapes, harbours and classic boats alongside misty seascapes of remote shallow Waddenzee and the summer islands of Texel, Vlieland and Terschelling where beaches stretch to infinity. No sailor could fail to enjoy this lovingly depicted portrait of Holland, its maritime landscape, old towns and classic boats.

Jayne Tracey, East Coast Area

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Dutch landscapes

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Reeds Maritime

‘Reeds Maritime Flag Handbook’ by Miranda Delmar-Morgan
2nd edition 2015, Adlard Coles Nautical: £9.99

Do you know where you should fly the OGA flag when abroad? How to dress ship properly on special occasions? What flags to fly if you find yourself moored in a foreign harbour when there‘s a local festival going on? Not many of us stick that firmly to the rules, but it’s useful to at least have an idea of what we should be doing. Furthermore some owners of modern boats will look at an Old Gaffer in port and expect to see an experienced crew setting an example by doing things properly.

Miranda Delmar-Morgan is a yachting journalist and photographer who spent many years sailing in old wooden boats. This little book gives all sorts of interesting information. Its notable that some countries have a system of flag rights and wrongs are almost as complicated as in the UK. She addresses the problem of where to fly your burgee if the masthead is too cluttered with electronic devices. In this reviewer’s (perhaps biased) opinion, a yacht under sail doesn’t look quite complete without a colourful burgee fluttering at the masthead. This small pocket sized book is very readable and affordable, an ideal present to leave behind if you have been invited to crew on a friends boat. It will be dipped into and remembered long after the usual bottle of strong drink that is produced in these circumstances has been forgotten.

Mike Beckett, East Coast Area, Skipper ‘Bonita’

Amberley Publishing
‘The Lifeboat Service in England: the North East Coast Station
by Station’ by Nicholas Leach Paperback, 160 pages,
300 illustrations, £17.99

Split into two parts, this extremely well-produced volume is packed full of modern and archive photographs and illustrations providing an excellent in-depth analysis of the lifeboat service in the North East of England, from Berwick-upon-Tweed down to Gibralter Point. This wild and challenging coast is where many of the first lifeboat stations were established in England, as early as the late 18th century. Part 1 takes the reader through the development of a boat design capable of being launched into heavy seas, to save the lives of seafarers wrecked off entrances to the growing number of harbours and ports along the industrialised North East coast. We learn that independent lifeboats along this coast were well-established before the newly formed National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was established in 1824, becoming the RNLI 30 years later. The development of motorboats and influence of the 2nd World War bring us up to date in the closing pages of Part 1 with inshore lifeboats and the ‘modern era’.    

Today the RNLI operate 16 stations along this stretch of coast and there are several fascinating ‘Past and present’ pages for lifeboat stations contrasting, with photographs taken in the same locations, typical boats of the past with their modern counterparts. Part 2 provides an illustrated catalogue of each lifeboat station, past and present, with a panel for each showing key dates, current lifeboats and station honours in recognition of the proud history held by many of these historic stations, some now closed.

Whilst the first part provides an interesting history of lifeboat development and tales of courageous rescues, the second part is more like a reference book, to dip into when visiting a particular stretch of coast. This volume will be of interest to many who sail the north east coast as well as those simply interested in the history of the development of the lifeboat service and RNLI.

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The Lifeboat Service

Amberley Publishing
‘British Motor Fishing Vessels’
by John McWilliams Paperback, 128 pages,
120 illustrations, £14.99

Drifters, cobles, Morecambe Bay prawners, beach boats, Brixham trawlers and smacks - all frequently featured in the pages of Gaffers Log. What do they have in common? They’re working boats, mostly associated with fishing, forming the ‘backbone’ of the OGA fleet, now used for leisure but bacically powered by sail. This book attempts to capture the story of the motor fishing boats that gradually took over from sail, usually built at local yards by boatbuilders who had the knowledge of a skipper’s needs, depending on what he was fishing and what the harbour conditions were.

The descriptions are a fascinating mix

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Newlyn netter Govenek of Ladra

After a very brief introduction to fishing methods, the book is devoted to ‘The Boats’. Each is described using a double spread with text, line drawing and archive photographs. It’s a very comprehensive list, going beyond wooden boats and including steel seiners and cocklers as well as the Cornish fibreglass Cygnus. The author notes ‘at the risk of offending purists, I have included them all’. The descriptions are a fascinating mix, with fishing numbers, names and historical snippets alongside technical destails of construction, power, engines and fishing methods. The boats are organised geographically, from Cornwall eastwards along the south coast up the east coast, round Scotland to finish on the Isle of Man. I would have liked to see a map and index to facilitate finding a particular vessel, but the absence allows for serendipity! Certainly a book to dip into, and have as a reference on the bookshelf when cruising.

"Gales every weekend"
Julian & Alison Cable Published 29 January, 2018
£8.99 Paperback Original/eBook
Available on Amazon

This book is a compilation of blog posts made during 2015, relating to sailing on 'Robinetta', a small wooden yacht built in 1937. 'Robinetta' is not the obvious boat for long passages. She is short, wide, deep and heavy with a small engine. She can do 6 knots off the wind but that does not happen to us very often, so we passage plan on 4 knots and motorsail when we have to. In some ways Robinetta is the ideal boat for coastal passages. Her limitations force us to plan conservatively. We don't go out if bad weather beyond our experience is likely and we don't try to go further than the crew are fit for. Most importantly we never promise ourselves that we will be in a certain place at a certain time. These limitations are liberating. Without fixed goals, failure is impossible.

Look out for accounts of further voyages and ‘adventures’ of 'Robinetta' and her intrepid crew.

'Robinetta' is an old gaff rigged boat which needs constant nurturing. Overcoming her shortcomings, whilst sailing in the notoriously ‘interesting’ waters of the west coast of Scotland, brings on a mix of dogged determination and wide-eyed enthusiasm. One almost senses that Alison and Julian will be home for jam sandwiches and lashings of ginger beer, whereas in reality they favour good pub grub, fish ’n chips and red wine. Cooking on board, on an un-gimballed stove, more often than not when a reef needs to be put in, only adds to the sense of adventure. In the narrative there are the odd typos and a curious mix of nautical and non-nautical phraseology which jarred at times, but these very minor gripes can be forgiven. I would have welcomed a couple of drawings, a plan of Robinetta’s layout perhaps and a sail plan which to me would add to the enjoyment. But one cannot but reflect that Robinetta’s voyage, in these waters, often in marginal weather conditions, is remarkable and both a delight and an inspiration. The book is a great read.

Mike Dixon

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Dutchman's cap

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The Impractical Boat Owner

"The Impractical Boat Owner. Tales and Trials from Years of Floundering Afloat"
Dave Selby Published 13 July, 2017 by Bloomsbury
£9.99 Paperback Original/eBook

Never mind 'Dunkirk', Dave Selby’s first book, a collection of his earlier columns in Practical Boat Owner, is an absolute delight. This book, a collection of his 'Mad about the Boat' columns that have been popular in PBO for years (Dave also writes a monthly column for Classic Boat – Saleroom) tells the story of one man’s love affair with sailing, told with a very perceptive ‘outsider’s’ eye. Since buying his GRP, 1970s-built Sailfish 18, Dave has poked its ugly little bows into every pat of the anthropological zoo that is the British sailing scene.

The book is, like many good things in life, completely useless. If you want to have a laugh though, Dave is the funniest commentator on sailing there is. In this collection, he discusses everything from sailing certificate zealots to the mysteries of weather or the fear of stepping aboard a yacht for the first time at the London Boat Show. We have stories of pontoon life (what’s the code!), Day Skipper Theory, racing success (the secret is not to rush), and how to perfect the grungy East Coast nautical look. Sail with Dave on his first solo voyage, then his first solo voyage 'all by himself' and his first circumnavigation – a four-mile voyage of discovery around Osea Island. There is nothing like sailing, reckons Dave, to ruin your dress sense, which is quite something from a man whose dress sense, although dramatic and ambitious, has always displayed a disastrous lack of basic good taste. Dave, a seasoned veteran of 12 transats (all of them on an aeroplane), is a mine of glorious witticisms and shared experience, and no one is safe from his sharp wit: the ’boutique sailors of the south coast’ are treated with the same friendly disdain as the salty longshoremen of his adopted home of Maldon in Essex; and is so funny at times that you might have sore stomach muscles from laughing too long.

Disclaimer: Dave also owns a very lovely ‘stretched’ Blackwater Sloop that he has had restored over the past few years. At least, we think he does, but we’ve never seen it and he never talks about it. For more info. visit Dave online.

‘Rivers’ by Piers Rowlandson, November 2017
Kindle or paperback versions available from Amazon

This self published story is loosely based on the logs of Piers’ own boats although the characters are wholly imaginary. We embark upon tales set in traditional boats voyaging the Solent, the South West and Brittany. We even attend an unusually violent Gaffer event. Many meals and bottles of wine are consumed. There are some observant and delicate descriptions of natural sounds in the harbour and at sea. The picaresque action spans the genres from adventure and romance to thriller and, finally, detection. It is punctuated with moments of pathos and high drama, one example of which shows exactly why you should never, ever sail wearing flip flops.

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A gaff cutter called Patience

There is a strong thread of comic irony. One laugh out loud episode involves the hero Rick’s escape from hospital. Rick is surrounded by strong females. The first segment concerns scantily clad Lucy, a fantasy of sex and steering maybe but with a mind of her own. Lucy’s alter-ego, Rick’s daughter Tori, comes to the fore in the second part. The third episode, featuring the enigmatic Lottie, assumes a darker tone. The gripping finale comes with a twist. A novice sailor might experience a gentle education in navigation, pilotage and manoeuvring a long keeled boat. Old salts can argue with descriptions of handling a spinnaker, use of an autopilot and coming alongside. The narrative contains some scenes of a mild sexual nature.

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NHS UK broad pennant

‘Restoring a Dunkirk Little Ship’ by Peter Draper September 2017
96 pages Colour photos throughout Amberley Publishing £14.99

‘Caronia’ was originally built in 1927 as a St Ives shing vessel, converted to a motor yacht in the 1930s, and in 1940 joined the eet of requisitioned boats sailing to Dunkirk. Peter Draper acquired ‘Caronia’ in 2002, by which time she was in need of some serious restoration. In this readable and well-illustrated book, full of photographs to help explain the intricate details of the task, Peter recounts his story. The introduction starts with a question asked of (or by) many an OGA member. ‘Restore, rebuild or repair’?

Peter suggests he’s doing mostly ‘repair’ and moves quickly on to summarise the chequered 90-year history of this Dunkirk Little Ship. Having set the scene, the rest of the book provides a step-by- step account of the sometimes painstaking and challenging work involved in the series of projects to return ‘Caronia’ from houseboat to National Historic Ships Flagship, Solent in 2017. The chapters are punctuated by getting ready for three passages of the ‘Return to Dunkirk’ in 2005, 2010 and 2015. The narrative is well structured and Peter’s enthusiasm and passion for his project shine through the text and photos. Deciding to undertake most of the work himself, it is clear that this great undertaking has been very much a ‘family affair’ with son, Lewis and daughter, Natalie actively involved. The book will be of interest not only to the enthusiastic amateur boatbuilder but also to anyone with an interest in maintaining our historic eet of wooden boats in a seaworthy condition for future generations to enjoy.

The book is organised around an introduction to the Bristol Channel, and 11 sections covering; Pioneers, Trading Vessels, Antarctic Ships, History Ships, World Wanderers & Racing Yachts, Pilot Cutters, Working Vessels, Trows & Derelicts, Atlantic Gypsies, Boatyard on the Beach, World of Boats, and a Glossary. The 96 pages are packed with fascinating, well-researched stories and a panorama of images, many taken by the author. The textual sections are written in an easy, relaxed style imbued with humour that masks the painstaking research that Viv has obviously invested in each of the 50 or so individual ships’ stories.

The modest A5 size does not do any favours to the visual images that deserve more display space, the juxtaposition of text and image is sometimes a distraction, and an Index of ship entries would not have gone amiss, but I’d rather have this book in circulation than not. Specialist local history print publishers such as Amberley are working to fine financial margins, so bravo to them for taking on this title. These slight disappointments were easily forgotten as I immersed myself in the book. Each section threw up new points of interest, but for me the most enjoyable read was when Viv drew me into his research journey as exemplified in the sections on Purton in Gloucestershire - The Graveyard of Ships, and Boatyard on the Beach. The boatyard in question was located on Penarth beach and Viv’s passion for his subject shines through in his account of three 30-40 footers built at this modest yard: 'Emanuel', 'Caplin' and 'Armorel'. The latter two are both now to be found in New Zealand waters, an unexpected and fortuitous coincidence for Viv as this is his ‘other’ home for half the year. So, in the interests of research no doubt, he got to go onboard both, and to helm Caplin in Akaroa. If you know of someone that would share Viv’s love of the Bristol Channel, ships and maritime history then a recommendation is in order. Even better buy them, and yourself, a copy - you won’t regret it.

'Little Ship, Big Story' by Rodney Pell
The Conrad Press Paperback, 129x198mm: £9.99

In early childhood, quite unaware that one of his great grandfathers had been an iron shipbuilder while another had owned and commanded a square-rigger, the author had been fascinated by water and anything that floated on it. Boats, it seems, were ‘in his blood’. Some four decades later, older and wise enough to know better, he fell in love with ‘Sheemaun’, a tired looking 1935 gentleman’s motor-yacht. Knowing nothing about the boat’s history, OGA member, Rodney Pell began his search and discovered she had served as ‘HMY Sheemaun’, an armed Royal Navy Thames Estuary Auxiliary Patrol Boat in WW2. Further enquiries led to her being registered with National Historic Ships UK in 2003 and to becoming NHS UK Flagship, 2010. In March 2011 Classic Boat magazine published an article on ‘Sheemaun’ and the genie was ‘Out of the Bottle’! It was then that Rodney Pell received contact from several people around the world. Sue Reid in Canada, whose grandfather had commissioned the building of ‘Sheemaun’ contacted him, along with Mike Dodd in Jersey whose late father Stanley had served as mechanic on ‘HMY Sheemaun’ in the 2nd World War. Mike even had his father’s memoirs! This led to more research into as many as possible of the stories of those who had sailed on her or had been closely connected. Peering into the hazy mists of years past, the stories that emerged were truly amazing – tales of Scottish boatbuilding, of continental cruising, of sea battles, U-Boat killings, magnetic-mines, Lancaster bombing raids over Hitler’s Germany, bravery and daring rescues. Stories of espionage, gold smuggling, terrorism, fabulous Royal occasions, maritime festivals and much else.
Find her in the OGA online Boat Register.

‘Sheemaun’ had written her own book!