Several years ago, my wife and I did a learn-to-sail week at Malletts Bay. It was terrific, except when the wind didn’t blow and we had to get towed in. We managed to avoid bumping into anybody else’s expensive fiberglass toys, and generally had a good time.
Part of the fun was using at least some of the naval jargon learned from years of reading Horatio Hornblower novels. Here then are a few selections for my fellow fair-weather sailors.
Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws’ Bloody Reign
By Stephan Talty
Much of what we “know” about pirates is fantasy. For instance, this book taught me that Capt. Morgan was a so-so sailor at best (he regularly lost ships because he ran them aground in familiar water. Oopsie-daisy!) Next I’ll find out that Edward Teach aka Blackbeard’s beard was blond or white or something. Morgan couldn’t sail much, but he did command an army of drunken hoodlums better than most, and took down a settlement that was a jewel of the Spanish Americas while he was at it. An absorbing read.
Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe
By Laurence Bergreen
Just a really well-done popular-history book. Artfully padded with bits of background on subjects from Polynesian navigation techniques to 16th-century medicine, and many others in between, the book maintains a good pace. I learned a great deal about Magellan — of whom I knew only the basics — the politics between Portugal and Spain, large chunks of late-Renaissance science, and the fascinating if sometimes gruesome details of the trip itself.
There’s a good set of color and black-and-white pictures (although if you don’t know exactly when and how Magellan met his end you should avoid the pictures until you reach that point in the book).
Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World
By Joan Druett
A very readable account of two groups of shipwrecked sailors — from different ships — simultaneously marooned on opposite ends of an island southeast of New Zealand, near Antarctica. One of the groups’ ability to survive compares favorably to Robinson Crusoe, to the extent that authorities had to see the camp before their story was fully believed. Less grim than some survival tales (i.e. almost no cannibalism), it’s fully worth picking up.
Horatio Hornblower / Aubrey & Maturin series
By C.S. Forester / Patrick O’Brian
Lumped together here, they are the two most famous series of adventure novels about the Age of Sail. Very few people like both, however. I prefer Forester’s awkward loner; some like the buddy story of the captain and his ship’s surgeon. Both were made into eminently watchable video, as well (an A&E miniseries and Hollywood film, respectively, also available at Rutland Free).
Hornblower is a bit quaint, first published in 1950. Start with “Mr. Midshipman Hornblower.” O’Brian is seen as a copycat by Forester fans; the first book, “Master & Commander,” was published in 1970. Both have all the sail off the larboard bow, run up the mizzen’ing you could hope for.
Sail into Rutland Free Library for any of these titles; Randal Smathers is the director there. www. Rutlandfree.org.