Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

In Tidal Waters -- Yachting Mishaps Are Timeless

In the last year I've done less reading than I'm happy with. Mostly, if a book doesn't grab me in the first chapter, I put it down. But damn, when a book catches my attention it changes my whole mood. That is now happening with a book called In Tidal Waters I found online written by some dead Brit named Francis Cooke who sailed the mouth of the Thames back in the 1890s.

Every chapter is a rambling witty story of sailing disasters on a number of small boats, written in a way that only an Englishman could tell. I could relate to a lot of it, seriously.

On his first sailboat outing, at the last minute he discovers that he's about to spend several nights aboard a 30-foot boat with nine friends -- NINE. They all end up in the cabin with a coal-burning stove without a chimney and are coughed out. Several of the crew say fuck it and sleep in a nearby inn. (Hello, 2005 on the Segel?). Here's Cooke's description of the first night:
"I then learnt that the interior of the yacht was even less inviting than the exterior had appeared in the uncertain light. The cabin, in the absence of a fore-bulkhead, was open right through and quite destitute of furniture or fittings. A bunk ran down either side forming seats, but the roof was so low that it was impossible to sit upright. As there were no cushions I could only conclude that her owners made a practice of sleeping upon what Dan Leno used to describe as 'pure wood.' Water dripped freely from the underside of the deck, and a cheap tin paraffin lamp with a smoky glass smelt abominably. Into this nauseating den the whole nine of us crowded."
And I love this description of trying to get some sleep onboard:
"I think I may say without any great departure from the truth that I never passed a more uncomfortable night in my life. Sitting huddled up in my overcoat with my chin almost on my knees, I was chilled to the marrow and soon began to feel that dry, prickly sensation all over my body which I have since learnt is peculiar to sleeping in small yachts in the winter. One by one my companions dropped off into a troubled sleep, and most of them snored abominably."
All the boats the authors sails are unseaworthy tubs that are constantly running aground, colliding with other boats, or sinking. For some reason, he always goes sailing in the worst part of the year -- winter. Twice in the book, he goes out sailing on Christmas day with a 12-pound turkey which he and his mate proceed to cook in a frying pan with some bacon. God knows how he did that. I'll have to try it.

All the descriptions of misery actually made me want to sail even more this winter. These guys were sailing back before we had quality portable heaters that don't suffocate you in confined spaces, depth sounders, and electric lights.

As my friend Jason said, people were made of "different stuff" back then.

You can download the entire book from this Canadian library. (It's definitely not on

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Web Counter
Web Counters