Several people who either write for, read, or have been the subject of stories in the Working Waterfront have shared some of their favorite maritime books, both fiction and non-fiction, to read in the midwinter.
A combination of recently published books (a few already reviewed in Working Waterfront) and those that have withstood the test of time, the suggestions provide intriguing ideas for reading during these long winter nights.
Writer Colin Woodward, who focused on non-fiction works, included four books published in the past 10 years. William Langewiesche’s The Outlaw Sea: A World of freedom, Chaos and Crime, he said, “tells about flags of convenience, unscrupulous companies, RPG-toting pirates. It’s a jungle out there, and Langewiesche lays it all out in unflinching detail.” Woodward believes the book is required reading for anyone interested in contemporary maritime affairs.
Two other works he mentioned deal with the disintegration of the Atlantic fishing industry. He described Distant Water: The Fate of the North Atlantic Fisherman by William Warner as “the best account of the factory freezer trawlers which ultimately destroyed the Georges and Grand Banks. Best of all,” he adds, “it’s not unsympathetic to the men who manned them.” The second, The Doryman’s Reflection: A Fisherman’s Life by Paul Molyneaux, he said is a “moving and informative view of the fisheries’ collapse literally from the deck.”
Woodward also has enjoyed two historical accounts: A True Relation of the Most Prosperous Voyage Made this Present Yeere 1605 by George Bishop, recently reprinted, and The Voyage of Archangell: James Rosier’s Account of the Weymouth Voyage of 1605, republished by Tilbury House, which he said is “A must-read for every coastal Mainer: a first-person account of the first extended encounter between Englishmen and Wabanaki and the lost world of pre-European Maine.”
Finally, Woodward suggested Caroline Alexander’s magnificent Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, with photographs “taken on glass plates that you can’t believe survived the ordeal,” and The Slave Ship: A Human History, by Marcus Rediker, which he noted is “a disturbing history from one of America’s finest colonial maritime historians.”
The staff at Friends of Casco Bay offered an eclectic mixture of fiction and non-fiction titles. Baykeeper Joe Payne liked Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz, which weaves together a biography of Cook and history of his voyages with the travel narrative of Horwitz’s journey while following in Cook’s footsteps. Payne, a faithful devotee of Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series-he has re-read the 20 volumes more than once-also likes the maritime books of Harpswell author James Nelson and the series by Alexander Kent about the fictional 18th-century fighting British sailor Richard Bolitho.
Peter Milholland, the Friends’ citizen stewards coordinator, recommended The Maine Coast Guide for Small Boats-Casco Bay by Curtis Rindlaub. “It’s a great guide to all the little nooks and crannies of Casco Bay that you can only explore in a small boat,” he said. Associate Director, Mary Cerullo, a children’s science writer, talked about two books with outstanding photography, one of which she authored. Life under Ice, features photographs by Bill Curtsinger, who while in the U.S. Army was sent to the Antarctic to photograph researchers’ work, primarily underwater. Cerullo’s text tells about creatures that live in those chilly waters and explains how they have adapted to survive. The Camera’s Coast: Historic Images of Ship and Shore in New England by W. H. Bunting documents coastal New England activities from the late 19th to early 20th century.
Dana Morse, Extension Associate for the Maine Sea Grant College Program, recommended The Founding Fish by John McPhee, a mixture of personal, natural and American history centered on the American shad.
Writer Nancy Griffin, who was born in Newfoundland and has maintained strong ties over the past 25 years with her community on the Southeastern coast, recommended books written by Newfoundlanders.
First, Baltimore Mansion, by Wayne Johnston, which is a best seller in Canada. “It’s a memoir, but not quite, of Ferryland, the oldest European fishing station in North America,” she said. “It was also the site of the proposed Colony of Avalon, founded by Lord Baltimore, which didn’t survive when 90 percent of the colony perished the first winter. Baltimore sailed away to found his colony in Baltimore, Maryland, instead.” Johnston also wrote Colony of Unrequited Dreams, which Griffin said is about Joey Smallwood, who was the first premier of Newfoundland after Confederation.
Other books about Newfoundland that came to mind were Final Voyages” by Jim Wellman, who was the CBC radio host of the Fisheries Broadcast in Newfoundland for many years and is now editor of the commercial fisheries magazine, the Navigator. He has written three books in this series, which tell of fishing vessels that went down, and a few that survived. Also, Griffin especially loves an older book, Rock within the Sea, written by Farley Mowat, with photographs by John de Visser.
History teacher and writer Harry Gratwick offered numerous suggestions of non-fiction books, including one that would be of particular interest to readers who are searching for something to read after O’Brian’s Master and Commander series. David Cordingly’s Cochran: The Real Master and Commander, Gratwick said, is a biography of the person on whom O’Brian based his commander, Jack Aubrey. Gratwick also suggested that O’Brian admirers try the Ramage Series written by British author Dudley Pope, which tells of the career of Lord Nicholas Ramage. “I think they are more readable than O’Brian,” he said. The books are set slightly earlier than O’Brian’s, but still deal with the Napoleonic Wars. Another highly readable option, he said, is the Nathaniel Drinkwater series by British author Richard Woodman, which in 14 volumes follows Drinkwater’s rise through the ranks while serving in the British Navy during the French and American Revolutions.
Gratwick thought two books published to celebrate the 2005 anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar were particularly good: Nelson’s Trafalger by Roy Adkins and Seize the Fire: Heroism, Duty, and the Battle of Trafalgar by Adam Nicolson. “Each is carefully researched and very readable,” he said. He also liked Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy by Ian Toll, the story of building the first ships of the American Navy, including the USS Constitution.
Gratwick said he and his brother, a physician, were fascinated by Stephen Brown’s Scurvy, How a Surgeon, a Mariner and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail. Until its cause was understood, Gratwick said the book relates that scurvy, “killed more men and women than all the naval disasters in history: storms, shipwrecks and combat, plus all diseases combined.”
Writer Steve Cartwright said Joshua Slocum’s Sailing around the World, published in 1900, remains one of his all-time favorites. “You’re crazy if you haven’t read it,” he declared. The book recounts Slocum’s adventures at age 51 when he became the first person ever to make the solo voyage. He sailed in the 37-foot sloop Spray, a boat he rebuilt from a rotting hulk left in a field. Cartwright felt a second must-read for anyone who loves well-written adventure tales would be Richard Henry Dana’s classic, Two Years Before the Mast, published in 1840. The narrative grew from Dana’s experience when he enlisted at age 18 as a common class sailor on a square-rigger headed for California by way of Cape Horn. A Harvard student, he had been suspended from school for taking part in a student demonstration. When he observed the cruel treatment of common seamen on the voyage, Dana vowed he would try to improve their lot after his return. He did, becoming an activist maritime lawyer.
Into the Light, A Family’s Epic Journey, by Dave and Jaja Martin, is another story of a voyage that captured Cartwright’s imagination. The Martin family, from Maine, refitted a 33-foot sailboat, and with their three children, sailed across the Arctic Circle. Their story inspired a PBS documentary, “Ice Blink.”
Former Working Waterfront editor David Platt mentioned Tom Horton’s books about Chesapeake Bay. Horton reported on the bay for the Baltimore Sun for 15 years before becoming a freelance writer. His titles include Turning the Tide: Saving the Chesapeake Bay, Water’s Way, Life Along the Chesapeake, and An Island out of Time: A Memoir of Smith Island in the Chesapeake.
Platt also recommended Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History by Norman DeWolf. He described it as “a courageous, introspective book that deserves wide attention.”