Winter Musings

A CW feature triggers the memory of his misadventure aboard Coronet, and winter's chill spurs a retreat to the sailing bookshelf

On a cold New England winter's day, I can't stop my mind from wandering to daydreams and memories from warmer days on the water. But associate editor David W. Shaw's piece this month on the restoration of the Gilded Age-era classic Coronet brings back a memory I'd just as soon forget. When the yacht pulled into Newport Harbor almost a decade ago, I was living aboard my old 33-footer on a nearby mooring.

One night, shooting the breeze in the cockpit with a pal as a magnificent full moon rose over the waters, it occurred to me that the view from the top of Coronet's mainmast might be particularly spectacular. I knew some of the folks at the nonprofit organization that'd just taken ownership of the boat, and I was pretty sure they wouldn't mind. And just look at those ratlines, already rigged and ready for an ascent up the spar. How thoughtful! How convenient! To his credit, my friend quite correctly pointed out that it was an idiotic idea, but I was unswayed by his timid argument. Though she'd obviously been neglected for quite some time, this was Coronet! It was a calm, clear night! How in the world could I not have a quick peek from aloft?

I stole aboard the unmanned vessel and got right to it, fairly flying up the footsteps. I was three-quarters of the way to the masthead when it occurred to me that the individual ratlines looked rather dodgy, even rotten. That's when the first one snapped. I kicked in panic at a second, and that one broke, too.

Adrenaline is sobering stuff, I realized, as I lowered myself mostly hand over hand down the wire shrouds. A boat's deck never felt so good. I relate this tale many years later as a mea culpa and an apology to anyone at the International Yacht Restoration School who might've wondered what happened to those ratlines. And many thanks to the angel above in charge of hopeless cases that evening. I promise to never be such a nitwit again. Honest.

These winter days also drive me deep into the pages of sailing books, and I'm fortunate to see many of the new ones come across my desk. Three in particular have caught my eye in the last couple of months. Actually, the first one isn't exactly new. Frequent Cruising World contributor Don Street's Seawise--in equal parts a rant, an instructional manual, and an old-fashioned sea story, and arguably the best of his many tomes--was originally published in 1979. The book is now back in print and can be ordered online (www.iUniverse.com), and it includes a long, fresh preface bringing readers up to date on what the author has experienced and learned in the intervening years. Highly opinionated (Street has more than a few quibbles with, ahem, editors of sailing magazines, among many other things) and totally original, it's still as entertaining and informative as it was when it first saw the light of day.

Servants of the Fish: A Portrait of Newfoundland After the Great Cod Collapse (www.upperaccess.com) is the latest book from sailor and environmentalist Myron Arms, another regular CW author. And an important, enthralling document it is. In 1998, Arms circumnavigated Newfoundland aboard his 50-foot cutter, Brendan's Isle, and from that voyage he's crafted a wide-ranging story about what can rightfully be called one of the great ecological disasters of our time. What makes this book so accessible and readable, however, is the human touch Arms brings to his solid reporting on the science and history of the Newfoundland fishing industry. Servants of the Fish, ultimately, is a cautionary tale, one in which every sailor has a vested stake.

I include this last title with a word of caution: The aptly named Berserk (www.Lyons Press.com), written by David Mercy, may well be the most poorly edited book I've ever read. But if you can get past the mangled sailing terminology and other hiccups, this account of an ill-advised voyage to Antarctica aboard a 27-foot Albin Vega is nearly impossible to put down. Compared with the author and the skipper of the lucky ship Berserk, my stunt on Coronet might qualify me for a membership with Mensa.