Lit Bits

JUST ADD WATER: Human Evolution and the Sea

Swimming baby/Nirvana cover

IN THE SUMMER OF 2008 I had the great pleasure of meeting James Wharram and Hanneke Boon in Mystic, Connecticut, where, during the course of a free-ranging discussion on boat design, neurotheology, and bluewater sailing (among other things), they recommended I read a book entitled The Aquatic Ape, by Elaine Morgan. I couldn't help but be intrigued, for I have long marveled at the human affinity for seafaring and have always felt there must be some deep connection between our species and the ocean. In spite of being terrestrial creatures, it seems we do have a very primal desire to get down to the shore and, if possible, to travel over the distant horizon we find there.

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BILL McCOY: The King of Rum Row

William McCoy

I GOT INTO THE SUBJECT of Prohibition a couple of years ago on reading Daniel Okrent's excellent popular history, Last Call. I'd always understood, of course, that Prohibition was the product of the unique power of highly motivated single-issue minorities in American politics. But prior to reading Okrent's book I'd never grasped what a perfect storm of political trends (the suffrage movement, allowing women to vote, plus the advent of income taxes, to replace revenue from liquor taxes) was required to make it possible for temperance fanatics to highjack the U.S. Constitution. What I also never realized was that there was ever such a thing as Rum Row, a floating city of oddball sailing and motor vessels that lay perpetually anchored in international waters just a few miles off the U.S. coast peddling booze to all comers day and night.

Since then I've also discovered Flat Hammock Press, a small independent publisher based in Mystic, Connecticut, that has reissued a series of non-fiction books first published during Prohibition that all tell the story of Rum Row from the smuggler's perspective. The most important of these is The Real McCoy, by Frederic F. Van de Water, which recounts the career of a rather personable and flamboyant Rum Row pioneer, William McCoy, from a first-person autobiographical point-of-view.

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CRUISING MEMORIES: Island of the Tripping Squirrels

doorway in forest

On returning from a solo cruise to Mt. Desert Island in Maine some years ago, I stopped and anchored for the evening next to an uninhabited islet off the northwest corner of Swans Island.

At least I thought it was uninhabited...

The sun was already low in the western sky, but I thought perhaps there was just enough daylight left for an expedition ashore. The tiny island beckoned to me. I hurried through my chores--rigged a snubber line on the anchor rode, snugged the sails down for the night--and then jumped in my tender and pulled for a thin stone strand I could see at the foot of a low cliff that ringed the island's shore.

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JOHN GUIDER: Barebones Cruiser With a Camera

John Guider photo

Beautiful photos these. Taken by a man, John Guider, who is currently rowing and sailing his way, in stages, through a circumnavigation of eastern North America aboard a 14-foot Expedition Skerry from Chesapeake Light Craft that he built himself. Right now he's in the South Carolina sea islands, a little north of Beaufort. By July he expects to be in New York City.

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