Lit Bits

ERNEST K. GANN: Song of the Sirens

Song of the Sirens book cover

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the sinking of the Canadian school ship Concordia, a tragedy I will always relate to the controversial sinking just over 50 years ago of Chris Sheldon's school ship Albatross. This is a story that ties into a strong tide that has long flowed through my mind. It in fact first started flowing about 40 years ago when, at age 13, I found a paperback copy of Ernest K. Gann's Song of the Sirens stashed on the shelves of a lending library in a U.S. Army hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. The cover of the book (seen above) was so attractive I at once swiped it and quickly devoured it whole. On finishing it I swore to myself I would one day sail across an ocean. Fortunately (or not), I eventually kept that promise, and this had all sorts of consequences, one of which is the blog you are now reading.

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CAPE VERDE ISLANDS: New Cruising Guide by Don Street

Don Street Cape Verdes guide cover

I ran into Don Street at the Annapolis show and he pressed on me a copy of his latest book, Street's Guide to The Cape Verde Islands, published by Seaworthy Publications. No, this isn't some updated retread of one of Don's many earlier cruising guides. It is an entirely new book, which struck me as pretty damn impressive, given that Don's now in his early 80s. I can only pray I'm still going strong, sailing and writing, if and when I ever reach his age.

What's also impressive is the book itself. Having now spent some time noodling over it, I can certainly recommend it as a must-buy if you are planning on sailing to, or even just thinking of sailing to, the Cape Verde Islands. Don's big pitch is that you shouldn't cross the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to the West Indies in November or December, hoping to spend Christmas in the Caribbean, as there's a good chance the tradewinds won't have filled in yet. He recommends instead that you spend Christmas cruising in the Cape Verdes, then cross to the W'Indies in January, when the trades will be honking for sure.

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From The Wind in the Willows

It is certainly one of the biggest cliches in the literature of boating. What the Water Rat said to the Mole: "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing--absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

But here's a little tip. Any purportedly literate mariner who quotes that little snippet of Kenneth Grahame's classic The Wind in the Willows at you (it appears very early on, in Chapter 1, The River Bank) probably hasn't bothered to read the entire book. Because the very best bit--the part any cruising sailor, at least, will most readily relate to--doesn't appear until much later in Chapter 9, Wayfarers All.

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FASTNET MEMORIES: With Don Street Aboard Iolaire

Sailing aboard Iolaire

Editor’s note: Quite the exciting Fastnet Race this week! The largest race fleet since 1979, two new course records (outright record to super tri Banque Populaire; monohull record to the VO70 Abu Dhabi), plus the maxi monohull Rambler 100 (ex-Speedboat), which was en route to a record, lost its keel and capsized right at Fastnet Rock. Rather than bore you with newsy details you’ve already garnered elsewhere, I thought I’d share my own (one and only) Fastnet experience.

IT WAS A LEAP OF FAITH is what it was. There could be no other explanation. For the last time Don Street nearly succeeded in luring me aboard a boat of his, that boat had been instantly destroyed. This was Li’l Iolaire, Don’s 28-foot plywood yawl, on which I had agreed to crew back in the winter of 2004. Just hours before I committed myself to this fate by buying a plane ticket down to West Indies, Don had called to share the terrible news. Li’l Iolaire had been swept out to sea and sunk by Hurricane Ivan as it roared over the island of Grenada.

Now again, in the summer of 2005, in spite of the letters J-O-N-A-H stamped upon my resume, he had summoned me once more. This time to serve on the original Iolaire, the antique 48-foot Harris Brothers yawl on which he had long ago established his reputation as a trail-blazing West Indian charter skipper, sailing journalist, and chart surveyor.

Iolaire will be 100 this year,” he crowed to me over a bad cellphone connection. “I’m turning 75. We’re going to celebrate by doing the Fastnet Race. You want to come along?”

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