Fan of Full Fathom Five? Be sure to check it out at its new home!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Digging for Gold at the Library: Ways of the Sea

(by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian)

Usually in my posts, I write about hidden or overlooked items in our collection. With a library as rich in material as ours, it's easy for little gems to be lost in the shelves. But sometimes, it's a good idea to trot out an old favorite and give it its due. If you aren't familiar with The Ways of the Sea by Charles G. Davis, then allow me to introduce you to your newest oldest best friend. This slim volume (179 pages of roomy print) is a mixture of encyclopedia, primer, yarns and good old fashioned advice. Reading it is like sitting down at the kitchen table with your sailor uncle--the one who's been everywhere and seen everything and knows just the way to reel in a curious mind. Here's a description of a poker game that was happened upon by a visiting crew in the middle of a chapter about binnacles (on p. 20). It's crammed with wonderful imagery and meaty tidbits about a sailor's life:

A cloud of smoke and smell came out that would have looked as if the entire forecastle were on fire in the daylight. Even in the dim light of the anchor light hanging on her forestay I could see it pouring out. As I climbed down the vertical forecastle ladder I could hear a crowd of men (smell them for that matter, there was no ventilation) and only when I got below the smoke line could I see that there was a game of poker going on with a highly excited crowd watching.

"Hello, you Wrights," was the greeting our boys got as we all landed below. For sailors were called by the name of the ship they came from in those times. And then the gang turned to watch the hand of poker finished.

The Dana's forecastle was the old style, built away up in the "eyes of her" or up on the bow under the deck. Big husky men half stripped--for it was close and hot down there with over twenty men packed into one small room--lay in their bunks; some sat on the edges of them with their legs hanging over and smoking "tar heel" tobacco. Those playing cards with a seachest for a table sat on upturned deck buckets or long sailmaker's benches.

An old coffee pot slush lamp, smoking like a bonfire of green leaves, gave out an uncertain flickering light like a lighthouse in a fog.

Whether you want to or not, you can smell it.

The short, easy to read chapters cover such divergent things as lights, washing down decks, stowing anchors and painting a ship at sea. This is the kind of book that answers questions you didn't know you had, which are my favorite kind of questions. In fact my only criticism of the book is that he sometimes begins intriguing tidbits that he doesn't follow up on. I'd like the book to be twice as long.

The library has two copies available, so come on down and learn a little bit more about the ways of the sea.

Mirrored from Full Fathom Five, due to its lack of rss feed & functioning commenting.

1 comment:

Buck said...

That's such a great little book, I'm glad to be reminded of it!