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benstarling

Ben Starling

I'm passionate about books, marine conservation and boxing. I love anything book, but especially contemporary, adventure, mystery, thriller and of course, a good love story.

How to Sail Around the World, by Hal Roth - Reviewed

How to Sail Around the World : Advice and Ideas for Voyaging Under Sail - Hal Roth

This is yet another classic in the required sailor's reading list.

 

Very clearly written, tackling topics in extreme detail. Hence very dense. It took me forever to get through it. It covers all the key topics I’ve seen before in other texts like this.

 

And that’s a good thing because:

1) It is good to hear the same topics described in different ways. Each time it all sinks in a little deeper into the old cranium.

2) It gives me hope that the number of cruising topics I need to cover is finite. Sometimes, the more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know yet. A bit overwhelming at times. Seeing the same basic topics coming up again and again in cruising how-to books gives me hope.

 

 

The key areas this book covers are:

 

  • how to pick a yacht
  • sails and sail management
  • anchoring
  • storm management
  • life aboard (food care, dinghies, schooling, foreign paperwork…)

 

 

My favourite things in this book:

 

  • anchoring
  • storm management – analysed with best practices for each level of storm force. Well explained and documented.

 

 

One thing I would have wished for? Hmm. Maybe a few more illustrative anecdotes. I had to push myself to get through a few sections that were really dense. 

 

But the excruciating detail is what I liked about it. It was challenging to power through at times though. 

 

Overall: I’ll be coming back to this one and reading it again cover to cover. I’ll get more out if it next time after getting more sea miles in to give perspective. 

 

I bought this book because it’s consistently highly recommended. It did not disappoint. A+.

 

 

Sell Up & Sail, by Bill and Laurel Cooper - Reviewed

Sell Up Sail - Bill Cooper

How do you move from dreaming about cruising to actually doing it - and what's it really like to live aboard a yacht?

Best Part: The authors' dry delivery style is quite engaging. You get a strong impression of what having drinks at the taverna with them would be like - a lot of fun!

Though it does discuss repairs and some technical topics, really the focus of the book is on the stuff of 'life aboard'. With a palatable ratio of info-to-anecdotes that makes it an enjoyable read.

Wishes: The book I borrowed is copyright 2001. It looks like there is a 2005 edition on Amazon. Still, I wish there was a more recent edition. A more up to date and comprehensive tome to invest in (a real biceps builder) would be The Voyager's Handbook, by Beth Leonard. It's got the soft stuff as well as a ton of technical detail too.

Conclusion: Sell Up & Sail gives a feel for what cruising was like 10 and 20 years ago - and how things have changed. Apparently it's a lot more crowded and harder to find isolated spots in the Med these days. Since I won't know what I'm missing, I guess I won't be too devastated.

But things have changed and up to date info is pretty crucial to get - for instance, the Gulf of Aden is listed in this book as a perfectly fine route to sail. Of course, this just ain't currently so. Don't leave home without getting up to date info on crucial safety topics like this!

And the sections on communications equipment and electronics really speak of a bygone age. Technology and brand names have moved on, everything's changed.

So while it was a fun historical romp and I'm glad I borrowed it to read, it's probably not the first investment to choose for an up to date cruising library. I'd look forward to looking at an updated edition of this in the future, however.

Sell Up & Sail

Sell Up & Sail - Bill Cooper How do you move from dreaming about cruising to actually doing it - and what's it really like to live aboard a yacht?

Best Part: The authors' dry delivery style is quite engaging. You get a strong impression of what having drinks at the taverna with them would be like - a lot of fun!

Though it does discuss repairs and some technical topics, really the focus of the book is on the stuff of 'life aboard'. With a palatable ratio of info-to-anecdotes that makes it an enjoyable read.

Wishes: The book I borrowed is copyright 2001. It looks like there is a 2005 edition on Amazon. Still, I wish there was a more recent edition. A more up to date and comprehensive tome to invest in (a real biceps builder) would be The Voyager's Handbook, by Beth Leonard. It's got the soft stuff as well as a ton of technical detail too.

Conclusion: Sell Up & Sail gives a feel for what cruising was like 10 and 20 years ago - and how things have changed. Apparently it's a lot more crowded and harder to find isolated spots in the Med these days. Since I won't know what I'm missing, I guess I won't be too devastated.

But things have changed and up to date info is pretty crucial to get - for instance, the Gulf of Aden is listed in this book as a perfectly fine route to sail. Of course, this just ain't currently so. Don't leave home without getting up to date info on crucial safety topics like this!

And the sections on communications equipment and electronics really speak of a bygone age. Technology and brand names have moved on, everything's changed.

So while it was a fun historical romp and I'm glad I borrowed it to read, it's probably not the first investment to choose for an up to date cruising library. I'd look forward to looking at an updated edition of this in the future, however.

Sail Away! - Reviewed

Sail Away!: A Guide to Outfitting and Provisioning for Cruising - Paul Shard

How do you provision and collect inventory to prepare a yacht to cruise - and what's the cruising life really like?

Topics Covered:
secrets of successful cruises
the cost of cruising
outfitting
provisioning
maintaining inventory
cooking at sea
personal comfort

Best Part: This book is not set up as an inflexible 'to do' list, but rather as an 'adapt it to you' list. The Shard's realise (for ex.) that everyone eats differently and simply using someone else's shopping list is unlikely to leave you happy.

So they describe in very useful detail how they tracked their own preferences ashore, and how they created systems to adapt those preferences to life on a boat. Then they teach methods to create your own systems that are geared to suit you best. Makes sense. I like it!

Wishes: While reading this, I wished I could have copies of the Shard's lists anyways as a good point to start from. Then I would adapt those lists for myself. And lo! They made that possible. There's info in the Appendix on how to order disks with their lists on it/them... but booo! They meant floppy disks.

It seems this book has not been updated since 1998. A quick check at the publisher's website does not list this book. So it doesn't look like you can still buy these disks, floppy or otherwise.

The book itself, however, is still available on Amazon, and it's info is timeless.

Conclusion: This was the first cruising 'text' I ever bought. It's still one of my favourites.

Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat: A Guide to Essential Features, Handling, and Gear

Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat: A Guide to Essential Features, Handling, and Gear - John Vigor Topics Covered

defining seaworthiness
fitting out: spars, rigging, tackle, engine, nav gear etc
heavy weather
anchoring
gastro-navigation and galleys


The Best Part: There were two best parts in this book for me. The number 1 best part was the excellent definition of seaworthiness.

I have heard the term 'seaworthy' used so many times - bandied about really. To have it nailed down and specifically and practically defined was extremely helpful - just what I needed to hone my yacht design research criteria.

The number 2 best part of this book was: its attention to detail. At the end of each section, John Vigor repeatedly asks the question: 'What would you do if your boat were inverted?' He exhorts you to plan today for the scenario you hope will never happen. Then he takes you through solutions and explains how solving these problems before they happen is so critical. Brilliant.


Wishes: Okay, for once I am stumped. All right. I wish that this book were longer. Or that it had a sequel.

Conclusion: This one's got pride of place on my book shelf. Loved it. I'll read any book that this guy has written.

Just for fun: A moment from my brief but very enjoyable acting career at Oxford long ago. (I'm the boxer on the left.)

Come Hell Or High Water - Come Wind or Weather

Come Hell Or High Water, And, Come Wind Or Weather - Clare Francis Just finished another great book - this time by Clare Francis. (This was in a two-books-in-one format. I am just reviewing the first book, Come Hell or High Water, here.)

Who is Clare Francis? She studied at the Royal Ballet School, graduated in Economics from University College London, worked in marketing, excelled at offshore yacht racing, was the first woman skipper in the Whitbread, became a BBC presenter and then... oh yeah, morphed to an international bestselling thriller writer. Not bad. I am an instant and HUGE fan.

I was powering through Francis' book on the subway when I was approached by devoted fans asking, 'Is that a book by Clare Francis??' Despite the book being written more than thirty years ago, she still clearly remains high and visible in the British public's consciousness.

Topics Covered: Clare describes racing her boat Gulliver G in the 1973 Observer Royal Western Single-handed Transatlantic Yacht Race when she was 28 years old. She covers preparation, refit, funding and the race itself.

The Best Part: She's a great writer. Smooth. It's not just a record of events. Although the events are riveting in their own right. Francis sets up scenes and keeps the tension high throughout her tale - even though you might have known the ultimate race results (her result was pretty damn good actually) before you begin reading. I read it straight through. Brilliant.

Wishes: Okay. All right... I wish that this book were longer. Or that it had a sequel. Hey, wait! It does have a sequel! It's called Come Wind or Weather. I'll be reading that next.

Conclusion: I was mesmerised. I'll read any book Clare Francis has written.

She only wrote three books about her sailing. Then post- ballerina-ing, marketing, dominating the yachting scene and bbc presenting, she began writing psycho-thrillers that debuted on the NY Times Bestseller list right out of the gate. Is there anything she can't do??

I also just bought Wolf Winter, set in Norway. I'm looking forward to some delightful evenings...

Cruising in Seraffyn

Little Book of Belief - Francis S. Collins Another great book by Lin and Larry Pardey...

Who are Lin and Larry Pardey?
Only one of the most famous cruising duos EVER! Their motto is: Go simple, go modest, go small, but go!

'They have sailed over 185,000 miles together, having circumnavigated the world both eastabout and westabout. They have also sailed westabout (against the prevailing winds) past all the great southern capes, including Cape Horn. Larry built the two boats they used for two circumnavigations... Both boats were under 30 feet and were designed by Lyle Hess. Neither boat had an engine (except for an outboard on the dinghy which they carried on board Taleisin).... Together they have written eleven books and created two VHS tapes and four DVDs.'(wikipedia)

Topics Covered
This travelogue covers seven years of their adventures from California to Central America, Panama, Columbia, the Caribbean, back up to Virgina, USA and then on to England - a final destination that was chosen at the toss of a coin.

The Best Part
Lin and Larry are first rate narrators, picking out careful details to make their descriptions of the places they visit come alive. They also explain in detail their philosophies regarding boat design choice, boat maintenance and repair, some storm tactics... and life.

Their unique perspective has made their fascinating life possible. And it is a FASCINATING life!

Wishes
I wish I could have been there.... and I wish my life turns out to be half as fun as theirs!

Conclusion
It's a classic. I have read some of their 'how to' type of books for cruisers (eg Capable Cruiser and Self Sufficient Sailor) and had avoided their travelogue type books. I am so glad I picked up this one.

It had enough 'how to' knowledge in it to satisfy... and I realised that it's quite inspirational to read a well written travelogue. And this was certainly inspirational.

Blood Rock

Blood Rock - James Jackson Most of the novels I start lie abandoned - such pointless felling of trees. So, in a time of poor scholarship, loose editing and meandering plot it's an inspiration to discover an author who can lift the colours, smells and heroics of an ancient time into the reader's imagination; who can do with sentences what others struggle to achieve with paragraphs.

Jackson's style is never heavy or show-offy as again and again I went back to savour a phrase, to marvel at how many ways Christian Hardy could dismember an Ottoman. Like all good authors, Jackson provides only the canvas, leaving the reader to fill in the detail. He achieves more: the characters repel and mesh convincingly, the love story/ies is/are sensitively and unsentimentally handled; the subplots compelling; the whole works as an insight into human nature in its rawest state.

But Jackson's allegorical trump card didn't reveal itself until the completed novel had replaced some drivel about Christ's bloodline and albino monks on my bookcase: as we stress and complain over our mundane problems, Blood Rock adds a sense of perspective. More importantly, it inspires. Even the trees say thank you.

Splendour and Squalor: The Decline and Fall of Three Aristocratic Dynasties

Splendour And Squalor: The Decline And Fall Of Three Aristocratic Dynasties - Marcus Scriven Marcus Scriven's "Splendour & Squalor" is a thoroughly researched and beautifully written work that I'd recommend thoroughly. Unlike some writers, the author has identified, tracked down and teased information from sources whose experiences had previously been private. Scriven has then woven this information into a fascinating and at times hilarious account. It would have been easy for him to have dwelt on the "fall from grace" of the four characters, to have allowed the reader moments of schadenfreude ... but these are rarer than I'd expected - and he presents plenty of background information that caused me to challenge the images I'd created of e.g. the Herveys, father and son. I love the author's concise prose, the interest he builds and holds, and the insights he reveals... culminating in a final gem: the thought provoking epilogue. Apparently this is Scriven's first book. I can't wait for more...

Come wind or weather

Come Wind Or Weather - Clare Francis Come Wind or Weather is Clare Francis' second book - her first book, Come Hell or High Water, was so good I read this one as well.

But wait - who is Clare Francis? Clare studied at the Royal Ballet School, graduated in Economics from University College London, worked in marketing, excelled at offshore yacht racing, was the first woman skipper in the Whitbread, became a BBC presenter and then... oh yeah, morphed to an international bestselling thriller writer. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Topics Covered: Clare describes skippering ADC Accutrac in the 1977-78 Whitbread Around the World race with 11 crew, thus becoming the first woman ever to skipper a Whitbread team. She covers preparation, refit, funding and the race itself.

The Best Part: Come Wind or Weather is not just a record of events. Hands down, what I loved best about this book is her detailed descriptions of the characters on board. Actually, were her descriptions so detailed? No. It was her choice of details presented that made the character of each teammate so clear. She interlaced humourous quotes from the Sea Log with concise but vivid accounts of crew interactions and events. Brilliant.

And her description of racing through the Antarctic Ocean is thrilling - and terrifying - in its own right. Oooo, I do love a thrilling tale.

Wishes: Okay. All right. I wish this book were longer. Or that it had a sequel. Hey, wait! It has a pre-quel! It's called Come Hell or High Water. I loved that one too.

Conclusion: I said I'd read any book Clare Francis has written - that's why I read this one. And I wasn't disappointed.

Post- ballerina-ing, marketing, dominating the yachting scene and BBC presenting, Francis began writing psycho-thrillers that debuted on the NY Times Bestseller list right after she wrote this sailing-themed one.

I've got a list of her thrillers as long as my whiskers to read. But reviews on those are for another post...

Recollections of a Racketeer: Smuggling Hash and Cash Around the World

Recollections of a Racketeer: Smuggling Hash and Cash Around the World - Patrick Lane, Howard Marks Recollections of a Racketeer landed on my "to read" pile thanks to Marcus Scriven, (who I see is mentioned in the acknowledgements section). As a gifted writer, I take Scriven's recommendations seriously and having read Recollections, I see why he encouraged the author - who became Howard Mark's brother-in-law and "partner" - to share his experiences with us. The worlds of hash smuggling and money laundering are alien to me but the book opens a door and I'm pleased I stepped inside. If good writing is about broadening horizons, challenging mindsets and vicariously sharing experiences then Recollections scores highly in all three areas.

It's also well written and amusing: I loved the way the ex-US marines, who were hired as muscle, were easily persuaded (courtesy of the Bronx-Gorbals language barrier) that they were in Norway when in fact they were in Scotland. Hilarious! The book's also honest and sympathetic (the author explains his deep respect for the police) while avoiding the twin traps of self-justification and sentimentality. For reasons elegantly presented, Lane was drawn to a lifestyle that mixed excitement with rebellion and you can understand why. We've never met but I soon found myself liking him.

Recollections describes a very different world. A sort of half-way house between Robin Hood and CSI and it's a charming world for that. It's full of clever psychological insights too, like allowing the custom's official a minor victory and he'll be so pleased he won't go through your luggage... and other gems that have relevance for all of us.

A thoughtful, excellent read - I recommend it.

Taking on the World

Taking On The World - Ellen Macarthur Who is this Dame Ellen MacArthur? In 2001 'she raced single-handedly non-stop around the world in the Vend̩e Globe when only 24 years old... second in one of the hardest races in offshore sailing... Prior to her Vend̩e success, she won the solo transatlantic race from the UK to the USA and went on to win the Route du Rhum from France to the Caribbean in 2002.'

She departed 'from Falmouth, UK in 2004 on board the 75ft trimaran B&Q... and returned 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, 33 seconds later, having sailed over 26,000 miles to become the fastest person to circumnavigate the globe single-handed.

She was knighted by the Queen in 2005 and has received the Legion d'Honneur from French President, Nicolas Sarkozy.' (from the Ellen MacArthur Official Website bio)

Topics Covered: Ellen begins with family life at 4 years old and moves on in great detail from there. Every early sailing step she ever made takes up the first half of the book.

Getting into her prep for the Vend̩e Globe and her description of actually sailing it lasts for most of the rest of the tome.

Her win in the Route du Rhum from France to the Caribbean in 2002 is tacked on in just a few pages at the end.

The Best Part: MacArthur's drive to get sailing from pretty much day one in her life is very clear. Her dedication and indeed determination over decades is amazing.

Her life is told with great honesty and poignancy, covering not just her many successes, but also her failures (for example, her failure to get into vet school). It gives a bright picture of an outstanding young woman driven towards her goals and it was great to see her achieve them.

Best part about this book? I was on the edge of my seat every time she described having to climb the mast under terrifying Antarctic conditions and was vastly relieved every time she made it safely back down to the deck.

I had no clue what conditions in extreme solo racing were really like when I picked up this book. I am sure that reading about it doesn't come close to actually living it - but it certainly paints a vivid picture.

And I learned that while I admire such daring exploits - when I head off on my own long term sailing adventures, I will certainly be heading straight for warmer climes!

Wishes: Hmm. She repeatedly gives thanks to the support teams that made her achievements possible. But in a vague and general way. I would have liked to hear about more specific support team incidents (builders, mechanics etc) and how these fed into the final outcome.

One began to get the uneasy feeling that these thank yous were perfunctory and added in as an afterthought. This is more true at the beginning of the book and less true at the end. Somehow Clare Francis' descriptions of this aspect of racing in Come Hell or High Water seemed a lot more personal and believable.

Conclusion: Inspirational. Glad I bought it. I'll pass it on - it's good to spread inspiration around.

The Reluctant Mariner

The Reluctant Mariner - Joanna Hackett Topics Covered: This travelogue covers the circumnavigation of an Australian couple, Joanna Hackett and her husband, Lindsay, through 37 countries over 5 years.

The Best Part: Hackett's writing style is addictive. Her relentless dry sense of humour and determination to portray the mundane to the quirky from new angles makes you reconsider your assumptions about... just about everything.

Her understated approach to what must have been insanity-inducing immigration and border control bureaucracies made me smile and smile. If I thought I'd already seen some pretty challenging border crossing situations myself... well, I clearly haven't seen anything yet.

Informative. Also balanced. Joanna was also quick to highlight moonlit nights aboard and truly magical meetings with people, flora, fauna and places.

Wishes: Perhaps I haven't grasped the real purpose and meaning of a travelogue but I did long for some kind of red thread running through this narrative. Something to work towards so I knew how far along in the tale I was. I like a plot arc. I did get the feeling that new places unrolled endlessly before me. But maybe that's what travelogues are about.

Conclusion: Been there. Done that. And glad I bought it. Would definitely buy it again.