Notable Boats: Many Craft, Many Adventures
By Nic Compton (2017; Rizzoli International Publications; $30)
A blizzard pasted snow on my window as I nestled into a reading nook, sipped a hot chocolate and opened this square little book about boats. On the very first page, I was taken away.
Notable Boats is not about watercraft, per se, but what you do with them. Every boat is a dream afloat, and this is a collection of dreams fulfilled.
Some went around the world — you know the skippers’ names: Slocum, Pardey, Chichester, Macarthur. Some chased records or fame; I’ve seen a few of their boats in museums. Author Nic Compton, the former editor of Classic Boat, chose vessels that were “striking, remarkable and eminent.” There are even a couple of fictional boats — Huck Finn’s raft and Swallow (from Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons) — that met the criteria.
But what stands out for me in this handsome collection of 36 boats is their modesty, set against the journey each took. For the most part, it wasn’t the boat that made the trip — it was the ambition or guts of each sailor to see the dream through.
I am particularly drawn to the old pre-electronic-era ones, or the handmade backyard vessels of less than 20 feet that carried the dreamer down the Missouri, along the Mexican coast or across the English Channel — journeys that were, for them, daunting and life-changing. The names of their boats tell the story: Guppy, Squeak, Tinkerbelle.
A short story and map describe the achievement of each sailor. All but one are included in a bibliography of
The blizzard is gone and the apple tree by the window is in bloom as I reopen the book, in part because of its feel, an almost creamy texture, with wonderful drawings of each boat in full sail, flags flying, by Peter Scott. These boats tug at you, their motions