It is that time of year again when I gather up a pile of books from the maritime offerings and attempt to inspire you to purchase some of the titles for holiday gifts or acquire a few for your own enjoyment. Rather than focusing on books merely to amuse, I try to find titles which are informative — well researched and well written — as well as engaging.
As I have mentioned to my editor, my maritime book collection is quite extensive. There is no space on the floor let alone the shelves. But because my interests are focused on classic yachts and traditional wood working craft, recently published titles (and boats) usually do not hold the tiniest bit of interest for me. However, this year did see the publication of several notable titles to include. And with the re-launch of the 1843 whaling ship Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport Museum last summer — and her upcoming 38th voyage, which will bring her to the Vineyard — it seemed time to pull out some books about whaling and whaling vessels.
The first book on my pile is a rather rare booklet titled Captain George Fred Tilton — Tablet Dedication 1933, which was published in 1933 by Reynolds Printing in New Bedford. It is subtitled Capt. George Fred Tilton’s Walk and the Whaling Tradition. The tablet, paid for by popular subscription and dedicated to Capt. Tilton (who was born in Chilmark), has a wonderful scene cast in bronze. Whaling vessels caught in the ice shown are shown in the background, and in the foreground there are several gentlemen with a dog sled and team. The tablet reads “In Memory Of Captain George Fred Tilton 1861-1932, whaleman who in 1897 walked 3000 miles through an Alaskan winter to save the lives of 200 men on four whaleships caught in Arctic ice.”
Book number two focuses on the same subject but from a different angle. The Impossible Rescue, The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure by Martin W. Sandler, published by Candlewick Press in 2012, was written for older kids/young adults, but it is so well written that it is enjoyable and informative for all ages. It details the overland expedition, mounted independently of Capt. G. F. Tilton’s efforts, by American authorities to send supplies and a rescue team to save the whalers whose vessels were caught in the ice. The Impossible Rescue relates how in the early fall of 1897 a group of whaling vessels delayed their departure from the bowhead whaling grounds off Point Barrow in the Arctic and were subsequently trapped in the ice nearby. Some of the vessels were crushed but several remained virtually undamaged and took on board the displaced whalers. However, with limited provisions and no hope of rescue before the next summer 10 months hence, several of the crew decided to walk to a nearby Inuit village to seek assistance. In the village they found several scientists in residence and were able to get food and shelter for the crews who subsequently managed to get ashore.
Meanwhile and unbeknownst to the trapped whalers and to Capt. Tilton, another whaling vessel, the Alexander (with an unrelated Capt. Tilton), had avoided being trapped and had steamed south. When she reached San Francisco and raised the alarm, a rescue attempt was ordered by President McKinley. The plan was for a vessel to steam north as far as possible, and then put a rescue party ashore. That party was to carry out an overland rescue over 1,500 treacherous miles of Alaskan terrain with an added component of gathering up herds of reindeer from villages along the way to be used for food on the hoof.
As the rescue was being planned, a ship of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service (the forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard) arrived in Seattle after a busy summer in northern waters. The Bear was both a sail and steam-powered ship and helmed by Capt. Tuttle. He received orders to attempt to steam as far north as he could proceed before ice prevented further travel. He was asked to find three volunteers to make the overland part of the journey, and the entire crew volunteered. The three selected were Lt. David Jarvis (in charge), Dr. Samuel Call and Lt. Ellsworth Bertholf. As soon as preparations could be made, the Bear set out on Nov. 27, 1897 to steam north, eventually reaching Tununak near latitude 60 degrees north in mid December. The three men, after many adventures, reached Point Barrow (with deer) in late March. The Bear eventually reached them in late July. The gathering up of reindeer did impose a severe strain on the Innuit village at Point Barrow and on those along the way, but apparently all the humans survived. On Sept. 13, 1898 the Bear, with all on board, arrived in Seattle. As we know, Capt. G. F. Tilton also made it out.
Another book that features the Bear is The Great Ice Ship Bear, Eighty-Nine Years in Polar Seas in the book by Polly Burroughs of Edgartown, with Robert Douglas as consultant — yes, our Captain Robert Douglas of Coastwise Packet Company, and the designer, owner and skipper of the Shenandoah. Published in 1970 and long out of print, this is a fascinating story of a vessel that was first launched in Scotland in 1874 and spent all her working life in treacherous far northern waters. After a long career she was headed to an ignominious end as a restaurant, but while being towed to Philadelphia she was lost at sea, 90 miles south of Cape Sable.
For another look at arctic whaling, check out Children of the Light by Everett S. Allen. Mr. Allen was also a Chilmark boy and an award-winning author of many notable books. His books should be available in all Island libraries or found through maritime book dealers such as Howland and Company in Jamaica Plain or Columbia Trading on the Cape, as well as Book Den East.
My next choice, also about the far north, is The Arctic Regions by William Bradford, edited by Michael Lapides and published in 2013 by David Godine in association with the New Bedford Whaling Museum for the Old Dartmouth Historical Society. I don’t think David Godine has ever published a less than perfect book and this is no exception. Originally published in 1873 in a limited edition of 300 copies (all highly prized and very highly priced), the current publication was meticulously reproduced from several copies located in New Bedford institutions. The original expedition took place in 1869. In the words of artist William Bradford: “This volume is the result of an expedition to the Arctic Regions, made solely for the purposes of art, in the summer of 1869.” The photographs date from the earliest days of photography and the photographers John Dunmore and George Critcherson of Boston were the first photographic professionals to document a voyage so far north. The photographs are from the coast of Greenland and they are striking, dramatic and ultimately, as the ice cap melts, almost tragically beautiful.
Years ago Tom Cunliffe, with his wife Ros as his supremely capable researcher, wrote the first two volumes in a projected three-volume set about Pilot Boats. For various reasons the third volume covering the Pilot Cutters of Northern Europe remained unwritten and unpublished, although Tom and Ros had amassed many folders of narratives, photos and interviews. The book was a project they always hoped to complete and publish and finally the chance came in the winter of 2012-2013 when Ian Laing of the Royal Yacht Squadron urged them to contact Julian Mannering. With his enthusiastic cooperation (he had been involved in the first two volumes), Pilot Cutters Under Sail, Pilots and Pilotage in Britain and Northern Europe, was published by Seaforth Publishing, in association with the Royal Yacht Squadron in July.
If you have any interest in working watercraft under sail, traditional boats, pilot cutters, maritime art, maritime history, commercial shipping, even how to sail a gaff rigger, this is the book to have. The narrative is detailed, informative and interesting, with a chapter for each of the various British and European ports from which pilot vessels operated.
Two books published this year which will be of interest to a boat builder or an impecunious boat owner with some carpentry skills and a leaky boat are The Big Book of Wooden Boat Restoration, Basic Techniques, Maintenance, and Repair by Thomas Larsson, and The Art of Wooden Boat Repair by Allen Cody Taube. The former book published by Skyhorse Publishing was written by a Swedish boat builder who is described as one of his country’s premier wooden boat restorers. It has extensive photos, sketches and even a section on how to examine a wooden boat that you might wish to buy. Allen Taube’s book is published by Granny Apple Publishing and is described as “an updated revision of the Boatwright’s Companion, copyright 1986 by Allen Taube and published in 1986 by International Marine Publishing Company in Camden, Me.”
Other books that may be of interest are The Whaleboat by Willits Ansel, The Charles W. Morgan by John F. Leavitt, Sperm Whaling from New Bedford by Elton Hall, Greasy Luck by Gordon Grant and Great Days of Whaling by the long-time owner and editor of the Vineyard Gazette, Henry Beetle Hough. This last book is wonderful for kids. Please note the middle name — one of the most successful and busy builders of whaleboats was the Beetle Company, still in existence and now building Beetle Cats.
You will notice that I have not included anything about this year’s America’s Cup, nor anything about all the various modern day races. With the millions of dollars that fueled those races surely there will be books about them but I won’t be reading or collecting them. They interest me nary a whit. However, even if boat building or rowing isn’t your thing, the books mentioned above will help better prepare the reader to fully appreciate the arrival of the Charles W. Morgan and her significance in the maritime world and in our country’s maritime heritage, not to mention the Island. You’ll learn a lot about what was the precursor to the petroleum industry, and you’ll be able to settle down for a long winter’s nap with some very good reading.