Lit Bits

OUT OF AFRICA: Harmattan Days in the Cape Verde Islands

Carie in cockpit

[Editor’s Note: After spending most of the winter of 1997 in Senegal and Gambia on Crazy Horse--see earlier posts on this here--I sailed out to explore the Cape Verdes before sailing to the West Indies. An earlier version of this account was published in Cruising World.]

AS WE LEFT the city of Banjul behind us, we could see that the swollen mouth of the Gambia River, a vast grey fairway, was studded with fishing pirogues. Most of the fishermen were tending charcoal fires in their bilges and thus were easily distinguished from a distance, lurking under dark smudges in the sky. They waved their arms as we approached, shouting in Wolof, to warn us away from their unmarked nets.

Either we’d strayed on to the flats, where one might reasonably expect to find men fishing in small canoes, or a buoy was missing. And yes, I remembered. The previous week while walking the beach at Fajara, Carie and I had found a huge red nun lying like a bloated whale upon the sand. And I thought then: pity the sailor who needs this buoy to find his way. And I was thinking now after studying the chart: it must have gone right there, off our port bow, and these men must be insane, fishing like this with their nets splayed out all across the shipping channel.

Later that afternoon, after we finally we broke break free of the onshore sea breeze, free from the drift nets and from the continent of Africa, we found the tradewinds had far too much north in them--a discouraging development.

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RACING SCHOONERS: Sterling Hayden Versus Bluenose

Bluenose and Thebaud

Back in the 1930s the next most important match-racing event after the America’s Cup didn’t involve yachts but fishing vessels. The Sir Thomas Lipton International Fishing Challenge Cup had only a brief tenure in the annals of competitive sailing, but it commanded major media attention at the time. Effectively a grudge match sailed between Canadian and American Grand Banks fishermen, the event was run was just three times, and each time featured the same two competitors, the famed Canadian schooner Bluenose (on the right in the image up top) and the American schooner Gertrude L. Thebaud (on the left).

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THE INVASION OF ANGUILLA: A Comedy of Errors, Caribbean Style

Anguilla beach

I first learned of the British invasion of Anguilla, which took place in March 1969, while studying Don Street’s Transatlantic Crossing Guide several years ago. In his classic tome (which I can still recommend as a great general reference if you are cruising the islands of the North Atlantic), Don mentions the event in passing and cites two books treating it. One, The Mouse That Roared, he claims is a fictionalized account of the invasion; the other, Under An English Heaven, he cites as a factual account.

The Mouse That Roared, by Leonard Wibberley, which I read as a boy, in fact was published in 1955, 14 years before the invasion of Anguilla took place. It tells the tale of a fictional European micro-nation, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, that declares war on the United States, hoping to garner a bonanza of foreign aid after its inevitable defeat. Instead, through a series of improbable events, Grand Fenwick ends up in control of a U.S. secret weapon, the Q-Bomb, and in effect conquers the world. Though the book has nothing to do with Anguilla, its comic spirit does mirror that of the real-life improbable events that led Britain to invade Anguilla after the tiny island rebelled against independence from the British crown.

Nope, that’s not a typo. They rebelled against independence.

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A PILGRIM AMONG THE SWATCHWAYS: Chasing the Ghost of Maurice Griffiths

Riverside

The name Maurice Griffiths is not particularly well known in the United States, but in England he is most certainly an iconic figure. A dapper fellow with a goatee beard, he was born into modest circumstances at the turn of the 20th century, the second son of a traveling glove and underwear salesman who had an eye for ladies and racehorses and consequently died bankrupt. At age 19, in the year 1921, not long before his father passed away, Maurice and a friend sold a much-loved model railroad set, invested the proceeds in a 50-year-old semi-derelict cutter named Undine, and the rest--as they say--is history.

Over the course of the next six decades, Griffiths bought, sold, and cruised innumerable small yachts, and wrote 15 books on sailing, one of which, The Magic of the Swatchways, is now a classic of British sailing literature. Griffiths also trained himself as a naval architect and became a successful yacht designer, drawing several pioneering designs for simple shoal-draft cruising boats. Most important, perhaps, he was one of the first on either side of the Atlantic to publicly champion the concept of sailing as a sport for the common man. During his 40-year tenure as editor-in-chief at Yachting Monthly magazine, he transformed what had become an elitist yachting social journal into a practical, but very literate bible for middle-class sailors who dreamed of getting afloat aboard boats of their own.

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