Jack Tar and the Baboon Watch is quirky, informative and fun — a great reference for those who love the water and those who stay ashore. Subtitled A Guide to Curious Nautical Knowledge for Landlubbers and Sea Lawyers Alike, Captain Frank Lanier’s book is a collection of unusual nautical “memorabilia.”
Lanier began collecting nautical-related material early in his U.S. Coast Guard career and continued on for more than two decades. He explored ships’ logs, sea stories, books on nautical folklore, maritime references, and “first-hand accounts of seafarers from pirates to whalers.” The information he has compiled includes nautical trivia, phrases, word origins, superstitions, myths, and little-known facts. Along with all that information comes a comprehensive bibliography and index.
Frank says there are plenty of nautical trivia books that give the definition of a chock or tell how many feet are in a fathom. He likens his book, instead, to a nautical Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and its slogan of “everything odd, weird, and unbelievable.” It’s a fine description for the Captain’s own handbook.
Selections are arranged in alphabetical order. Some are only a sentence or two long, such as “To Get Spliced,” which is a nautical term for marriage. Another example of a shorter entry is “Jaw Tackle” — the mouth. To cast off one’s jaw tackle meant to talk too much. Then there’s “Grog Blossom,” the red nose on a man who “drinks ardent spirits to excess.”
Longer selections include “Pirates For Higher Education,” “Pitcairn Island,” “The Seven – Er – Fourteen Seas” and “Making The Crossing by Rail.”
This isn’t the kind of book to be completed in one reading. It is to be sampled, perhaps over coffee in the morning, over sundowners, or even — is it tasteless to suggest? — in the head. Jack Tar and the Baboon Watchwould be great at any gathering of nautical folk.
(A baboon watch, by the way, is standing watch during a ship’s port call, thereby not having the opportunity to go ashore, and a Jack Tar is a sailor. You’ll need to read the book to find out why.)