Now you can leave most of your other books on seamanship at home, perhaps even the dog-eared, lop-spined old Chapmans that takes most of your bulkhead bookshelf. Steve and Linda Dashew’s Practical Seamanship is a must-have aboard, and it’s an all-season must-read.
Anecdotal, chatty, continuously informative, with countless illustrative tales and photos of nautical mishaps and disasters, this book tells us not just how to do it, but why, when, and often, where. Virtually every page is studded with clearly drawn diagrams, photos, and/or illuminating sidebars (a few of which have discontinuities.)
The section on anchoring may just be the most complete discussion in print: 82 pages with enough photos of beached and wrecked boats to get you out of your bunk to check wind direction and the chafing gear. To keep you out of trouble while you’re awake, every aspect of safe seamanship is thoroughly explored. A particularly useful section is devoted to fishing traffic, tugs, freighters and their navigation lights and behaviors. Those who don’t know where to start with radar or electronic charting will find a careful and gentle guide to set them on the right path.
Throughout there are hints and tidbits that leave you wondering why you never thought of them. OK, so you take a small compass with you in the dinghy when you shore your dog in foggy areas or go for dinner ashore. But how ’bout that dinghy anchor languishing at the bottom of a cockpit locker? Or your handheld GPS – with the waypoint of the mother ship? These items can save you from being washed out to sea on the tide should you be blind, bewitched, or bewildered. Hate trying to turn on a dime in a jam-packed harbor? Page 476. Are you able to stop quickly under sail? Page 597. Easier docking skills? Pages 487 to 496.
Medical matters and first aid are covered in your other books, so keep ’em aboard. And only three pages are devoted to knots, so you’ll still need your Cyrus Day. This small section, however, has a knot invented by Rod Stephens that is often preferable to a bowline. Another tip: using a lashing of Spectra line in lieu of a shackle.
Speaking of shackles brings to mind a small and presumptuous quibble. The Dashews suggest that in some cases it’s a good idea to have a snapshackle on the end of the dock line being thrown ashore. They do recommend that you “take care when throwing this, to miss the folks on the dock.” Most of us are just glad to get a line to the dock, period. Maybe it’s best to forget about the shackle until you, too, have sailed 200,000 miles. Even then, you will still need this fine book.