Sailor’s Bookshelf: Modern Resources

Posted By on September 8, 2013

Star Islanders (including us) coming out for a gam with private yacht, 2011.

Star Islanders coming out for a gam with private gaff rigged vessel, 2011. Ekk and I were already on board.

One common question we’re asked is how we got the design and inspiration for Merganser and Heron. The answer is that we both read like crazy, visit every maritime museum we can find, and get permission to crawl over, under, and inside any historic ship we see.

The major books in the field for historic shipbuilding are the works of Howard Chappelle, who was a curator of maritime history at the Smithsonian Institution. We recommend everything he wrote, honestly, but the two most useful works are his History of American Sailing Ships and History of the American Sailing Navy: The Ships and Their Development. These are exactly what they claim to be – intricately detailed surveys of American civilian and naval sailing vessels, filled with hundreds of hull sketches, rigging plans, service histories, and a wealth of other details. Our copies are well worn and filled with post it notes to mark various ideas we used in Merganser or Heron. Chappelle’s Search for Speed Under Sail: 1700-1855 was also a very good resource, as it talked about the various improvements made to rigging and hull designs in the quest for faster sailing ships. I personally loved The American Fishing Schooners 1825-1935, though it’s not quite as relevant since we usually do late 18th century / early 19th century military portrayals.

For rigging a traditional sailing ship, the two books we have found you can’t live without are The Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford W. Ashley and Emiliano Marino’s Sailmaker’s Apprentice. Ashley covers pretty much every knot you will ever need to know and a couple thousand you’ll never need to use, for everything from rigging to fancywork. It’s also great because it’s a standardized reference to the names of knots. A lot of traditional knots have several names, or the same name applies to a couple different tying styles. With Ashley’s, you can use the knot’s identification number and know exactly which one is being discussed. The Sailmaker’s Apprentice expands on that knowledge and covers how to cut and drape sails of all sizes and purposes, and goes in depth on the knowledge needed to create sails that draw properly.

All these books are available on Amazon. If you follow this link for your purchase, a portion of the proceeds will go to support the nonprofit that runs Star Island, one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Portsmouth NH.

Sailmaker’s Apprentice

About the author

I'm a museum professional with an MA in Museum Studies and Atlantic History. A lot of my research has been in colonial and maritime history, as well as material culture of the 16th - 19th centuries. I've held a lot of weird jobs covering everything from beekeeper to tall ship deckhand. I currently live with my partner on the Canadian border in Vermont.


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