Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Life Imitates Fiction

During 2008-2009 I wrote a trilogy of novels for my own amusement called Pirates of the Narrow Seas. The first one, now named The Sallee Rovers, is in print already: http://www.lulu.com/content/8157511. A good review caused a small e-book publisher, Bristlecone Pine Press, to pick up all three. They'll be coming available on the Kindle and other e-book sellers later this spring.

At the time I wrote the novels, I was a member of the crew of a small, fore-and-aft rigged, historic wooden sailboat. The nautical parts of the novels were partly experience and extrapolation from my fore-and-aft experience, and partly research. As I have been proofreading and editing to get them ready for the e-book publication, I have noticed instances of life imitating fiction.

First, in the last of the three books, a new important ship appears: a frigate with a watersail, sprit topmast and sprit topsail, a lateen mizzen and shebeck yard, and a whipstaff to steer her. I went through Chapman's Mercatoria Navalis and picked out a small, handsome vessel with exquisite lines -- I wanted to reward my heroes with a fast and agile sailer. Her set up was rather old-fashioned, but that she offered all the features I wanted in a ship for my heroes, coupled with better documentation than some of the other vessels in the book.

Last December I joined the crew of a fully rigged ship. She's the only ship in the Western hemisphere who has watersail, sprit topmast and sprit topsail, a lateen mizzen and shebeck yard, and a whipstaff to steer her.  What are the odds of that?

In one of the novels (Book Three : Iron Men), an accident occurs when men lay aloft in icy weather, and one falls do to uncertain footing. Not just icy, but the horses wanted mousing. That is to say, one of the supports that keeps the footrope more or less level (as opposed to hanging in a big curve), was not secure. Between the ice and the sudden sag of the footrope, the man lost his grip and fell and was badly injured.

Last week, the sprit topsail was set up on sawhorses in the sail loft so we could practice laying on, making and dousing sail. Not to mention, tying sail gaskets upside. Needless to say, in that situation, the horses weren't moused, either. Two of us lay on, fortunately only about a foot above the floor, and the footrope danced violently. It was abundantly clear how, even without ice, a man might be pitched off the footrope.

There is another incident in which the ship suffers an accident when the novice helmsman turns the wrong way in response to direction, becomes confused, and attempts to correct his mistake, making the situation worse.

I will not say our first exercise with the sails went that badly, but the opportunity for confusion is ample among novices :) We were moored to the dock and merely raising and lowering the fore course, and it was the trainees first time doing so, so errors are to be expected. A ship is an intricate piece of machinery and the crew who work her are part of that machinery. They must learn their roles so well that they can move like living gears in the whole complex organism.

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