Saturday, July 05, 2008

22. Scapa Ferry by Antony Bridges


The cover style and blurb "qoute" made me think this was going to be a WWII nautical adventure book, which it is, in a sense. But I thought it was going to be a fictional story about a single adventurous enterprise. It doesn't say it's a true story anywhere, but I'm pretty sure it's actually a real-life account. It's about a guy who loved sailing and wanted to join the navy, but because of a slightly bum leg, was not able to. Instead he set out, with his wife, to contribute however he could, which he found out was to set up a charter boat to ferry supplies back and forth across the Scarpa Firth, a treacherous piece of sea between the northern tip of Scotland and the Orkney Islands. The British were building a naval base there at the beginning part of the war (if you look at a map, you can see that the Orkneys are strategically very important) and getting supplies to keep the construction moving was difficult due to lack of resources, skilled manpower (everybody was being sent to fight) and lack of mobilization of existing local freight and fishing vessels.

So this guy and his wife buy a small sailboat, make their way up the coast (dangerous in itself), deal with the bureaucracy of the British government and military (even though they were trying to help, they keep getting stopped for not having the right paperwork) and set themselves up to take dynamite and blasting caps between Scranton Scrabster and Lynness and a few other points. It's really more of a chronicle.

What it really is, is some hardcore sailing porn. And because of that, I'm putting this one in the mail immediately to Jarrett, owner of the Redwing. I suspect this will keep his mast upright long into the night. For me, it was really tough going in the first half because I barely understood half of what was going on, there is so much specific vocabulary. There are of course tons of things on the boat that are named and not described. There are also actions of the boat and weather behaviours. I slowly picked up some stuff and there was enough characterization and funny human anecdotes along the way, that I stuck through. There also is a ton of geography, and I did have to take some google maps research breaks to figure out where they were, though there also were some cool little maps and diagrams in the book itself. By the second half, once they get established in Scranton, the story and struggles of their daily lives came to the forefront and I really got into it.

See, one of the things I love about these British adventure authors from the 60s and 70s is their attitude. It's that classic stiff-upper-lip, let's be sensible and not cause a big fuss but do what we have to do attitude that is so lacking in everything and everyone around me these days. Though not being a fictional adventure, this book is full of that attitude. At one point, early in the book, his wife loses the top of her left index finger in the middle of a harrowing attempt to untangle their anchor from another boat in a bad storm. She doesn't even mention it until they get out of the situation and then it's simply and quietly bandaged. Later, he mentions that he realizes it was quite lucky to only be her finger, that the whipping cable could have badly injured or even killed her. But there is no unnecessary histrionics or drama and his wife's stoicism only reminds him of what a good egg she is.

I struggled through the first half, but it ended being worth it. A very satisfying read which reinforced some of my own personal values.

5 comments:

Jarrett said...

nice. auto fill filled in my last name and i didn't notice.

will you delete that first one?

here's what I wrote future readers who won't see the first comment:

I just got it! (I'm emailing you my new address.)

It's next!

Good review. I find that kind of jargon to pay off, sometimes, and make a book better, especially if it's used consistently all the way to the end - learning the words has some value. I found this especially true with Moby Dick.

John Mack said...

For a very brief summary of the later career, life and death of Antony and Margaret Bridges see: http://www.astro.wisc.edu/~townsend/tree/record.php?ref=5A23

OlmanFeelyus said...

Thank you for that reference! Going to read it now.

Maybole1599 said...

It's Scrabster not Scranton. It's one of the main ports of departure to Orkney from Northern Scotland.

Superb book, great review.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Thanks Maybole1599! I have corrected it in the text. Much appreciated. Need to go there and see it for myself one day.