Wednesday, December 15, 2010

From the shelves of the Paco library

I’ve always loved miscellanies, probably because they’re so…I dunno…miscellaneous. Not completely, of course. The ideal miscellany is a collection of bits and oddments related to an overarching theme, as is the case with Angus Konstam’s Naval Miscellany, published by Osprey, one of the more prolific military presses.

The book ranges far and wide, incorporating brief summaries of everything from famous sea battles to the top ten knots with which every sailor should be familiar, and (naturally) the basics of wind, currents and sailing. You’ll find short biographies of John Paul Jones (who also served in the Russian navy), Lord Nelson, Chester Nimitz, and a recounting of naval victories over notorious pirates such as Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Stede Bonnet (the “Gentleman Pirate”) and Batholomew Roberts (“Black Bart”). One interesting thing I learned on the first page of the first chapter is that, although Winston Churchill’s description of the Royal Navy as “rum, the lash and sodomy” is apocryphal, Churchill always wished that he had said it. Here are a couple of samples from this excellent browser.

Under the heading, “Ten Warships That Sank Without The Help Of The Enemy”, we have the sad fate of HMS Association (1707):
Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell* was returning home from the Mediterranean, when his squadron was wrecked on the Isles of Scilly. According to legend, shortly before the disaster a sailor warned the admiral that the islands lay in the path of the ships. Shovell threatened to hang the man for his impudence, and hours later the flagship Association hit a rock, and sank with all hands. Two other warships – the Eagle and the Romney - were also lost in the disaster. As a result the admiralty offered a reward for anyone who could successfully determine longitude at sea – a competition which led to the invention of John Harrison’s marine chronometer.
I’ve occasionally joked, I believe, about Wronwright’s Bolivian admiral’s uniform; however, I discovered, to my surprise, that there not only is a Bolivian navy, but that it’s fairly substantial:
With 173 operational vessels, the Bolivians have the largest navy of any landlocked country, most of which are based in one place. Their navy patrols the waters of Lake Titicaca…[t]he Bolivians also maintain a small naval station in the Argentinian riverside town of Rosario, from where – in theory – it could reach the open sea over 400 miles downstream.
Naval Miscellany is a fine little reference work and a pleasure to dip into or read straight through. One last thing: if you’re in the wardroom , don’t show yourself up for a lubber by passing the port counterclockwise!

*To me, the price of the book ($US15.95) was worth it just to discover that outstanding name.


JeffS said...

Heh! I just might pick that up, Paco. Thanks!

And as for other naval miscellany, I forget who linked this originally, but how about a sub that sank a train?

Mr. Bingley said...

"According to legend, shortly before the disaster a sailor warned the admiral that the islands lay in the path of the ships. Shovell threatened to hang the man for his impudence, and hours later the flagship Association hit a rock, and sank with all hands. "

Um, it sort of would have to be "according to legend" if the vessel sank with the loss of all hands, wouldn't it?

I mean, with out hands how could they have written this down?

Paco said...

It is always possible that there was some communication among the ships prior to the wreck.

Oh, wait, I see what you're saying. "Look, ma, no hands!" Bingley, I believe you need this book

Mr. Bingley said...

I most certainly do need it!

I'm sure they must talk about the Vasa as well, right?

Yojimbo said...

Got to hand it to you, Mr. Bingley, that was a handsome analysis indeed. Shows what happens when you go with Progressive over Allstate.

Mr. Bingley said...

I wonder what they did when the Captain said "All hands on deck"?

Yojimbo said...

Judging by the slowness of their response there must have been considerable amount of hand-wringing over the order. I really can't get my hands around the whole situation so I can't put my finger on a specific issue. Call it the usual lack of dexterity which we associate with the Yojimbo.

Yojimbo said...

Cloudesley Shovell! Geez This all sounds like a story from the Onion.

cac said...

As you note Paco, the wreck of Sir Cloudsley's squadron was what prompted the Parliament to offer a reward to who could work out the problem of longtitude. Have you read Dana Sobel's outstanding work "Longitude"? If not highly recommended. Apart from the mix of 18th century naval trivia which alone is worth the price of the book, it's also a superb study of a genius who apparently came from nowhere to sovle a problem which had bedevilled the finest minds of the age for centuries.

Paco said...

cac: I have, indeed, read that book and I highly recommend it (I think I have it on my list of future "Shelves" features).

Minicapt said...

1. The actual rule is "Port circulates to the left." But this only applies prior to the Loyal Toast; which, aboard ship, is made whilst seated.

2. The legend of Sir Cloudsley vs the sailor is apocryphal. I believe it is discussed in "Longitude".


4. "All hands on deck"?


Yojimbo said...

Isn't that Dava Sobel, not Dana Sobel?

mojo said...

The BBC did a rather fine mini-series from "Longitude"