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.