STEPHEN SMITH: Sailing Book Saves on Heartache
Before you buy a multimillion-dollar sailboat, read Christopher Pastore's "Temple to the Wind: The Story of America's Greatest Naval Architect and his Masterpiece, Reliance" (The Lyons Press, $22.95, 312 pages).
You'll save yourself a hunk of money and a lot of heartache, and when you've read through to the last page, you'll know enough about sailing and the America's Cup to make a rational decision concerning your fantasy life. In fact, you'll feel as if you've already won the America's Cup.
You don't have to know the first thing about sailing to fall in love with this book.
Pastore's mini-biographies of Nathaniel Herreshoff, Thomas Lipton, Charles Barr and their turn-of-the-century bids for the America's Cup in the sailboats "Reliance" and "Shamrock III" is likely to enthrall even the least seaworthy of readers.
Pastore explains in detail the technicalities of sailboat design and racing, and he captures beautifully the essence of the powerful men -- the Morgans, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Liptons -- who shaped the era and transformed the America's Cup. Think "Seabiscuit" gone marine.
Your education will begin with the opening pages: "Running on the same principles of lift as an airplane, a sailboat 'flies' through air and sea, its sails driven by wind, its hull driven by water. Similar to the Herreswoffs, two brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, were experimenting with this idea of strong and light construction and foil shapes that could lift a human, like a bird, off the ground."
Nathaniel Herreshoff, the genius behind the "Reliance," was born in 1848 in Bristol, R.I., and his yacht designs produced a series of very expensive, technically innovative America's Cup yachts that would change sailboat design forever, shattering "the paradigms of naval architecture."
Herreshoff's "Reliance" was the largest America's Cup yacht of her time. Her topsail yard rose 190 feet about the ocean, and her sails stretched 202 feet from stem to stern, releasing 17,000 square feet of sail. Many marine designers thought the "Reliance" dangerous -- and indeed she was -- but she was also very fast.
Pastore doesn't miss a detail of the construction and fitting out of the yachts, and he's handy with concise description: "With her full spread of sail hoisted, 'Reliance' was immense. From afar she looked like an iceberg teetering atop a canoe."
Readers will likely find themselves cheering for the "Reliance," her designer, builders, and crew. Despite a foreknowledge of the American victory, the story is fraught with suspense and the finish is as poetic and as energizing as Seabiscuit's most inspiring victory.
"Heads turned to the sound of rushing water, groaning lines, and rustling sails, 'as of the wings of some giant bird alighting from its lofty flight.' Carrying every possible sail, her hull veiled in mist, Reliance, like a billowing apparition, charged through the finish line. The masthead man, high in the rig, unfurled and hoisted to the topmast head a giant American yacht ensign. The spectator fleet went wild. Cheers and a cacophony of steam whistles echoed through the haze. And then, with a passing puff of wind and gentle plunge she 'disappeared into the fog as mysteriously as she had risen out of it.'"
Pretty exhilarating stuff -- and surely an entertaining read. For most of us, our Walter Mitty/Ted Turner fantasy will never come to fruition, but "Temple to the Wind" will transport you to one of the great moments in America's Cup history.
Stephen Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
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