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Original Issue


Lessons learned the hard way make easy reading for the armchair sailor

K. Adlard Coles's handsome volume, Heavy Weather Sailing (John de Graff, Tuckahoe, N.Y., $12.50), is not likely to entice many newcomers to the sport of offshore sailing. By design this noted ocean cruiser and racer (whose various Cohoes have been frequent early finishers in transatlantic and Fastnet races) has overlooked the hours of beauty and pleasure that every sailor seeks and directed his pen exclusively to the moments of sickening storm and danger that sensible sailors seek only to avoid.

Because storms at sea are much more pleasant to read about than to live through, and because Coles writes with considerable skill about those both he and others have lived through, his book should make good reading even for landlubbers, but that was not his purpose in writing it. His purpose, like that of the conscientious test pilot dictating notes into a tape recorder as his crippled plane hurtles to certain destruction, is to document lessons learned the hard way. At the end of each chapter describing the personal experience of some storm at sea in often vivid and always subjective narrative, Coles turns schoolmaster and objectively analyzes the conclusions to be drawn from the experience. These may range all the way from weaknesses in boat design suddenly revealed under stress to the careless reading of a weather map while a cruise was being planned.

There is in addition a generous and scholarly appendix containing discourses on wave theory, the generation of storms and the basics of yacht design.

"In a wild welter of foam-capped seas the ship sailed on," Coles writes almost tenderly of one gale that he and Mrs. Coles suffered through in the North Sea in 1925. "My wife sat beside me, trying to identify the looms of the distant lights. The steering was too heavy for her, but she was cheerful and took a full share in any work to be done." Several pages later the concern of the husband sharing his tribulations and the pride of the married man in his mate give way to the finger-wagging of a stern preceptor as he chastises both of them for getting into such a fix. "Our holiday," he writes in Lesson Two, subheaded Time, "was drawing to an end when we were caught out, otherwise we would probably have taken shelter long before the gale started. Shortage of time and the need to get a yacht to her home port in a hurry are the most common causes of the cruising man getting caught out."

Rich reading and the sound exposition of important lessons well learned are a rare combination. K. Adlard Coles has turned the trick well in this unusual book.