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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

May Quarterdeck

Old Salt Press and Old Salt Blog founder Rick Spilman is interviewed at length in the latest issue of Quarterdeck, a newsletter dedicated to news about maritime books and authors.

Altogether, this is a very exciting edition.

You can download the issue, together with the interview, the latest news from Old Salt Press, and a study of the Victory, HERE

Monday, May 4, 2015

Sailors' Sunday pleasure

Sailors' sea chests have a varied history.

They were infamously used for stowing pirate treasure, as in the famous illustration from Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates (1917).   On the whole, though, they were used for more mundane treasures, that being a seaman's private belongings.  It was equivalent to his bookshelves, his wardrobes, and his chests of drawers back home -- and yet had space for so little. At the New Bedford Whaling Museum there is a educational program that asks the students to pack a sea chest, which is more of a challenge than the student might expect.  Not only do spare clothes have to be packed inside, but there are little luxuries, like soap and tobacco.  Any books and writing paper have to find a place, along with the seaman's journal -- and his navigational guides and instruments, if he is ambitious enough to study his trade, with an eye to getting a post in that hallowed place, the afterquarters, where the captain and officers live.  And, on long voyages, like the years-long cruises of whaleships in the age of sail, there are the ships' models, scrimshaw, and shell valentines he might have made, all of which need a safe place.

And Sunday was the day for turning out the sea chest, and gloating over the little private treasures that were hidden inside.  As J. H. Drew meditated in the Boston Journal, on Septembe 10, 1877, "Sunday is the day for the sailor to wash and mend his clothes ... Having done this, he invariably overhauls his chest, takes out all his clothes, unfolds them, airs them, folds them again, and lays them away.  This is what they call 'sailors' pleasure.'"

And woe betide anyone who opens another man's sea chest, invading his most private space. 

The drawing above is from "Sketches from the Naval Training Camps," created by George Wright, and published in the Harper's Monthly in August 1918.   I'm not even sure that the fellow depicted is studying his sea chest, as it was usual for a canvas bag to be issued to a navy man, instead of the traditional chest -- or so I believe.

So, can anyone think of a better illustration of a sailor turning out his sea chest?

It's a challenge.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A history of the dust jacket

As the previous post hints, choosing a design for a book jacket is an intense and important process.

And yet, dust jackets are a relatively new development. Originally, they were intended to protect the beautiful binding, and were often just a rectangle of paper used to wrap the book like a parcel.  As a fascinating post on relates there was no design at all. The title of the book might be printed on the paper wrapping, to make sorting easier, but the wrapping itself was meant to be discarded.

The first wrapping that matched the size of the book most probably appeared in the 1830s, the idea being that it would persuade the purchaser to keep the paper jacket, to protect the book while it was being read.  And it took another fifty years for publishers to realize that more information could be displayed on the wrapper. They might even include an image, as well as the names of the book, the publisher, and the author, as in the early edition of The Moonstone, above. The authors approved -- Lewis Carroll wrote to his publishers in 1876 persuading them to print the title on the spine area of the dust jacket of The Hunting of the Snark to keep it in a "cleaner and more saleable condition."  The idea was that the customer could read the title of the book without having to pry it out of the bookseller's shelf.

But still the major reason for the wrapper was to preserve the lovely binding underneath.  It was not until the 1920s that publishers (and writers) realized that it was a major marketing tool.  It was possible to have not just the title and author's name, but a synopsis, too.  Then elaborate dust jackets became all the rage -- in the 1940s even paperbacks had one.  Then, as the century progressed, the jackets became more and more ornate.  Graphics were explored for their attention-seizing value, and about the 1970s the blurb was invented. For a little while famous authors were paid by publishers to write a few complimentary words about another writer's book, but blurbing quickly became free, as authors vied to get their names on jackets.

Book jacket design became an industry, one that, interestingly, hasn't faltered with the development of digital books.  The original idea of producing a jacket that stood out on the bookstore shelf has simply evolved into the need for a design that is commanding when displayed as a thumbnail.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Water Ghosts jacket revealed

Yes, Old Salt Press author LINDA COLLISON has unveiled the cover design for her stunningly original tale of a troubled teen ... on a junk.

From the back of the jacket
I see things other people don’t see; I hear things other people don’t hear.
Fifteen-year-old James McCafferty is an unwilling sailor aboard a traditional Chinese junk, operated as adventure-therapy for troubled teens.  Once at sea, James believes the ship is being taken over by the spirits of courtiers who fled the Imperial palace during the Ming Dynasty, more than 600 years ago, and sailing to its doom.
Water Ghosts is a spine-chilling tale where fantasy and reality spin out of control. – Margaret Muir, The Black Thread.
When you’ve read Water Ghosts, expect to be haunted. – Seymour Hamilton, author of the Astreya Trilogy.
A tale of personal growth hammered out by the timeless ocean. – Joe Follansbee, author of Bet: Stowaway Daughter.
Water Ghosts will  be published by Old Salt Press, next month — the author will be at the BEA next month in New York! Look for Water Ghostsand Looking for Redfeather at Foreword Reviews booth #453.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Answer to the money puzzle

You have ten bags of coins, one of them full of fake coins, the rest real.  Each of the fake coins weighs one gram less than a real coin.  But, while you have scales, you are only allowed to weigh once.

Stumped?  Here is the answer.

You take one coin out of bag number one, two coins out of bag number two, three out of bag number three, and so on, until you take ten coins out of bag number ten.  Then you put all those coins on the scales.

If the weight is one gram less than it should be, then the fakes are in bag number one.
If the result is two grams less, then the second bag has the counterfeits.
If the weight is ten grams less, then the tenth bag is the one that should be discarded.

Brian Easton got it right.  I didn't.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


You have ten bags of coins. Nine of them contain genuine coins but one of them is full of counterfeits. You cannot see any difference between the coins or bags, or feel any difference when you lift them. However, you know that each of the counterfeit coins weighs one gram less than a real coin. You have an accurate scale, but are only allowed to use it once. How do you work out which bag has the fake money in it?

Good luck -- it had me properly fooled, and yet the answer is so-o-o logical

Answer tomorrow

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ponytail-pulling and Polynesian protocol


Our Prime Minister, John Key, has made himself the topic of international discussion -- because he repeatedly pulled the hair of a waitress at a cafe called Rosie's that he frequents in Parnell, the posher part of Auckland.

The waitress, Amanda Bailey, is a slip of a girl who looks much younger than her reported age of twenty-six.  The owners of the cafe -- her employers, Jackie Grant and Scott Brown, demand a high level of respect from their staff, as their clientele is on the rich and influential side.  Quoting from the cafe's facebook page, they say, "There are no excuses, under any circumstances, for our service to not be attentive, humble and extremely respectful towards our customers."

And "humble" is a potent word.  So there are several good reasons why Ms Bailey took a long time to express her distaste for the repeated tugging on her ponytail.  Apparently, this had no effect on the hair puller, so she resorted to the written word, sending a report to The Daily Blog.

No doubt you have all read the comments and opinions that have been expressed all over the world.  What surprises me is that there is so little (if any) local Maori comment. Because in Polynesia a person's head is tapu. It should not be touched without permission or a good reason.

To Maori, the head, upoku, is the most sacred part of the body. It is the same throughout the Pacific.  When Captain Wallis was in Tahiti in 1767, the chiefess Purea endowed him with "crowns" made of long plaited strands of her own hair, the greatest and most significant gift possible, as they came from the most tapu part of her body.

Even today, a Polynesian is uncomfortable if a hat, or eye-glasses (or even earphones or a cellphone) are placed on a table where cooked food is eaten.  I have noticed that a Maori man will survey me carefully before offering to hongi -- which is the greeting of touching noses -- to make sure that I won't be uncomfortable about anyone coming so close to my head.

But it seems that our prime minister is a deeply insensitive man.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

It's ANZAC day

April 25 is the day when everyone in Australia and New Zealand takes a holiday in commemoration of all the Australian and New Zealand servicemen who gave their lives to war.

It is special this year because it commemorates the 100th anniversary of the disastrous landing at Gallipoli, Turkey.  As the editor of the DomPost observes, because it is a "special" Anzac Day, "large crowds of New Zealanders are turning out to remember."

And, as he (or she) comments, "this might seem surprising.  Everybody now knows that the Gallipoli campaign was a bloody military fiasco. It ended in ignominious defeat.

"It cost the lives of 2800 New Zealanders."

So why celebrate the mess?

Because its a day that brings New Zealanders together.  Maori  bravely fought and died alongside their pakeha mates, and fellow Aussie soldiers.  It made the cohesion that we now call "Anzac."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ancient voyaging canoe uncovered

The New Zealand press is alive with it.  And, naturally, the Polynesian Voyaging Society is animated, while the scientific community is vastly intrigued.

The remains of an ancient voyaging canoe have been located in Anaweka, a remote spot in the South Island of New Zealand.  

We know it was built here, because the timber is  NZ matai, an indigenous pine. And, according to carbon dating of the caulking material, the canoe was last caulked back about 1400 -- which might mean that the canoe itself is quite a bit older, as the craft were re-caulked at regular intervals.

The colonization of the islands of East Polynesia was a remarkable episode in the history of human migration and seafaring.
Early Polynesians were a seafaring people with highly developed navigation skills. They colonized previously unsettled islands by making long canoe voyages.
There is evidence that by about 1280 CE, they had settled the vast Polynesian triangle with its eastern corner at Easter Island, the northern corner at Hawai’i, and the southern corner in New Zealand.
Until now, reconstructions of the canoes used by Polynesians have been based mainly on much later observations from European explorers.
In 2012, Auckland University archaeologist Dr Dilys Johns and her colleagues found a 6-meter section of an ancient canoe on the remote northwestern end of New Zealand’s South Island a short distance from the sheltered Anaweka estuary.
According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the canoe – dubbed Anaweka canoe – was built of wood in New Zealand and made its last voyage around 1400 CE.
Reconstruction of the complete Anaweka canoe. Image credit: Geoffrey Irwin / University of Auckland /
Reconstruction of the complete Anaweka canoe. Image credit: Geoffrey Irwin / University of Auckland /
It was about 20 meters in length. The wood was identified as New Zealand matai (Prumnopitys taxifolia).
The Anaweka canoe has a sea turtle carved on its hull that makes symbolic connections with ancestral Polynesian culture and art.
“A remarkable feature is a sea turtle carved in raised relief at the shaped end of the canoe. A raised ridge behind the turtle could represent its wake as it moved through the water, or is possibly suggestive of an extended tail,” the scientists wrote in the PNAS paper.
“Turtle designs are rare in pre-European Maori carving; however, turtles are known in New Zealand waters. It is likely that the turtle motif relates to the early age of the canoe and its cultural associations with tropical Polynesia.”
“The Anaweka canoe provides new information about ancestral Maori canoe technology and insights into early technology and seafaring in tropical East Polynesia,” they concluded.

Monday, April 20, 2015

TITANIC deck chair

It's amazing what people will collect.

According to the newspapers, including The Guardian, there was busy bidding for an old deck chair that is too fragile to serve as a seat.

It's because it was retrieved from the wreck of the Titanic

The Nantucket wooden chair was on the first-class promenade deck when the luxury liner sank in the Atlantic after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage in 1912.
The chair was sold at the auction house Henry Aldridge and Son to an unnamed UK-based collector who has a passion for buying pieces of historic importance, auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said. He added that he was “very, very pleased” with the price.
Aldridge described the chair, which was salvaged from the ocean by a team sent to recover bodies after the Titanic sank, as “one of the rarest types of Titanic collectible”.
About 1,500 people died when the Titanic sank after striking an iceberg on 14 April 1912 en route to New York from Southampton.
The deckchair was found bobbing on the surface of the Atlantic by the crew of the Mackay-Bennett, who were sent to recover the bodies of the victims.
The Mackay-Bennett’s log records six or seven deckchairs being picked up and taken back to port in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
One was given to a former crewmate, Captain Julien Lemarteleur. It has since been owned for 15 years by an English Titanic collector who kept it by a large window overlooking the sea at his home on the south coast.
The seller had never sat on it due to its fragile state and instead used it as a display item.
The chair, which was professionally conserved several years ago, had a sale estimate of £70,000 to £80,000.
It fetched just over one hundred thousand pounds.