Boating books review: Boat project morphs into detective story

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Many sailors know well the legend of Rowdy, a 65-foot New York 40 launched in 1916.

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Built of pine planking on white oak frames, she was designed by Nathanael Herreshoff to sail fast and win races, which she did. Fast forward to 1998, when Christopher Madsen purchased the neglected sailboat with plans for an ambitious restoration. Rowdy (CPM Publishing, $55, rowdystory.com) is Madsen’s account of meticulously researching the yacht’s history, which prominently features ownership by Holland Duell, a decorated soldier turned patent attorney, state senator, Hollywood filmmaker and world-class sailor. Madsen spoke with scores of Duell’s family members and associates, and pored over personal and legal documents during 16 years of research for the book, which reads like an epic historical yarn.

Interpreting the weather around you

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The third edition of The Weather Handbook (Bloomsbury, $18) has been updated to include new sources of information, specifically digital, but its core remains the insight Alan Watts brings to understanding how weather develops. The goal of the book, which includes color photographs and diagrams, is to teach readers to be able to look at the sky, interpret its signs and leverage their knowledge with information provided by professional forecasts to assess the coming weather. “The atmosphere is a heat engine and obeys certain fundamental laws,” Watts writes. “The more you understand about the weather, the more interesting it becomes.”

True stories behind great works of fiction

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Sam Jefferson‘s Sea Fever (Bloomsbury, $27) relates the true adventures that inspired the works of such authors as Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville and Ernest Hemingway. Jefferson, a journalist and maritime historian, literally works backward from The Old Man and the Sea, The Beach of Falesa, The Ebb Tide and other classics, painting portraits of the authors before unraveling the incident or incidents in their lives that inspired their masterworks. The direct and punchy prose cuts to the heart of each subject and, in the end, opens a window into the reality behind these famous works of fiction.

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue.