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Book Notes Dec 06

Historic coastal New England in photographs

It began, according to the publisher, as a simple mobile exhibit of photographs from the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now known as Historic New England), documenting life along the late 19th- to early 20th-century New England coast.

Historian W. H. Bunting then expanded upon the idea, incorporating images of tangible evidence of the past — such as old ticket stubs, newspaper clippings, handwritten texts — with his own factual and personal commentary.

The book invites the reader to step back and glimpse, perhaps for the first time, a way of life along the Atlantic seaside that has long since passed.

“The Camera’s Coast: Historic Images of Ship and Shore in New England” (Tilbury House, October 2006, $29.95) opens with an advertisement for the Portland Packing Company in Maine. The picture of the live and canned lobster, packed by the company, is flanked by the slogan, “The only genuine.” Bunting explains why you don’t see such ads today: “By the early 1890s, scarcity, regulations, and competition from the live lobster trade had caused the removal of Maine’s lobster canning industry to Canada.”

Further into the book two striking images rest on opposite pages: the first, a black-and-white snapshot of excited passengers aboard the City of Bangor steamboat in 1906. They are leaving Foster’s Wharf in Boston, bound for Maine. The second is a photo of the same steamboat in 1934 — derelict, partially sunk and listing on the Boston waterfront. Bunting writes that in addition to competition from other steamer lines, these boats were weakened by alternative modes of travel, including motor vehicles. “Coastal steam was finished off by the Second World War,” he adds.

The beautifully preserved imagery paired with Bunting’s insightful vignettes create a mosaic of maritime life, encouraging both historians and casual readers to compare the New England coastline of today with that of yesterday.

Contact: Tilbury House, (800) 582-1899.

Islers update beginners’ sailing guide

Should a book really prepare a novice for sailing? While the task seems daunting, “Sailing For Dummies, Second Edition” (Wiley Publishing, 2006, $21.99) by accomplished sailors JJ Isler and Peter Isler provides essential information for would-be sailors looking to test the waters.

Part 1: Before You Get Your Feet Wet includes basic safety information and where to take classes — something the authors strongly recommend. From there the book offers how-to lessons, insider tips and inspiration for both the beginner and seasoned sailor.

Peppered with nautical history and literary quotes from Walt Whitman, Homer and John Paul Jones, the guide is easy reading and offers sufficient background to instill confidence in those looking to set sail.

JJ Isler is the first woman to be inducted into the Sailing World Hall of Fame. Her husband, Peter Isler, won the America’s Cup twice, serving as navigator aboard Stars & Stripes with Dennis Conner in 1987 and 1988.

Contact: Wiley Publishing,

Demystifying electronics and communications

John C. Payne, a sailor and professional marine electrical engineer, has combined his knowledge of marine electrical systems and electronics into two books: “Understanding Boat Electronics” and “Understanding Boat Communications” (Sheridan House, April 2006, $14.95).

The first guide, covering electronics on your boat, is sectioned into nine topics from position-fixing systems (GPS, LORAN) to entertainment systems. For example, Payne looks at repeatable vs. predictable accuracy and selective availability before going into more detail about GPS, addressing such issues as, How accurate is GPS?, What causes GPS errors?, and How to Troubleshoot your GPS.

“The reliability and accuracy of your GPS system depends on a proper installation,” Payne writes, advising the reader to check the aerial installation, cabling, connectors, and power supply to ensure that the navigation source can properly function.

The second guide covers communications and is sectioned into 10 topics, including GMDSS Communications, echosounders and sonar, and Weatherfax. Other topics discussed in this volume include: selecting the best frequency preferences, which details characteristics of the best ocean frequencies with two charts illustrating the SSB optimum transmission times depending on the time of day. Payne also lists both national and international radio and weather frequencies.

Contact: Sheridan House, Inc., (914) 693-2410.

Aquatic abbreviations, acronyms deciphered

Donald Launer first recognized the need for a reference guide of nautical abbreviations and acronyms when he came across a term with which he was not familiar. “Although I have had a USCG captain’s license for 25 years and I have written over 300 articles for recreational boating magazines,” he writes in the introduction, “I was stumped.” With his “Dictionary of Nautical Acronyms and Abbreviations” (Sheridan House, September 2006, $13.95), Launer provides a comprehensive work which attempts to translate industry and government abbreviations into everyday speech.

The book is made up of two parts: Part I, Common Acronyms and Abbreviations, is an alphabetical list of definitions of about 650 abbreviations, some with accompanying illustrations. For example, “Dev,” the abbreviation for deviation, is defined as the difference between a vessel’s compass bearing and its true magnetic bearing — it’s different for every boat, and changes depending on the boat’s heading and angle of heel. Below the definition, an example of a typical deviation chart further illustrates how the deviation is calculated, with an S-shaped line curving east then west.

Part II is a truncated version (around 500 entries) of NOAA’s Chart No. 1, United States of America: Nautical Chart Symbols, Abbreviations, and Terms, and is especially useful as the NOAA document is no longer in print, points out Launer. Examples include “COL REGS” defined as collision regulations, and “LWF & C,” or low water full and charge.

Contact: Sheridan House, Inc., (914) 693-2410.