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Book Notes - May 2007

The integrity of boat design

Sometime in late 1924 or early 1925, fresh from having his designs for a 35-foot racing and cruising sloop published in The Rudder magazine, K. Aage Nielsen sent a letter to John G. Alden Company in Boston, a noted yacht design firm.

Alden offered him a job as draftsman and designer, and 21-year-old Nielsen left his native Denmark to begin his career in boat design and construction.

Maynard Bray and Tom Jackson’s tribute to Nielsen, “Worthy of the Sea: K. Aage Nielsen and His Legacy of Yacht Design” (Tilbury House Publishers, November 2006, $59.95), highlights the exacting designer’s attention to detail by including his meticulous drafts as well as the specs for his designs. The authors categorize his vessels — such as double-enders, small boats, keel-centerboard yawls, etc. — and include vignettes for each. For example, Nielsen’s Holger Danske, a 42-foot, 6-inch double-ended cruising ketch (featured on the book’s cover), went on to win the 1980 Newport-to-Bermuda Race, 16 years after her launching and after logging 50,000 miles at sea. Of his design, the ever-careful Nielsen wrote, “when an owner desires a double-ender, this shape can provide a reasonable balance between a too-fine and a too-broad conventional stern — again, if properly designed.”

Nielsen’s original plans, papers and related files are preserved at the PeabodyEssexMuseum in Massachusetts. Maynard Bray is technical editor for WoodenBoat magazine and Tom Jackson has served as associate editor of WoodenBoat magazine since 1997.

Contact: Tilbury House Publishers, .

Pacific coast wonders before Lewis and Clark

In 1741, well before Lewis and Clark, a Russian expedition ship captained by Vitus Bering carried the first scientist, Georg Steller, to visit North America’s Pacific Coast, according to Dean Littlepage’s “Steller’s Island: Adventures of a Pioneer Naturalist in Alaska” (The Mountaineers Books, October 2006, $17.95). Steller’s 10-year expedition introduced the rest of the world to the biological wonders along the southern Alaskan coast.

Littlepage uses the naturalist’s logbook written aboard the St. Peter to flesh out Steller’s expedition with maps and illustrations of plants, people and marine animals discovered along the route, such as the Steller sea lion (Eumotopias jubatus) and Steller’s sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas), extinct by 1768. Steller catalogued more than a hundred previously unknown plants in one day along the Alaskan coast; for example, the salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis): “Because of its exceptional size and its unique and exquisite taste, this fruit … deserved that a few bushes of it be taken along in a box with soil to be sent to St. Petersburg to be propagated,” wrote Steller. He also became one of the first ships’ physicians to treat scurvy at sea, giving his crew wild, vitamin-rich greens when the disease struck aboard St. Peter. “Steller’s discovery came well in advance of ‘official’ medicine … fifty years before lime juice became standard preventive medicine on British ships,” writes Littlepage.

Steller died in the Siberian winter of 1746, leaving behind plants and animals bearing his name, reflecting the long biological reach of his discoveries. Littlepage served as a special exhibits curator for the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.

Contact: The Mountaineers Books, .

Customize your private cruise

“Say goodbye to long security lines, overpriced piña coladas, and jam-packed shore excursions,” reads the back cover of Kim Kavin’s book, “Have the Whole Boat: The Insider’s Guide to Private Yacht Charter Vacations” (iUniverse, 2006, $23.95). Kavin compares cruise ships and yacht chartersto showcase the biggest advantage of the latter: personalized comfort.

Kavin details the different types of charters available, from bareboats to fully crewed yachts, which can include marble hot tubs and gigantic plasma TV. Powerboats, sailboats, catamarans, megayachts and super-sized megayachts are each explained, with blueprints and cross-sectionals detailing the vessels’ typical layouts, as well as pros and cons for each. She also includes possible destinations and even sample itineraries; for example, if on a charter in the South Pacific from Huahine to Taha’a, you can stop at the island of Raiatea to cruise inside a reef and visit pearl farms ashore and, unlike a packaged cruise tour, you can leave when you like. Kavin concludes with a listing of magazines, Web sites and contacts for booking a charter.

Kim Kavin is vice president of Boating Writers International, and writes regularly for luxury lifestyle magazines including Elite Traveler, Celebrated Living and Traveler Overseas.

Contact: iUniverse, .