Skip to main content

Book Notes - New England

It would seem that to be a Draggerman a fellow must have the eyes of a cat, the strength of a horse, the guts of a camel, the patience of Job and the willingness to shun shore women in favor of school fish. This is a starter.

—Draggerman’s Haul

New England fisherman’s autobiography republished

By 1950, Capt. Ellery Franklin Thompson had put in 35 years fishing the waters of southern New England and was a waterfront fixture from Rhode Island to New London, Conn.

Spurred by a series of articles profiling him in The New Yorker three years earlier, Thompson penned the now re-published autobiographical “Draggerman’s Haul” ($18.95, Flat Hammock Press, 2007).

His narration of his life as a draggerman covers topics from women to dragging (he offers a list of things he has hauled out of the sea aside from fish: “… some dead man’s finger sponge … a skull … tibia … pelvic bone; an unexploded bomb”). When looking back on his days spent on the water, he offers insights with anecdotes. He writes, describing attempts to rescue his brother Morris from a fatal overboard accident: “Any man or woman who goes overboard in an attempt to rescue another, without taking along with him the end of a line (if it’s handy, and it should be on any boat worth a damn), is asking for trouble of the kind that’s deadly.” Capt. Thompson died in 1986 at the age of 87.

The expanded edition features a forward by Bernard L. Gordon, Northeastern University Professor Emeritus and owner of Watch Hill Book & Tackle Shop, and a publisher’s afterword by Stephen Jones, professor in the Maritime Studies Department at the University of Connecticut, AveryPoint. Both men were friends of Thompson. The book also includes information on Thompson’s sea paintings along with photos of a few examples.

Contact: Flat Hammock Press,

Boating off the beaten path

In a sequel to their previous bestseller, “Honey, Let’s Get a Boat,”authors Ron and Eva Stob continue exploring eastern North America by boat in their latest, “Great Loop Side Trips: 20 Cruising Adventures on Eastern North America’s Waterways” ($21.95, Raven Cove Publishing, Nov. 2007). The Stobs continue to discover North America by traveling the “blue highways” — the rivers, lakes and canals that flow into the main streams of the “interstate,” or Great Loop. Every spring and fall of the last several years, the authors hitched their 25-foot boat, Li’l Looper, to their pick-up truck and hauled it to places they had never before visited.

Written for both the cruiser and trailerboater, the book includes information on charts, guidebooks, marinas and launch maps needed to cruise each of the side trips. An appendix is also included and features a resource list along with information on trailerboating, electronic charting, cruising with pet cats.

In addition to writing and photographing for numerous boating and travel publications (including Soundings), the Stobs are founders and former directors of America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association, formed in 1999.

Contact: Raven Cove Publishing, (865) 856-7888

A man seduced by beautiful ships

Ancient Greek mythology’s sirens lured sailors to a rocky death with their songs; Ernest K. Gann’s sirens did not sing, but they lured him nonetheless. “Song of the Sirens” ($19.95, Sheridan House, 2007), originally published in 1968, details Gann’s love affair with 17 of his most beloved vessels and of his years as master of a commercial fishing vessel along the Pacific. His infatuations reveal that, at least to him, the ships were as beautiful as any living being. “I paddled around the Albatros for nearly an hour photographing as if my subject were a bride posed before Niagara Falls,” he writes.

Ernest K. Gann was a sailor, a professional airline pilot and a writer.His books include “Fate is the Hunter,” “Island in the Sky,” and “In the Company of Eagles.”

Contact: Sheridan House,

France’s late, great luxury liner recalled

More than 200 glossy photographs, maps, illustrations and cross-sections are included in John Maxtone-Graham’s “Normandie: France’s Legendary Art Deco Ocean Liner” ($100, W.W. Norton & Company Inc., Dec. 2007). Normandie entered into service by the French Line at the end of May 1935 and was designed by disciples of the late art-deco luminary Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann. The turbo-electric passenger ship was considered an example of “civilized travel,” and boasted luxuries such as the North Atlantic’s first theater for both films and live performance, a chapel and an indoor pool with sloping beach, as well as a galley of 187 cooks.

The comprehensive hardcover book recreates the life of the vessel from her construction and its labor troubles to eyewitness accounts provided by the author’s mother and a Jewish stowaway from Poland escaping the Nazis during World War II, among others.

John Maxtone-Graham spends more than half his year lecturing aboard ocean liners and has written numerous works, including “The Only Way to Cross.”

Contact: W.W. Norton & Co. Inc.,

Florida’s role in AIW history

Author William G. Crawford Jr. endeavors to put to paper the first comprehensive look at the assembly of the Florida portion of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AIW) in his book, “Florida’s Big Dig: The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway from Jacksonville to Miami, 1881-1935” ($29.95 paperback/$34.95 hardcover, The Florida Historical Society Press, 2006). The book traces the history of the waterway from the founding fathers’ quarrels over how the government should be involved in commerce, to St. Augustine investors whose vision extended beyond their budgets, to its completion in the 1930s.

The waterway, created for the purpose of protected passage for freight-carrying ships, now promotes recreation and one of Florida’s major industries — boating.

Crawford was a Ft.Lauderdale attorney for more than 30 years and has appeared as a historian on the History Channel’s Modern Marvels documentary on the AIW.

Contact: The Florida Historical Society Press, .