- by Carol Standish
Roland Sawyer Barth, author of Cruising Rules (Head Tide Press - e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; 110pp; $12.95) is a teaching sailor (as opposed to a sailing teacher) in the grand tradition of our sage and seasoned Roger Duncan. Concluding the preface to his new book, Barth states, "These stories…are idiosyncratic, even peculiar. Yet they express metaphors and teachings which are universal and lasting for me—and, I hope, useful for you." The word "useful" is the give away. A teacher, especially a New England teacher, tainted with Calvinism as he/she must be, is driven to constantly draw conclusions from life experience and share that "useful" information with any audience available. Duncan himself uses the word frequently.
A cautious reader may proceed with trepidation if is he/she isn't in the mood to receive "useful" information but not to worry Cruising Rules is not a lecture. The stories Barth refers to in his preface relate to the origin of 25 highly "useful" cruising rules which he has culled from the considerable time he has spent on small sailing craft—during which he has learned many "useful" lessons.
Several of the "cruising rules" are derived from the premise that any mild idiosyncrasy, barely visible character flaw, or insignificant habit one might admit to becomes magnified in inverse proportion to the size of the boat. No one with more than two hours of boating time under his/her belt can deny such a truism. Unfortunately, what's true for the ordinary seaman is quadrupally true for the captain. Captain Barth's personal anecdotes relating to this age-old shipboard problem are told with unabashed self-deprecating humor. Even when a captain is wrong, he's right. (See rule number sixteen.)
Certain rules like "the hand that holds the paintbrush determines the color" (rule number seven), "the gods protect beginning sailors and fools, sometimes both at once" (number ten) and "reef early and often" (number twelve) are already familiar to most boaters but it is comforting to see such lessons in print accompanied by sombody else's apocryphal stories. Other cruising rules are not as generally familiar as one might assume. Number fifteen for instance, "be careful who you get in a boat with," evolved from an experience with several desperate bluefish and a swamped dinghy.
Barth's breezy style and sharp observations, laced with humor, keep the book from being the slightest bit preachy. In fact one of the best stories is somewhat at the expense of a preacher. Handsomely designed by daughter Joanna Barth the book is complemented by Jane Crosen's delightful map and Jon Luoma's deft and humorous illustrations. Cruising Rules is a keeper. Reading selections aloud of an occasional evening at anchor on your next sea voyage may prove "useful," especially if you're the captain.