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In the days before GPS and radar, the worst nightmare of the sea captain often came when he was nearest to safety.Running in from the ocean in thick weather on a darknight, reduced to dead reckoning and perhaps having had no sight of sun or stars for days, his situation was desperate.Captain after captain pressed on with his position uncertain, under the sort of stress today's navigator need never know, until, ahead in the darkness, he saw a blue flare burning from the pilot boat. Soon the ladder would go over the side to welcome the man the crew wanted to see more than any living soul: the pilot.
Pilot boats rode high among the most charismatic vessels in the days of sail. Uniquely for working craft, they had no requirement to carry cargo or a heavy catch of fish, so their designs were unencumbered with the need to perform under varying conditions of trim. Instead, their task was to transport small numbers of men out to ships, winter and summer, inwhatever weather came their way. Often stimulated by the sharp goad of mutual competition, pilot boats rapidly developed into supremely able vessels capable of being handled by the smallest of crews. Like the yachts of their day, they sought speed and close-windedness above almosteverything but, in contrast to pleasure craft, there could be no compromise with seaworthiness. In the words of John Masefield, 'Their tests were tempests, and the sea that drowns'.
Cover: Hampton Roads Pilot Boats c.1794.Recording the Pilots and their Boats
The whole world of piloting the cutters,the schooners, the rowing craft and, above all, the men and their stories has been the subject of surprisingly little literature. Original sources have remained untapped, while paintings and photographs so far unseen by all but a few have been lying in dusty cupboards. The opportunity to produce aworthwhile record that would also be aesthetically pleasing was too good to miss.
To manage this huge topic, publisher Chasse-MarTe brought together an international team of historians under the direction of Tom Cunliffe, author, researcher and well-known sailor and one-time owner of one of the few surviving pilot cutters. Working together for five years with Cunliffe as 'Chief Pilot', this highly qualified group of experts has produced a major three-volume work in that is as authoritative as it is beautiful.All aspects of piloting are ultimately covered, but Volume 1 encompasses the thrilling pilot schooners of North America and their British counterparts.
Contemporary images illustratea text that takes in the California Gold Rush, the development of the New-York schooner to the yacht America and beyond, blockade runners from Virginia, ice in the St Lawrence seaway, the powerful schooners of Liverpool, the mysterious but lovelyshallops of Swansea and many more besides. Alongside paintings reproduced in quality color, often over double-page spreads, are lines drawings and photographs with detailed annotations. Reading the book opens the mind to all facets of sailing-boat development, yet the yarns of the lives and sometimes the deaths of the pilots themselves maintain a livelyhuman interest.
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