Book Profile - Sea-going tales a good read
The Last of a Salty Breed is a new release by Mangawhai author Roy Vaughan who, as a former merchant seaman himself has traced the shipping lines of the world from the Vikings to Viking Lane.
Vaughan’s own family tree is traced throughout the tome – from his boyhood home in the Channel Island to the family migration to New Zealand – but he weaves an interesting tale of the DNA of the people involved very skilfully. This same DNA trail can also be followed through many of the foremost shipyards which abounded in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. Each yard had certain traits in design and build methods that distinguished the vessels they produced.
Much more than a ship’s log, readers will find the lives of the vessels through the ages are as many and varied as the men who sailed them. From the strong and dedicated career seamen right through to the miscreants who fled to sea to escape former lives, the ships similarly plied noble trade and won wartime glory only later to be demoted to murky coastal waters. And while some were well treated in their dotage, others found infamy in the dubious waters of North Africa or the Carribean ferrying contraband, slaves or arms before vanishing in the Bermuda triangle or dying of shame on a barren windswept beach on the coast of nowhere.
Despite the hardships of yesteryear, man against the elements was about as raw as life could get during weeks, if not months, at sea but Boys Own-type tales of piracy, slavery, hand-to-hand combat, chests of gold ducats and the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger cultivated romantic tales – though there was mostly little romance in seamanship during war or for traders. Those who plied the Portugese, Spanish and middle eastern routes found a new education and romance through new peoples, textiles, fruits and the odours of spices from West Africa and far off climes.
The progression of steel from wooden craft, diesel engines, refrigeration, and the simple growth in size, magnitude and carrying capacity is well documented, then the later competition that forced re-trenchment of sea cargo with the advent of air travel and public demands of ‘time being of the essence’, never more obvious than today.
For those aged 65 or over, history from school will be re-kindled through the names of Vasco da Garma, Drake, Cabot, Columbus, and then the relative newcomers Tasman and James Cook who opened the polynesian routes and thus remain near and dear to Kiwis.
Mangawhai is also mentioned not only through the home of the author but as the area in which rests the Niagara, sunk by Germans off Bream Head and the SS Talbot which gave passage to the initial settlers of the Bowmar family, now still steeped throughout many families in the district.
In some ways The Last of a Salty Breed could be seen as rather unconventional but will appeal to a wider readership than just those with boating interests through its emphasis on the human factor and character of ships and it is important that those who put to sea over these years leave a record of how life was then.
This book will be seen as a valuable addition to the history of the Merchant Navy.
n Official release ceremony: Boat Books, 22 Westhaven Drive, Auckland. Friday December 4 at 4pm. Available Amazon.com/books. Published by Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Co.