Alan Villiers,
Square-Rigged Ships
(National Maritime Museum, 1975; 2009)

Alan Villiers had a great love for sailing ships, and in Square-Rigged Ships: An Introduction -- first published in 1975, seven years before Villiers' death, and reprinted in 2009 by the National Maritime Museum in London, with a new foreword by the author's son, Peter Villiers -- he tries to explain why.

This concise volume is by no means a definitive work on sailing. Rather, in just about 70 pages, Villiers describes both his passion and the pragmatism of sail. In this brief look at both the ships and the men who sailed them, he demonstrates a foresightedness that presages the environmental movement with the practicality of wind-powered transportation.

Square-Rigged Ships is at most a day's read, and I took my turn on a windswept cliff on the coast of Maine, even as a pair of two-masted pleasure rigs drifted by. But Villiers wasn't interested in recreational sailing; no, he focuses here on working ships and the dying expertise it took to master the seas.

With language that borders at times on poetry, Villiers lays a solid foundation for further study on sailing. This slim book is a good place to get started.

review by
Tom Knapp

17 July 2010

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