Every once in awhile, a book comes along that reminds us all how much can be fit into the pages of a slim volume. BoatSense, by Doug Logan (a friend and former colleague), is just such a tome. Part storybook, part pithy advice on boat-repair issues, and part psychological hand-holding for the boat-afflicted, Doug has packed a career’s worth of advice, tales, and knowledge into writing that never preaches—and always entertains.
You had me at “story”
I’d already read a few of the tales in this book during my former life as a managing editor, and when I sat down to read BoatSense I expected it would simply be a collection of previously written, witty but somewhat curmudgeonly, flashbacks to the “good old days.” That’s even what the introduction seemed to promise; Doug first explains his yen for simplicity on boats, as well as a professed lack of shipwright skills. (“I avoid fiberglassing if I can, because I usually glue myself together.”) I was completely unsurprised by his much-espoused theory that DIY is “good for you,” even if not always pleasant. And once he wrapped up the intro with a summary of specific language choices (rope, dead reckoning, helms-MAN), and his reasons for those choices, I got ready to settle in for a bunch of waterfront yarns.
Instead, I turned the page to chapter one and discovered a new life philosophy. Since paraphrasing won’t do his words justice, I’ll offer the first two paragraphs in full:
“Here’s a theory of existence: When you go Aloft, they check you for stories. They want to know what you’ve tried, noticed, and learned on the old planet. They find out whether you’ve whiled away your years in a lounger with a game console in your hands or challenged yourself in the actual world instead. You get credit not just for achievement, but for effort, and for the degree of difficulty of things attempted, and for knowing the difference between adventures (which are calculated risks) and hare-brained schemes.
“You notice, as you’re standing there waiting for the ethereal being with the clipboard, that the old saying was absolutely correct—you didn’t bring a single thing with you. Your car is behind you. Your clothes and your dishes are behind you. Your new widescreen TV, your smartphone, and even your beloved boat are back there. All those things that seemed important are not with you. All you have is the stories you can tell. In your case and mine these will include some sea stories. If we’re lucky, our interlocutor will be a sailor, too: ‘Well, now, bucko, spin us a yarn of your voyage.’”
But wait, there’s more
All you have is the stories you can tell. And Doug’s got some great yarns, though they are somewhat difficult to categorize. What other book would include such wide-ranging chapter headings as The Tao, The Hsü, Whatever and Embrace the Hacksaw? Or such casually personal (but still bitingly observant) comments like this one: “I, for one, am not interested in sailing too near ice unless it’s surrounded by bourbon in a mug.”
As I dug in, though, I realized there was way more tucked between the two shiny covers than just stories and the occasional photo. Doug has also managed to distill a lifetime of paying attention into lessons we can all use in our regular lives, both on and off the water—once again, as varied as his own experience: A clear explanation of electricity. Lists of the necessary tools and galley items. A checklist for stepping onto an unfamiliar boat. And last but certainly not least, “A Few Good Reference Books,” for those who want to continue reading.
My one small complaint is the typos; several instances of repeated words, which should’ve been caught before going to press. But none of them kept this book from achieving its goal of entertaining while educating. We learn best when we’re laughing, and Doug Logan’s kindly-uncle voice keeps his lessons light enough to be easily absorbed.
Who should read this book
Recommended for boat-nerds of all sizes and ages (as well as those who aspire to boat-nerd-dom), BoatSense is also a reminder to this author that straying outside the box of predictability can lead to a very special, very personal, creation. It might be a hard one to categorize, but this book will make an easy gift for anyone who thinks deeply about the world—especially if they like stories that center down on boats.
PS: For RI readers, Doug will be speaking about BoatSense (and maybe sharing a few additional yarns) at the Jamestown Philomenian Library on November 21 at 6:15pm. Leave a comment below or email me for more info. Meanwhile, thanks for reading!