Monday, December 11, 2006

Nautical knowledge

click photo to enlarge
As I watched these two yachts sail out of the mouth of the River Wyre into the Irish Sea on a cold, calm December day, I quietly reflected that I know next to nothing about modern boats. However, I thought, I can keep up my end of the conversation in a discussion about eighteenth and nineteenth century warships and merchantmen! From "first rates" to "sixth rates", frigates to sloops, xebecs to luggers and polacres, I'm familiar with them all through the writing of Patrick O'Brian.

The twenty novels (warning - plots revealed later in link) describing the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his ship's surgeon (and intelligence agent), Dr Stephen Maturin, are a wonderful combination of high adventure, political and personal intrigue, naval warfare, science and natural history. For me that's a compelling combination, and I've read the complete collection twice in the past ten years. I'm not usually a fan of the "historical novel", but these books are as different from a typical example of that genre as Beethoven is from Britney Spears. One leaves these stories having been both entertained and informed: these are literate books, and the intelligence of the author shines through every page. An incidental pleasure of reading the novels is to discover just how many of the phrases that we use in everyday life - "the bitter end", "no great shakes", "show his true colours", "square meal", to name but a few - have a naval or nautical lineage. The 2003 film, "Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World", starring Russell Crowe, is a good film and an introduction to the world the novels describe. But it isn't a patch on the books! If you want a few months of deep enjoyment, search them out.

A photograph of distant yachts on a flat sea doesn't offer much visual interest, so I filled the right of the frame with the silhouette of the end of Fleetwood Pier. This acts as a pointer, a frame, and a compositional balance for the yachts, and its reflection adds interest to the water. Fortunately there were a couple of points of colour on the yacht to give accents to this blue and dark brown scene. I used a long zoom lens at 184mm (35mm equivalent), with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f6.3 at 1/500 sec), with the ISO at 100, and -0.3EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen