Tidewater Review June 2006

The Hal Roth Seafaring Trilogy: Three True Stories of Adventure Under Sail, by Hal Roth. Camden, Maine, New York, San Francisco, etc.: International Marine/McGraw-Hill. Illustrated with photographs and maps. 255 pages. $27.95. ISBN 0-07-146133-7
      Hal Roth, now living in Easton, is not only one of the most experienced small-boat sailors on earth, he is also one of the very best maritime writers I’ve ever read. The trilogy at hand is based on three of his previous publications, viz:
      Two on a Big Ocean, first published in 1972, is an account of Roth’s 18,538-mile circumnavigation of the Pacific Ocean basin with his wife Margaret, but no other crew, on their 35-foot sloop, Whisper.
      Two Against Cape Horn, first published in 1978, is starring the same Mr. and Mrs. Roth and their risky little yacht trip around the south end of South America, Cape Horn.
      The Longest Race, is Roth’s book about the 30,000-mile, non-stop, one-man sailboat race around the world that was started (and finished) at Falmouth, England in the late 1960s. The Roths didn’t participate, but his account of the race, first published in 1983, has been revised and updated in The Hal Roth Seafaring Trilogy.
      On their Big Ocean cruise around the Pacific, the Roths “steered Whisper largely with an automatic mechanism, a Halser wind vane steering gear...[which] never grumbled, never got hungry, and was particularly good on long night watches. It gave Margaret and me time to navigate, do odd jobs, read, and get plenty of sleep. Steering hour after hour is a bore....”
      I mention his upbeat judgment of the automatic mechanism because he pans a few sailboat gadgets here and there in his trilogy and is apparently not a complete fan of boat designers and builders, not to mention hired crews. Nor did Margaret Roth approve of the way the U.S. government managed some of the Pacific islands acquired after World War II. She is quoted as saying in American Samoa:
     “It’s truly incredible how junky the waterfronts of these U.S. islands are....We’ve visited French and British islands and I’ve seen photographs of these places during the German and Japanese times. Each administration except the American manages to have neat villages, reasonable roads and some order.”
      In an aside in his account of their Cape Horn trip through volcanic scenery, wild seas and godawful weather, Roth notes that the English admiral, Sir Francis Drake (1543-1596), sailed through the historic Atlantic-to-Pacific route, the Strait of Magellan, in 16 days in 1577. The strait’s namesake, the Spanish explorer, Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521), took 37 days. The Roths stayed in the area somewhat longer, thanks to damage sustained by Whisper and time required to make repairs.
      Nine sailors, one to each sailboat, started in The Longest Race. Six were Englishmen, two were Frenchmen, one was Italian. The race rules, developed by its sponsor, The Times of London, stipulated that each captain must man the boat by himself, must not stop at any port, and must sail around Cape Horn, Cape Leeuwin (Australia) and the Cape of Good Hope.
      An Englishman, Robin Knox-Johnston, won it in 313 days according to the rules. A Frenchman, Bernard Boitessier, sailed around the world and finished ahead of Knox-Johnston, as did Nigel Tetley, yet another Englishman, but neither did it strictly according to the Times of London rules.
      Tetley later committed suicide and Roth’s book about the race is dedicated to him as “...one of the nine sailors in this astonishing race. He had a stout heart, an indomitable spirit, and incredibly bad luck.”

Maryland: An Explorer’s Guide, by Leonard M. Adkins. Woodstock, Vermont: The Countryman Press. Illustrated. Index. 496 pages. Paperback. $19.95. ISBN 10:0-88150-669-9
      The author here, Leonard M. Adkins, has also written 13 other tourist guidebooks. He lives in Virginia, has won the National Outdoor Book Award and is married to an Annapolis native. Any or all of which may have inspired his last book, 50 Hikes in Maryland, as well as this new one, Maryland: An Explorer’s Guide.
      Adkins is thorough. He describes the hotels, restaurants, tours, excursions – all the standard guide data. What’s more, he recognizes the Eastern Shore for the important segment of Maryland history it was – and is. It’s “a land where time has stood still,” he writes, “...or at least slowed down considerably.... The area is unmarred by huge malls and strips of fast-food restaurants.... Thriving downtown districts still exist in a number os small towns.... Although rising amounts of traffic and tourism have resulted in subtle changes in Eastern Shore lifestyles, outside influences have also helped bring about an increased awareness of a need to preserve the natural world.”
      Specific subtle Shore lifestyle changes he suggests include:
      *”St. Michaels [which] is now a trendy destination with dozens of upscale shops, boutiques, B&Bs, antique stores, numerous festivals focusing on boating and/or the Bay and some of the finest restaurants in Maryland....Parking is free on the street, but good luck finding a spot on the weekends.”
      *”The Easton Art Museum is “[b]y far one of the best local art councils in Maryland.”
      *Washington College clubs, etc., in Chestertown, “sponsor several film series, festivals, and programs throughout the year, many of them with topics not found anywhere other than a college campus.”
      Our great Free State, especially the Eastern Shore, really turns on some artists and writers from elsewhere: right?

The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times, by Jeffrey Hart. Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books. Illustrated. Index. 395 pages. $28.00. ISBN 1-932236-81-3
      Political conservatives now control the U.S. government from all three political directions – executive, legislative and judicial – but they didn’t take charge overnight. Conservatives were almost completely out of it through the 1930 Depression and until a Republican (Ike Eisenhower) was elected President in 1952. They have elected four others, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.B. Bush and his son George W. Bush. And they have gained strength after that, although they were still somewhat of the defensive during the more or less liberal Democratic administrations of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
      Conservative political and cultural thinking may be the most civilized, God-fearing, honorable, commonsensical and ... well, the most thoughtful thinking ever developed in our Republic. We are, in fact, assured that is so by this new history of the elite, 51-year-old magazine of conservative opinion, National Review.
      The author of The Making of the American Conservative Mind, Jeffrey Hart, is a professor emeritus of English at Dartmouth, the author of nine books, and since 1967, a senior editor of National Review (NR for short). He notes in his preface that he “has himself been shaped in good measure by reading the magazine from November 1955 through the present.”
      His opinions and those in NR editorials and articles are both plentiful in the book – and, of course, are quite similar and quite conservative. A few examples follow:
      In regards to President Eisehower: “Yet we now know that Ike seriously considered destroying ... the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons....”
      In regards to President Kennedy: “So much of what people remember about Kennedy was an illusion – the health and vigor he projected in the 1960 campaign .... ‘Let the torch pass to a new generation....’ This was all rhetoric, the reality was very different.”
About President Johnson: “’Arrrrgh.’ Such, in full, was the lead editorial paragraph with which National Review welcomed Lyndon Johnson’s landslide 1964 victory over Barry Goldwater.”
      In regards to President George W. Bush: “Bush was the first president who relied for his electoral majority on an evangelical base.”
The intellectual founding father of NR is William F. Buckley, Jr., son of a rich oil industry executive, author of God and Man at Yale and countless other books, star of “Crossfire,” a serious political-debate show on TV, possessor of a vivid grin that occasionally appears to be a grimace. NR’s inspirational hero is Edmund Burke, the 18th-century British writer, orator and statesman.
      Resident heroic elder editorial writers at the magazine have included the late James Burnham, an atheist, a disillusioned Trotskyist deserter and author of The Managerial Revolution.
      In its first 50 years, NR increased its circulation from less than 7,500 to at least 170,000 patrons. Not bad for a highbrow political review, very few of which attract many readers or advertisers and none of which I am aware has earned much money.

Bad Cat Puts On His Top Hat, by Tracy-Lee McGuinness-Kelly. New York, Boston: Little, Brown and Company. Illustrated. 34 pages. $15.99. ISBN 0-316-60547-6
      The cartoon protagonist is this cute little book, Bad Cat, is a solid black tomcat drawn with a perfectly circular head, triangular ears, circular eyes and nose, an oval mouth full of triangular teeth, and a thin wavy tail and straight arms of identical width from tip to body.
      He’s drawn, too, with almost no highlights or shading and would have been relatively easy to animate during the pre-computer movie era when screen animation was done by hand and produced the black-and-white antics of “Felix the Cat.” Bad Cat, in fact, could be a direct descendant of Felix.
      Most of the children for whom this story is intended have probably never heard of Felix. Some adults may recognize the similarity and enjoy it, though.
      Bad Cat commits a series of slapstick misdemeanors, then puts on a top hat and dances to fame. Children often enjoy misdemeanors more than adults do.
      The author, Tracy-Lee McGuinness-Kelly, is also the illustrator, a British subject and the only person I’ve ever heard of whose name incorporates two hyphens.