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Notable New Books

Jan 1, 2003

Jack Corbett, Marinerby A.S. Hatch

The son of a Vermont doctor, 20-year-old A.S. Hatch was sent to sea to be "cured" of asthma and a frail constitution or "killed" by it if the life proved too strenuous. The year was 1840, which means that Richard Henry Dana's bestseller Two Years Before the Mast had been published just nine years before. Hatch's father no doubt read Dana's tale, noted that the Harvard-educated blue blood had been effectively matured and strengthened by his time at sea, and sent his son off for similar treatment.

The young Hatch spent only a few months aboard a trans-Atlantic packet sailing between New York and Liverpool, but he met an old salt who took him under his wing, showed him the ropes, and encouraged him to embrace the rigorous life of a fo'c's'le hand. The old mariner's name was Jack Corbett, a fellow whose Irish brogue and his penchant for liquor and swearing did not diminish in him a sense of honor and a loyalty to his protégé. Corbett cared for Hatch like a doting nurse, but after their voyages aboard the packet were over, Hatch returned to life ashore, becoming a prosperous businessman, while Corbett continued a life at sea before the mast. They didn't see each other for 30 years, after which time Hatch had gone on to become one of New York's most wealthy citizens and president of the New York Stock Exchange. Corbett, meanwhile, had had a hard life at sea. The two met up again, and Hatch hired Corbett to care for his numerous yachts, tend to the safety of his 11 children, and be a general handyman for his vast estate in upstate New York. Corbett still drank and swore, activities which Hatch's children attempted to prevent, but the union between the two most unlikely friends led to many happy times.

Jack Corbett: Mariner is a fascinating story, different from Dana's tale in almost every way, except for the background circumstances. Where Dana was treated harshly by a heartless crew, Hatch thrived under the supervision of his awkward mentor and a patient and kind crew. Dana hated his years at sea. Hatch loved the experience. Both were strengthened and became successful at business and outspoken activists in caring for those less fortunate than themselves.

Denny Hatch, great-grandson of AS Hatch, made possible the publication of this volume, which has been in the family since it was written toward the end of the 19th century.

Quantuck Lane Press, New York; 212-790-4375; 270 pages; $24.95.

Dangerous Waters - Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seasby John S. Burnett

There is perhaps no book timelier for ocean voyagers than this one coming as it does following news in late August that another attack of piracy occurred against unsuspecting voyagers, this time off the Venezuelan coast. On Aug. 27, American Tom White and his father-in-law were aboard their Gulfstar 47, at anchor in Carenero, Venezuela, when they were boarded by five armed men. White was reportedly "pistol-whipped" about the head and knocked unconscious while his father-in-law was wrapped in a blanket and tied up. The men ransacked the boat, stole numerous items, including the dinghy and its 18-hp outboard motor. The men then left. After sending out a distress call via HAM radio, which was picked up by a shore-side American radio operator, the two men were eventually assisted by a joint effort of Venezuelan and U.S. officials.

Piracy is a major problem in the world, to recreational and commercial craft alike. Yet, should fear of attack prevent people from voyaging into the unknown? The author of Dangerous Waters decided to learn for himself. Burnett, a professional journalist for The Guardian and National Geographic, is an experienced voyager who, in 1992, was attacked by pirates in the South China Sea. In preparation for writing this book, he arranged to travel aboard a very large crude carrier (VLCC) to see firsthand the efforts being made by oil companies to combat the problem of piracy, which reportedly results in a loss of millions of dollars each year and many lives. Burnett supplies all the horror of what piracy throughout the ages has involved: numerous scenes of hand-to-hand combat with the crudest of deadly weapons, chains, knives, clubs and guns, all wielded by desperate men from ragged Third World countries.

In the book's afterward, Burnett ponders the new feeling he has about sailing about the world in a small boat with the knowledge he acquired about pirates. "The boundless freedom that we once knew as blue water sailors is no longer there," he wrote. Whether wandering the seas is still worth the effort is certainly a question each mariner needs to ask before heading to sea.

Dutton/Penguin Putnam, New York; 212-366-2262; 332 pages; $24.95.

How to Read a Nautical Chartby Nigel Calder

Chart No. 1, the collection of chart arcana for cautious navigators, is no longer printed by the government. Nigel Calder has gathered the fodder and offered a more complete analysis of the material. The result is a worthy achievement.

International Marine, Camden, Maine; 237 pages; $14.95.

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