Friday, May 29, 2015

BOAT RACE: Two Boat Books, Idyll v Legal

Quotes about Boats, by someone who has
been boating all her life and sailing all her
married life. Photos by her daughter.
This week in New York I am spending time at the huge BookExpo America (BEA 2015), the largest book-trade show in the United States. It is in New York this year at the Javits Center. Next year it will be in Chicago.

On my travels among the exhibits I picked up two books that provide two entirely different perspectives on boating - one is idyllic and the other legalistic. You might call it a case of Benefits v. Costs, or a case of Opportunities v. Risks.


The first book is Quotes about Boats, Lakes, Seas and the Shore. The photos are by Audrey Sheehan and the quotes and book design are by her mother, artist Sara Booker.

They have been boaters all their lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area. They have produced an attractive, serene book on the joys of boats and sailing. It makes a good book to give to someone who likes boats.

The book is self-published. It has its own exhibit at BookExpo featuring the author - quite unusual for the author-publisher of a single book. Clearly Sara Booker knows that it takes as much effort to promote a book as to write it, and she is persisting. She deserves success.

The 128 quotations are scrupulously cited and acknowledged and copyright notices included in tiny type at the end of the book, something that must have been a major headache for the author and seems in part to have been an afterthought since there is a two-page "Addendum" that consists primarily of 16 lengthy copyright citations for lyrics in the domain of the Hal Leonard Corporation.

The song titles include Come Sail Away, The Downeaster Alexa, I Won't Give Up, Island in the Sun, Sailing, Sail Away, Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay, Under the Boardwalk and Under the Sea.

A representative page of the the book has a sailboat under pink clouds on the top half, titled "Approaching Antigua". Underneath are two poems, one by John Masefield with the first line, "I must go down to the sea again," and the other by Edgar Allan Poe, "Annabel Lee".

One clever quote caught my eye: "A ship is referred to as 'she' because it costs so much to keep her in paint and powder." Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

Booker and Sheehan have done a non-trivial amount of sailing. The locations for the photos are not just the lakes of Michigan and Ohio. They extend from Hawaii to San Francisco, to several Caribbean Islands, to Key West and up the East Coast to Islamadora, Fla., South Carolina and Newport, R.I. I can't help thinking not just of the cost of these travels but also the opportunity cost of the time that must have been invested in them.

The book must have been satisfying to work on, a record of an enviable life, and it provides glimpses of the best moments of a sailor's life as well as morsels of intellectual nourishment.

One of the American Bar Association's
 entries into publications for the lay
reader. Highly readable, accessible to
anyone who knows how to read.
I sincerely hope that the results of the BookExpo investment pay for the author's investment in the exhibit and her time. The book is luxuriously put together and sells for $17.95, which seems about right given that experts at BookExpo warn newbies that nowadays books have to be priced high enough that after inevitable discounting the publisher can still make money.


Putting the Booker-Sheehan book aside and opening Cecil Kuhne III's The Little Book of Boating Law is like being woken from a wet dream by an alarm clock (or, worse, a bugle).

The book has 16 chapters, each of which begins - like the opening of a standard detective story - with a boating disaster.

The whole book starts with an acerbic quote from Samuel Johnson:
No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into jail; for being in a ship is being in jail, with the possibility of being drowned. A man in jail has more room, better food, and usually better company.
As fodder for the imagination, here are some of the topics covered in the book - a woman suffers permanent damage to her thumb, a boat capsizes, a man falls overboard, alcohol fuels risky behavior, a youthful boat driver ignores warnings, an owner engages in "negligent entrustment", the owner is charged with failure to warn passengers, a "sneaker wave" causes injury, the Coast Guard intervenes, a boater infringes trademarks, a boater doesn't alert a swimmer, boat is damaged, passengers assume  risk, motorboats violate prohibitions, inner tubing is perilous, the law finds fault, oil spill is illegal, a party pontoon (barge) is risky, boaters release liability, and jet skis are (guess what?) a vessel.

The book is full of sardonic humor, especially in the summations of the courts' decisions at the end of each chapter:
  • Two passengers on a boat sued the owner because they were injured by a "sneaker wave". The captain said "Hang on!" before the wave hit, and the court decided this was sufficient, i.e., he was not negligent. In other words, the author concludes, "when it comes to the dreaded sneaker wave - you are completely, undeniably, and irretrievably on your own."
  • A whitewater rafter sued Grand Canyon Dories for injuries she suffered in the raft, arguing that the raft was insufficiently padded. The court concluded that the rafts were standard and that "It is the thrill of challenging nature and running the rapids without mishap which gives the sport its distinct allure and sets it apart from, for example, a trip down a giant slide at Waterworld." The writer concludes: "The court recognized the significant distinction between one of the wildest rivers in the world and the log ride at the local amusement park."
  • A ski boat collided with a "party pontoon" at night on a lake in Arkansas. The pontoon owner sued the ski boat owner over the damage to the pontoon. No dice. The author recommends that the pontoon owner consider partying on a boat "in the - much safer - light of day."
  • A 13-year-old young man (many of the cases result from inadequately informed, or intoxicated, or bikini-distracted young men operating boats) crashed his rented jet ski into a fishing boat. A law is on the books limiting the liability of a vessel owner to the value of another person's  vessel and its freight when the vessel owner is unaware of the use to which the vessel is being put. The plaintiff argued that the jet ski is a pleasure craft and not a vessel and therefore has no limitation on liability. The court on appeal said no, it is a vessel. "The lowly jet ski - a seven-foot-long peashooter - was now a boat on par with the big boys."
Reading these two books together, the bottom line is: 
  1. If you haven't enjoyed the pleasures of sailing, put that on your bucket list or buy the Booker-Sheehan book as the next best thing. As the back of the book says, "a bad day on the water is infinitely better than a good day at work."
  2. Before you go boating or sailing, and especially before you buy a boat, check out the price tag not only of the initial acquisition but the cost in time and money of maintenance and unscheduled events. If you are unaware of the costs and risks of boating and sailing, experience can be an expensive way to find out. At $19.95, Kuhne's book is an inexpensive inoculation against nasty surprises. Not since Adam and Eve were evicted from paradise has heaven on earth been free of care.

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