Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Saturday, February 13, 2021

My Library -- The Sea Books (Part One)


My Sea and Ship Book Shelves

I never ran away to sea. I am not a risk taker. My definition of a real world “adventure” is an unpleasant incident in the past. I’m not one to seek out those unpleasant experiences. Except, of course in books. However, if I was a risk taker, I think running away to the sea would’ve suited my taste for adventure.

As you can see from the picture above, I have several shelves of books related to the sea, ships, and shipping, both fact and fiction. Too many to cover in one post, so I think I’ll focus on just one author and one type of book – Basil Lubbock and clipper ships, especially tea clippers. My first introduction to tea clippers was from the book The China Clipper, pictured below.

To tell the story of how I came to discover the book, we need to turn the clock back to 1969, and my sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin. That was the year they decided to let underclassmen into the stacks of the University Library. Prior to that, if you wanted to take out a book from the library, at least as an underclassman, you had to go to the card file, find the book you wanted by riffling through the cards and then make out and hand in a written request for it. Someone would then fetch it for you. In my sophomore year, the opened the stacks to everyone.

The stacks of the University Library was a wonderful, almost never-land sort of place. Six or more dimly lit floors of books, with little study cubicles to read them. I spent many hours just wandering through the stacks. Early on I searched out the nautical and naval history section. In high school my friends and I had been fighting naval battles on our basement floor with 1:1200 metal models of warships. Each of us collected ships of a different navy. I had, and still have, the warships of the Royal Navy. The game was played with rules invented by Fletcher Pratt. Yes, that Fletcher Pratt, the science fiction author. The game involved moving your ships, aiming at the enemy, and then writing down and assigning your ship’s volley an estimated range, which was then measured out with a tape measure. Inverted golf tees were used to indicate where your shells fell. Great fun.

Well, I’m off course again. Suffice to say that naval history drew me to the section of the nautical history section of the stacks. I was studying Chinese and East Asian history, and had begun to drink tea, on occasion, so I have to believe the title of the book, The China Clippers, and the subject – tea clippers is what enticed me to began reading the book when I spied it on the shelf.

Basil Lubbock 

Basil Lubbock was an adventurer, Though educated at Eton, he did not go on to university, but instead, sailed for Canada. He joined the Yukon gold rush, sailed as a sailor in sailing ships, soldiered in the Boer War and WW l and played cricket. His histories of the ships and trades were often gathered from correspondence with the people who sailed on them. At any rate, they were anything but dull academic reading. The China Clippers and his Log of the Cutty Sark brought the romance of the tea clippers to life for me.

In fact, I invented a China Clipper race game that covered the treacherous South China Sea, that seemed to reproduce the recorded times pretty well. I think I still have that as well. I never bothered to go beyond Anjer, and on into the Indian, South Atlantic, and North Atlantic Oceans with the game, to take the race all the way to its finish line, the London dock., But it was sailing the South China Sea that usually made or broke a rapid journey home to London. But I’m off the rails again...

Anyway, Lubbock went on to write a number of books, both fact and fiction, regarding the life and trade of the hay day and decline of the sailing ship that you can see in the photo above. He also wrote entries for the sailing ships that Jack Spurling painted for the magazine Sail, and which were collected in the large book, The Best of Sail. I’ve included some of Jack Spurling’s wonderful sailing ship paintings below.

The Tea Clipper Taeping

Over the years I’ve collected several other books on the China tea clippers, see my shelf above. As well as books on sailing ships in general. Over the years, their stories have served to inspire a number of my stories, published and unpublished. Indeed, I must admit that a sea story disguised with spaceships has always been one of my favorite types of stories. Which is why I wrote one myself.

Tea Clipper Arial

Tea Clipper Cutty Sark

I'll get around to writing about some of my other favorite authors of sea stories -- C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne, W Clark Russell, Guy Gilpatric, and Patrick O'Brian at some future date.

In other news, I finished the second draft of The Secrets of Valsummer House. I expect to have the third and hopefully final draft ready for proofreading my next weekend. We'll see.

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