National Geographic : 1962 Oct
A wide, wet world of adventure The Society's newest book chronicles centuries of seafaring By Melville Bell Grosvenor, LL.D., D.Sc. President and Editor, National Geographic Society MANY THOUSANDS of years ago, one of our ancestors discovered that if he lashed two or three logs together and climbed aboard, he could travel with a running stream. This was the first ship, and he the first sailor. Uncounted centuries went by before another nautical pioneer made a discovery that ranks with the wheel: He found that a breeze caught in a crude sail of woven reeds will drive a boat. That is how Capt. Alan Villiers, in the National Geographic Society's newest book, Men, Ships, and the Sea, describes man's first venturings afloat, venturings that would shape all human history. In commissioning Captain Villiers as the book's chief author, the Society chose the greatest sea writer of our time. He has sailed since boyhood in square-riggers, Arab dhows, World War II land ing craft, and recently in the Nuclear Ship Savan nah. To Men, Ships, and the Sea he brings unique knowledge and a sailor's gift for spinning a yarn. This book is particularly close to me, for I have been a sailor since I was six months old, when my parents took me on my first cruise. Since then I have never been far from the sight, sound, and smell of the sea-shoveling coal in a battleship's fireroom as a Naval Academy midshipman, racing a sloop on Chesapeake Bay, or sailing abroad. Men, Ships, and the Sea tells the whole story of man's long and turbulent romance with a fickle and often cruel mistress. The book's 436 pages carry us from the first tentative voyages through the Age of Sail and the heyday of sea exploration to the advent of atomic vessels. This is the kind of book I have always wanted the Society to publish. As I worked with skilled editor Merle Severy and his book staff, I found my self enthralled by Captain Villiers's account of how 552 Columbus lands on Hispaniola: a 16th-century engraving by Theodore de Bry. Burning curiosity drove the early explorers to seek the unknown and risk its imagined terrors. Their crude charts, blazing briny trails, lured conquerors, colonists, and ad venturers. Stirring tales of this hardy breed run through the Society's new book, Men, Ships, and the Sea. Barkentine Mercator, a Belgian school ship, flies the U. S. ensign at her fore truck as a courtesy in Amer ican waters. After 30 years at sea, she now serves Antwerp as a museum.