Home->Reviews->The Track of the Typhoon

The Track of the Typhoon

William W. Nutting

The Motor Boat Publishing Company
New York 1922

Reviewed by Paul M. Clayton

Transatlantic in an Atkin design ketch.

Excusing the technical nature of the first chapter, Mr. Nutting states "Why the American publisher should be so squeamish about technical detail in a book of fact, when he will stand for any amount of it in the fiction of such writers as Kipling, Conrad and H.G. Wells, is difficult to understand."

Here's what he has to say about cruising boats: "...what sort of boat can hold a candle to a cruiser for the great big gobs of enjoyment that it returns on the investment?"

Speaking of a conversation in the company of his friends Casey Baldwin and Johnny Walker, he says "Casey and I did most of the talking, while Johnny, faithful fellow, just sort of stood by and furnished the inspiration." By later in the evening, "Johnny Walker was merely the empty shell of a departed spirit and we decided to call it a day."

The first chapter is about the idea for the boat, the design work done in conjunction with William Atkin, and the construction of the boat. Regarding the interior, he has this to say: "...the galley is the important thing...everyone on the ship is going to crowd into the galley and offer suggestions anyhow, and you might as well make it accessible and comfortable." Evidently at the time it was common to house the galley in a separate room, so this could be seen as the forerunner of the current practice of combining galley and saloon all in one open plan. He didn't believe in making a yacht "...look like the boudoir of the Sultans favorite," and he said his boat would "smell of tar and probably of cooking, with possibly just a suggestion of fuel oil and St. Pierre rum..."

Being a sucker for a good turn of phrase, I could already see that I was into a corking good sea-book. And it just got better.

The plan was to sail to Cowes to cover the annual race and regatta for, I kid you not, "Motor Boat Magazine." Supplies taken on included one ton of coal, 75 fathoms chain, and "several cases of ginger ale and the other important ingredient of a ginger ale highball."

Their first day was characterized by lack of wind. "Hell, I am sure, is paved not with good intentions, but with glassy ground swells." Afterward they got a succession of fronts that gave them a fast if stormy passage across the Atlantic. They just made it in time for the races, on which Mr. Nutting makes no comment at all, evidently not being able to fit them in as he spent most of his time hob-nobbing with the aristocracy of the British sailing community.

Onward to the coast of Brittany, where a fishing boat elicited the comment "There's something delightfully amateurish about a Frenchman on the water." They put in the port of Roscoff and had a wonderful time with the friendly folk of the area.

Crossing the Bay of Biscay, Nutting was less impressed by Ferrol. While he admitted that it had a magnificent port, he found the general populace "provincial, stupid and complacently benighted." At the time, most of the houses didn't have modern plumbing, so water had to be carried from public fountains. "The majority of the populace, not being particularly energetic, feel the effort necessary to keep clean is too great a one and let it go at that." They did make one good friend in Ferrol, the customs office interpreter, Senor Tome, who arranged for them "a combination guide and beast of burden in the form of an amply proportioned lady of middle age. Through the good offices of this shrewd person all sorts of interesting provisions were bought at the municipal market at fair prices. They were carried to the ship in a huge basket on her head."

As they approached the Azores in a gale with dwindling supplies, crewmember Fox lay on the cabin sole "mixing a batch of baking powder biscuits with the last of our flour while the skipper read the instructions from Horace Kephart's 'Camping and Woodcraft.'" Fox suffered interminably from seasickness and often could be found "performing the solemn rite from the cockpit."

They had a pleasant visit in the Azores and were befriended by the U.S Consul as well as the officers of several ships in for repairs after the same gale they had suffered through. The voyage west in the trades was less eventful and gave plenty of time for cooking. Unfortunately, they again ran short of provisions. In particular, they ran out of baking powder and soda. They attempted salt risen bread, which came out less than stellar - "Mixed up dough and set it aside to rise. It rose sideways some but not upward. Baked it and the result was a sort of synthetic hickory nut with insides like a rubber shoe. Jim suggested breaking them up and frying them which we did."

Their spell of easy trade wind sailing was about to end. As they followed the Gulf Stream north, they suffered through a procession of fearsome gales, culminating in a late November hurricane that knocked the boat down twice and almost cost the life of a crewmember who was thrown out of the boat. He fortunately caught a line that was streamed out behind the boat, and the others were able to pull him in and wrestle him aboard. At this point they deployed a sea-anchor, which had no effect in the few minutes before the line snapped, and then were left with no alternative but to lie a-hull. This proved a workable solution for the heavily built, full keel Typhoon.

That storm proved the last of their tribulations, though their diet of fried flour paste and water had begun to grate on them. Fortunately, they crossed paths with a Spanish freighter which graciously replenished their larder. A few days later, they reached their destination - New York City - and the voyage was over.

Mr. Nutting has vanished into the mists of history, but one member of the crew - Fox, the young man plagued by seasickness - went on to make a name for himself - as one of the greatest naval architects of the 20th century - yes, that Fox - Uffa Fox.