Tall Ships Down, by Daniel S. Parrott. McGraw Hill. 224 pages. $24.95.
There is something endlessly fascinating about shipwrecks, as this book so admirably demonstrates.
To think that a man-made object as large as a ship, sailed by a trained crew, fitted out with the latest technology, can suddenly come to woe and vanish beneath the waves almost defies explanation. Well, maybe.
The ocean bottom is littered with wrecks, some of which came to rest there as a result of sudden freakish weather conditions, roaring storms or rogue waves. Others because of human error or equipment failure. However, it is the old sea chantey, "Many a Brave Heart Lies Asleep in the Deep," that laments the human loss.
Daniel S. Parrott, a professional mariner who has been captain of the Pride of Baltimore II since 1998, holds a master's degree in marine affairs from the University of Rhode Island. He has a predilection for tall ships, having spent 20 years sailing in them across the oceans of the world.
He also sailed aboard the original Pride of Baltimore as a deckhand on the vessel's first trans-Atlantic voyage to Europe in 1985. Because he signed off the ship in Spain, he missed the vessel's ill-fated westbound voyage when it was lost in 1986.
He later sailed to Europe as first mate aboard the original vessel's replacement, Pride II, and later served as interim captain on a stretch of the ship's 5,000-mile cross-Pacific voyage in 1998.
The genesis of this book, he writes, occurred while attending a cocktail party in 1991 aboard the Maria Asumpta, at the time the oldest sailing ship afloat, while docked in London.
While exploring the vessel, he noticed a picture of the British training ship Marques, a bark, that was, he writes, "bowled over by a squall and sunk in a matter of seconds," during a Bermuda-to-Halifax tall-ships race in 1984.
Parrot learned that the Maria Asumpta's owner had also owned the Marques. In 1995, the Maria Asumpta came to grief on the rocks off England's Cornish coast, smashed to pieces by the unrelenting and pounding sea.
Parrot's interest was piqued, and he was determined to find out what actually caused these vessels to suddenly founder.
Tall Ships Down is the result of a project he began while studying for his master's degree at URI. In addition to the two aforementioned ships, he also has included in his study the loss of the Pamir, Albatross, and the Pride of Baltimore.
For those who remember the painful loss of the Pride of Baltimore, this chapter will be of great interest locally.
Parrot's scholarship is an important contribution to maritime studies. His enthusiasm for the majestic ships of the great Age of Sail, and those that have returned since the tall ships revival, is clearly evident.
He has left no stone unturned in his quest for knowledge. He has delved into every aspect of a vessel's being -- from the design table to construction, modification, anything that might be a clue to what caused its ultimate demise.
Parrot writes with ease and authority, carefully blending both historical and technical data.
In his chapter on the Pride, he has found a common theme.
"Not all aspects of the Pride of Baltimore discussed here related directly to the loss of the vessel or loss of life, but for better or worse a casualty provides an opportunity to look at the way things are done in their entirety," he writes. "In doing so we may derive lessons that can be transferred elsewhere."
Frederick N. Rasmussen has, for the last eight years, been The Sun's chief obituary writer. Before that, he spent almost a generation on the newspaper's research library staff.