Anyone who's read this blog or talked for me for longer than fifteen minutes knows I love research. Yet it's a project that expands and apparently has no end, and it's slowing my progress on The Stowaway considerably. So why am I so insistent on absorbing every bit of information about sailing that I reasonably can? Because of people like me.
Exhibit #1. Assassin's Creed IV, Black Flag.
I laughed when I saw this. It's a historical video game (more or less--there are some real missed opportunities here), it's about pirates, it's set on a brig--the same type of ship helmed by Captain Hook. But I've learned that a ship, unlike a car, does not swing immediately to the side as soon as its wheel is turned, and a sail does not drop instantly--flump!--when it's unfurled. (As a former crew member of the Lady put it, it can take ten minutes just to muster the crew to get started.) And as I watched this very pretty game, I wondered, "Where is all the rigging?"
I know the game's depiction isn't right because of--you guessed it--my research, from sources I've found to be accurate. For instance, here's a photo of mine from a battle sail on board the Lady Washington, which is also a brig. Note the difference. I realize accuracy in this case would interfere with the game play of "Black Flag," but leaving it out altogether is a mistake I don't want to make in The Stowaway.
By further comparison, here is an illustration from Seamanship In the Age of Sail,
which was recommended to me by a captain of the Lady Washington as his favorite resource for general ship knowledge. It's readable and clear and will be even more helpful to me once I spend more time with it--time being the resource I am most in need of these days.
I have this as well, though I find it denser and harder to parse.
I am also reading Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander whilst taking notes and looking up every term that could possibly apply to The Stowaway in this companion volume, A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O'Brian, by Dean King with John. B. Hattendorf and J. Worth Estes. This process is not helping me enjoy the pace of the book as the adventure story it was intended to be, but it's tremendously helpful in giving me an idea of how life was conducted at sea and what words were used in directions and commands.
Exhibit 2: Master and Commander, page 164
The brig was the obvious choice and they set a course to cut her off, keeping closest watch upon her the while: she sailed on placidly enough under courses and topsails, while the Sophie set her royals and topgallants and hurried along on the larboard tack with the wind one point free, heeling so that her lee-channels were under the water; and as their courses converged the Sophies were astonished to see that the stranger was extraordinarily like their own vessel, even to the exaggerated steeve of her bowsprit.
Without A Sea of Words, I wouldn't know what half of that meant or if it was useful to me. Now the challenge is to make sure I get my own terms right.
Research can become a labyrinth, and soon I may need to break out heavy tools and hack my way through the side. But it matters to me that I make the effort. Every writer may not find it important to give the reader a vivid and accurate rendering of their setting, but it matters to me when I'm reading, and I want to give my readers that respect. I know to my sadness that it's not possible for me to get every detail right, but I'm going to get as close as I possibly can.