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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: HMS Victory
HMS Victory 1765-1812 (First rate ship of the line): Owners’ Workshop Manual
Peter Goodwin
Haynes, 2012, ISBN 978-0-85733-085-7, US$35.95 / £21.99

Launched in 1765, Victory survives today because of the care her owners have taken to preserve this “first rate ship of 100 guns . . . the ultimate design of warship both in size, firepower and technology.” (8) More than two centuries later, she remains a commissioned ship in the British Royal Navy.

After the author’s introduction, Goodwin divides his text into eight sections:

  • “The Victory Story” covers her design, the timber used, her construction, and the launch.
  • “HMS Victory at War” focuses on her operational career, the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and what happened to her after the Napoleonic Wars ended.
  • “Anatomy of the Victory” discusses her decks, spars, rigging and blocks, sails and storage, steering, anchors and ground tackle, and boats
  • Victory’s Guns” is an in-depth examination of her firepower, technical data about her guns, side arms and gunnery equipment, firing the guns and gun drills, the ropes associated with these weapons, gunpowder, and the gunners’ stores.
  • “General Maintenance and Refitting” looks at her hull (from sea maintenance to dockyard refits to painting), the maintenance of her parts and weapons, making repairs after sustaining damage during action, maintaining her equipment (capstan and pump), and the portable forge used to make some of the repairs.
  • “Sailing the Victory” scrutinizes ship handling, her sails, tacking and wearing, heaving to, getting under sail, anchoring, loading stores and equipment, hoisting in and getting out her boats, and how she sailed.
  • “Manning the Victory” summarizes her crew complement, organization, daily routine and watches, command, and seamen and life on the lower deck.
  • The final section centers on “Conserving and Restoring HMS Victory.” It opens with problems encountered, and then revisits original construction techniques, dockyard facilities, and tools, before examining how replacement parts are fabricated and looking at this warship from the perspective of her shipwright in the past and today.
A plethora of beautiful, full-color photographs and paintings illustrate the book, from full-length views from a distance to up-close images of the particular sections or parts under discussion in the various sections. Each includes a clear description as to what the reader is viewing. In addition to these illustrations, Goodwin peppers the volume with quotes from primary source material, either within the text or in highlighted in boxes. One of the neat aspects about these is that the close-ups give readers a feel for her size and, as a bonus, allow them to venture into parts of the vessel where visitors aren’t permitted. Schematics show draft designs and how parts fit together. The cutaway view that depicts Victory’s interior has nice detail. The only drawback is some of that is lost because of where the pages join the spine. Luckily, only number 7 is hidden from view.

The book closes with three appendices: a) Glossary of Terms, b) Essential dimensions, weights, etc. for HMS Victory; and c) Visitor information. The list of sources and suggested articles to read encompasses primary and secondary sources, as well as articles that have appeared in The Mariner’s Mirror, the journal of The Society for Nautical Research. There is also an index, which allows readers to access specific information, while the table of contents includes page numbers for each subdivision of the various sections.

As the first Keeper and Curator of HMS Victory, a post held for more than a decade, Peter Goodwin is eminently qualified and experienced to speak on this topic. His interest in 18th-century ship construction started in childhood, and he has served as a historical advisor for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and the Horatio Hornblower movies for television. One of the square-rigged ships on which Goodwin sailed as a topman was HMB Endeavour, a replica of the bark Captain Cook sailed to Australia.

When I pulled this title from my shelf to read, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. My initial reaction after opening the cover and perusing the introduction was WOW! Goodwin writes this manual without being overly technical, so lay persons unfamiliar with nautical jargon can easily follow the content. The text, however, never talks down to the reader, so those with knowledge of sailing ships or sailors themselves will find this equally absorbing. The author also incorporates wonderful details that make this a writer’s dream resource. And the wonderful photographs allow those of us unable to visit Victory to marvel at her magnificence and power.

Don’t let the utilitarian cover art fool you. It’s perfect for the book’s purpose – an owner’s manual. But the exterior merely camouflages a priceless, but exceedingly economical, treasure. While I occasionally give five stars to exceptional books, HMS Victory Owners’ Workshop Manual far exceeds that rating.

Learn more about HMS Victory

Visit the Royal Navy’s webpage on HMS Victory
View pictures of HMS Victory

Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar

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