“The idea for writing this book,” according to the preface, “came from Bill Fortenbaugh, for whom [the ship] Ghost was built and who was able to observe the building process as it developed.” Yet “it would be a mistake to put Bill forward as the author of the book.” This is strange, as the title page verso assigns the copyright (misspelling “haven” as “heaven”) to William Fortenbaugh. “BHC” appears on the title page, though it isn’t clear to what that refers. And it’s hard to the subtitle, A Cat Ghost, without thinking it’s an R. L. Stine novel. Such beginnings don’t usually bode well for the rest of the journey.
Once readers get beyond these slip-ups, however, things proceed reasonably well. An “A Cat,” we’re told, is a type of catboat, which is itself a class of sailboat. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, catboats were the primary inshore boat on the New England coast. Fortenbaugh’s FROM BEATON’S TO BEACH HAVEN tells the story of a particular A Cat boat called Ghost, which was built in 1993 at the well-known New Jersey boatyard David Beaton and Sons. Whole chapters detail the design of the hull, the application of paint and varnish, and the assembly of the sails. These read like an instruction manual, with dozens of photos and blueprints as supporting documents. The book then pivots to tales of Ghost’s maiden launch and subsequent racing career, which saw her claim seven Barnegat Bay championships. Not bad for a boat that sank on her first practice run.
One obvious analogue for this book is Nathaniel Philbrick’s Second Wind, the story of his return, at the age of 36, to the world of competitive sailboat racing, which pitches and yaws amid high winds of narrative drama. By contrast, FROM BEATON’S TO BEACH HAVEN drifts lazily on calm seas. Readers familiar with the whaling minutiae in Moby-Dick might find this comparable. It’s a good read for maritime maniacs. Casual readers may feel like jumping ship.
William Fortenbaugh’s FROM BEATON’S TO BEACH HAVEN is an in-depth look at the life and times of Ghost, a New Jersey catboat, and will appeal mostly to maritime historians, not casual readers.
~Anthony Aycock for IndieReader