September 18, 2020

Author’s love of ships sets sail> Encyclopedia tells a thousand legends of world’s vessels

PORTLAND — The sea stories that gave rise to the Hollywood blockbusters “Amistad” and “Titanic” have their rightful places in Lincoln P. Paine’s new book.

But the 1839 slave ship mutiny and the luxury liner’s deadly encounter with an iceberg in 1912 are just two of the hundreds of sagas Paine came across during the three years he spent researching and writing “Ships of the World,” (Houghton Mifflin, $50).

And plenty of those could be fodder for silver screen epics.

“If you want 1,000 good stories, here they are,” said Paine, a 38-year-old writer and editor whose 680-page encyclopedia draws from both his career in reference publishing and his lifelong love of ships.

The handsomely illustrated book contains alphabetical listings for historically important ships such as the Mayflower and the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, as well as for ships whose significance lies in their technology or in their reflections of social history.

The entries are as ancient as the Cheops ship, unearthed during a 1954 excavation at Egypt’s Great Pyramid and believed to date back to 2500 B.C., and as recent as Thursday’s Child, the racing sloop whose 1988 voyage from New York to San Francisco via Cape Horn shattered the long-standing speed record set by the clipper ship Flying Cloud.

They range in size from Tinkerbelle, the 13-foot wooden day sailer in which Robert Manry crossed the Atlantic in 78 days in 1965, to the 1,095-foot supertanker Amoco Cadiz, which ran aground and broke up along the French coast in 1978, spilling an estimated 223,000 tons of oil.

The Amistad and the Titanic were not the only ships whose stories inspired movies. Among the others was the British gunboat Amethyst, whose thrilling escape down the Yangtze River during the Chinese civil war in 1949 was the basis for the film “Yangtze Incident.” On the lighter side, the tale of islanders from Scotland’s Outer Hebrides who seized cases of whiskey from the wreckage of the cargo ship Politician after it ran aground in 1941 inspired “Tight Little Island.”

Some ships in Paine’s encyclopedia gave rise to songs. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” recalls the ore carrier that went down in a storm on Lake Superior in 1975, with the loss of all 29 crew members. The USS Reuben James, a destroyer sunk by a German U-boat more than a month before America’s entry into World War II, also is remembered in music and lyrics.

Nearly half the entries are naval vessels, from the ancient Greek triremes exemplified by the 1987 replica Olympias to the guided missile frigate USS Stark, which was damaged by an Iraqi missile in the Persian Gulf in 1987. Ships of exploration and discovery also are heavily represented, as are ships whose sinkings, wrecks or other misfortunes were their chief claims to fame.

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