Sunday, May 29, 2016

How To Read Water - Tristan Gooley

I've mostly been reading, reviewing, and writing for other people and places this week, along with preparing for a frantic couple of weeks at work before I head off on holiday (two weeks today as I write this I'll be in a plane bound for Shetland, and I absolutely cannot wait).

I rather wish I could have saved this book for when I was on holiday, you don't need to be by the sea to read it, and I have ready access to both puddles and a perfectly good river - both on my doorstep (the puddle literally, the river a few yards to one side) both of which environments get plenty of attention in 'How To Read Water', but it would be perfect lazy day reading,

I came to it expecting it to be interesting in a worthy kind of way, and enticed by the prospect of being able to 'read the sea like a Viking' by the time I was finished with it. Happily for me it turned out to be interesting on every level - though it may have been something of a trial for D that I started so many conversations with 'did you know...' whilst I was reading it. He mostly did know, he has his yacht masters, and a far more scientific bend of mind than I do. He bore with it all very patiently but I suspect he would have preferred that I'd saved it for holidays as well when, a) he could have read it too, and b) dad, who is partially imobalised after a knee operation would have had to out up with more of my observations.

The starting point for this book is when the author, having newly passed his yacht masters exam is seeking a deeper, more intuitive understanding, of the sea. To his initial surprise (and mine too) it turns out you can learn more about how water behaves on dry land than you might on a yacht (where the business of sailing takes precedence). The way water in a pond, a puddle, or even a cup of tea behaves can tell us a surprising amount about how the water in an ocean behaves too.

For all the time I've spent looking at the sea, it seems I've understood precious little of what I've observed, or even observed as much as I might. Finding somewhere where the science behind everyday phenomena is not just clearly explained, but also explained in an engagingly page turning way is a game changer. Being able to decipher the patterns in what your seeing has to make any scene more interesting - and when it comes to water deeper or faster moving than a puddle there are practical safety related implications as well.

Not that learning how to read water strips it of any of its mystery or romance, rather it opens up a world of interconnected events, which if anything make oceans seem far more complex than the untutored gaze might imagine. This isn't an exhaustive survey of water and how it works - it couldn't be in 330 pages, but it's more than enough to give a thorough grounding in more than the basics. The explanation of tides is an excellent example of this, it takes more than a dozen pages, and is easily as much as I'll ever need to know, but again the more than basic explanation means I feel I have a much better grasp of the actual basics.

It's a brilliant book, full of information, anecdotes, and things you want to see or try. I've always thought a sailing holiday would be much like a caravan holiday but wetter, less comfortable, more dangerous, and far more expensive - but this is the kind of book that could change my mind about the possible charms of going to sea.

More importantly though, it is a book that I can get lost in, learn things from, and thoroughly enjoy. It was great for dipping in and out of, but a lazy day when I have nothing else I need to do but explore the places it takes me would be even better.