Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (1956)

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is about Nathaniel Bowditch of Salem, Massachusetts.  Nat was super-bright, especially at mathematics, but when he was 10 he had to leave school to help his father's business, and at 12 he was made an indentured servant, as his father was just not able to care for the family since the passing of his wife several years before.

Nat dreads being an indentured servant, but his masters are kind and give him every opportunity to read and study on his own, even providing him with books.  He continues his study of math, but also becomes interested in physics and astronomy.  He is given Principia by Sir Isaac Newton, but finds that he needs to know Latin to read it.  So he obtained a Latin dictionary and a Latin Bible and proceeded to teach himself.  He also learned French and Spanish in this way.

With his indenture fulfilled, Nat took a job surveying, and then at work on a trading vessel.  He made several voyages for business.  On each of them he continued to improve his navigating skills, as well as teaching the crew about navigation.  He gained many solid friends of those deck hands through his teaching.

On one voyage he discovered a new way of finding longitude through lunar and stellar observation, with some complex mathematics of course.  This leads him to write "American Practical Navigator."  Here is what one website has to say about it. "The American Practical Navigator, first published in 1802, was billed as the"epitome of navigation" by its original author, Nathaniel Bowditch. The text has evolved with the advances in navigation practices since that first issue and continues to serve as a valuable reference for marine navigation in the modern day." (http://msi.nga.mil/NGAPortal/MSI.portal?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=msi_portal_page_62&pubCode=0002)

I really enjoyed this book.  It has adventure, hard work, friendship, more adventure, love of learning, and just a touch of romance.  A great story for kids with the message that you don't need wealth to be smart and make something of yourself.  Hard work and life-long learning are the key.

Although called a biography in several reviews, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is shelved as fiction. I think this is because it contains a great deal of supposition about what particulars of different voyages and facets of Nat's life were like.  All of the main timeline and facts seem to check out historically, but it is mighty embellished.

Latham, Jean Lee.  Carry On, Mr. Bowditch.  HoughtonMifflin, 1955.

In response to Valerie's comment, here is the quote on ash breeze.  "When a ship is becalmed--the wind died down--she can't move--sometimes the silors break out their oars.  They'll row a boat ahead of the ship and tow her.  Or they'll carry out anchors and heave them over, and the crew will lean on the capstan bars and drag the ship up to where the anchors are heaved over.  Oars are made of ash--white ash.  So--when you get ahead by your own get-up-and-get--that's when you sail by ash breeze." (p. 48)

1 comment:

  1. A friend of mine had a favorite quote from this book...something about "sailing by ash breeze." I've always meant to find the book at the library, just becasue of that quote.