MCKINNEY, Sam




Author Tags: Maritime

To celebrate Captain George Vancouver's charting expeditions of 1792-1794, Sam McKinney sailed and motored in his 25-foot sailboat Kea in areas between Puget Sound and the Queen Charlotte Islands.

At age 70, fortified by his pipe and the occasional glass of rum, McKinney leisurely emulated the various voyages of the strict disciplinarian Vancouver and his less-than-faithful crew, once experimenting with the anti-scurvy recipe given to botanist Archibald Menzies (an adversary of Vancouver) by Sir Joseph Banks. "I wanted to see what spruce beer tasted like," McKinney writes. "I boiled some spruce needles in water, added brown sugar, and came up with something that tasted like sweet turpentine."

McKinney is far from being the first person to follow the paths of explorers to write a book about the coast--it's been done by Robin Fisher, Gary Geddes, Rosemary Neering, Barry Lopez and Wylie Blanchet, among others--but McKinney is the first to give credit to an invisible crew.

"Germany's Rudolph Diesel invented the diesel engine and to him I am indebted," he writes in Sailing with Vancouver: A Modern Sea Dog, Antique Charts and a Voyage Through Time (Touchwood, $17.95 2004), "because on many windless days I used Kea's small diesel engine."

McKinney explains that when Diesel was in polytechnic school he was fascinated by the pneumatic tinder igniter. Looking like a simple bicycle pump, it demonstrated how heat generated by compression in the pump could ignite a piece of tinder in the end of the pump. Diesel never forgot this demonstration and he dedicated his life and fortune to incorporating the principle of his 'Black Mistress' into an efficient power engine.

"My 10-horsepower Yanmar engine was developed by the Japanese industrialist Magokicki Yamaoka, who saw his first diesel engine at an industrial fair in Leipzig, Germany, in 1932. Something of a visionary, as was Diesel himself, Yamaoka thought that a small diesel engine with fuel economy would suit the needs of the Japanese farmer. In 1933, he developed a very small, five-horsepower engine, believing that in oil-poor Japan, a drop of fuel was equal to a drop of blood."

Similarly McKinney acknowledges Greek scientist Archimedes for the principle of leverage, Swiss physicist Daniel Bernoulli for his law of physics that explained the dynamics of sailing and French chef Nicolas Appert who invented the canning process in the early 19th century. "My canned dinners did become monotonous, but remembering the food choices of Vancouver's men -- salt pork and beef -- made them more palatable. With these companions--my English, French and American sailing heroes, Greek and Swiss scientists, a German inventor and a French chef--I was able to sail behind the Vancouver expedition, eat well and keep Kea moving in wind or calm."

McKinney based his research for his sailing book on W. Kaye Lamb's classic George Vancouver: A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific. Maps were provided by Portland designer Les Hopkins. McKinney is a former research associate at the Vancouver Maritime Museum and a builder of small boats, journalist and teacher of Outward Bound. Sailing with Vancouver is his fourth nautical title.

He lives in Portland, Oregon.

BOOKS:

Sailing Uphill: An Unconventional Life on the Water (Touchwood)

Reach of Tide, Ring of History

Bligh! The Whole Story of the Mutiny aboard H.M.S. Bounty (Horsdal & Schubart $15.95)

Sailing with Vancouver: A Modern Sea Dog, Antique Charts and a Voyage Through Time (Touchwood, 2004)

[BCBW 2004] "Maritime" "George Vancouver"

Bligh! The Whole Story of the Mutiny aboard H.M.S. Bounty (Horsdal & Schubart $15.95)
Review by Joan Givner



Sam Mckinney’s agenda for Bligh! The Whole Story of the Mutiny aboard H.M.S. Bounty (Horsdal & Schubart $15.95) is to restore the posthumous reputation of captain William Bligh. It is a fairly tall order, for that reputation has been badly tarnished by Hollywood, which immortalized him in the figure of Charles Laughton, the villain of the 1935 classic movie Mutiny on the Bounty.

The raw material of Bligh’s story is pretty compelling: The mutinous crew of the Bounty, pushed to the limits by Bligh’s cruelty, set him and 18 of his loyal supporters adrift in a small boat on the high seas. While Bligh guided his small craft to safety, those who remained on the Bounty tried to set up a multi-racial society on various South Pacific islands. Many of the mutineers died in a bloodbath on Pitcairn Island. Others were caught, court-martialed and ended up on the gallows. Prior to the Bounty mutiny (which occurred during a breadfruit collecting expedition) Bligh had served with Cook and Vancouver in Hawaii as a surveyor and mapmaker. Bligh lived on to command other vessels, including the Providence that sailed around the world. He survived a second mutiny, rose to the rank of Vice-Admiral and was the governor of Tasmania.
Those melodramatic elements of the Bounty story were so irresistible that they provided the grist for a second movie in 1962. This time Trevor Howard played Bligh but his performance couldn’t eclipse the earlier one. The figure of Charles Laughton’s slack-lipped, bully-boy has been irreplaceable as Bligh’s memorial.

McKinney’s sources include the journals of four of Bligh’s subordinates and, most importantly, the meticulous ship’s log kept by Bligh himself. ‘Log’ in fact, is an inadequate term for this document of 900 pages that is part diary and part autobiography. On one side of the page Bligh records technical information; on the other he gives free reign to his theories on health, diet and his observations on the flora, fauna and people he encountered.
There is plenty of evidence for the reader to weigh before deciding whether the person who wrote the log, and heroically guided his small craft to safety, could be a sadistic tyrant. On the one hand, Bligh writes: “Until this Afternoon I had hopes I could have performed the Voyage without punishment to any One, but I found it necessary to punish Matthew Quintal with 2 dozen lashes for Insolence and Contempt.” On the other hand, here’s his insulting tirade when his men refused to accept rotten pumpkins as a substitute for their bread ration: “You damn’d infernal scoundrels; I’ll make you eat grass or anything you can catch before I have done with you.”

The court-martial of the ten surviving mutineers turned up additional evidence of the captain’s abuses of his crew. This, however, must be weighed against the customs of the time. The British Navy was not a benign, unionized workplace. The British Navy, as Winston Churchill famously remarked, was sustained by ‘rum, sodomy and the lash.’ In spite of McKinney’s ample documentation, two factors will impede readers’ interpretations of the ‘whole’ story. One is that most of the evidence comes from literate members of the upper class. As usually happens with historical records, the testimony of the underclass is scanty. The second is that the minuscule print of this book will force many readers to jump ship early in the voyage. Sam McKinney is a research associate at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. Part of his research for the book aired on Morningside. 0-920663-64-8 -- by Joan Givner

[BCBW SUMMER 1999]