This Handbook was first published by Macmillan in 1984 as a sister volume to the Macmillan Nautical Almanac. It was intended to contain all the information that changed rarely, if at all, from year to year. Thus the Almanac would be slimmer and handier than it might otherwise have been. Later editions of the HANDBOOK grew in size and stature as new chapters were added so as to provide yet more knowledge in a variety of different fields. This new Edition has a new name, a wholly new layout and hugely updated material. The original brief was to revise the 1995 edition, but it was soon apparent that the book needed to be almost totally re-written. It was also decided that the HANDBOOK should be a reference work in its own right, no longer in thrall to the Almanac. Thus the decks were cleared for a more radical approach to reorganising material and chapters.
As the contents page indicates, the HANDBOOK is now in three broad, and by no means watertight, parts which address the three essential ingredients of yachting, namely:
PART 1. The Human being, you and me.
PART 2. The Environment in which we go about our business.
PART 3. The Boat which we sail and maintain. Before briefly considering these three ingredients, please accept that the Human being is both male and female and that 'He' (and its derivatives in this book) embraces all humankind. It is indeed one of the great pleasures of sailing that women and men participate on equal terms, whether changing the fuel filters, keeping a seamanlike watch at night, bargaining for moules on a French quayside or skippering a boat across the Southern Ocean.
The first six chapters deal with the business of acquiring a boat (whether or not you actually do so), training at sea and ashore, delighting in being at the helm, always conscious of the legislation which binds, yet also protects, us afloat. The former chapters on Food and Clothing have been combined into one, which might fittingly be called the Inner and Outer Man. The verbatim Collision Regulations and explanatory notes are now an important separate chapter. The term Environment is used loosely. It encompasses, of course, the ancient elements of air and water and the disciplines of Navigation, both traditional and electronic. The Astro chapter has been retained in view of the resurgence of interest in it. Astro enshrines so much that is best in seafaring and represents a skill which has not died, despite the advent of GPS.
The chapter on Safety at sea is reassuringingly large, which may reflect an increasingly responsible attitude towards self-sufficiency and the art of manning and operating safely. But, despite huge advances in both Communications and GMDSS, safety always lie first and foremost in our own hands. Knowledge, experience and sound judgement is one definition of good Seamanship. The Racing chapter neatly encapsulates the urge in most of us to sail our boats more efficiently, ergo faster. Finally the Boat herself which for many is an enduring love affair: maintaining her yourself saves money, and could save your bacon. Here, as in other parts of the book, we have drawn on the expertise of those who design, build and equip yachts. In the course of many dialogues their depth of knowledge, quiet professionalism and indeed understanding of their fellow humans, have been inspirational and reassuring. The important new chapter on Electrics illuminates those holes (in our knowledge) traditionally black for so long for so many yachtsmen.