Let’s just start by getting one thing out of the way…this is a very good book. When author Euan Ross and co-author Bob Donaldson decided to write a book to celebrate the history of the Piper OD, what began as a dedication specific to the Piper soon grew to encompass the entire lifetime of David Boyd, putting the design of the well-loved keelboat into it’s proper context. Combining a broader biography of David Boyd with a detailed history of the Piper was a stroke of genius – not much seems to have been neglected in the author’s quest to reveal the whole picture surrounding Boyd’s life and that of his most famous One Design.
The book itself is a healthy 450 pages long, with many lines drawings of a variety of boats from Boyd and other designers, and a scattering of black and white photos – I wasn’t too bothered by the lack of colour photos, probably due to the dose of nostalgia provided by the black and white ones. The authors punctuate the book with many personal anecdotes, and whilst in other circumstances these might be seen to detract from the main thrust of the book, in this case they are interesting, relevant and witty, adding a sense of story-telling to the remaining well-researched text. Similar emphasis is placed on general historical context, both in the sense of yacht building and racing on the Clyde in the 20th century and also socio-economic factors of the times.
Followers of the 12 Metre era of the America’s Cup will find much of interest in the book, with a detailed historical analysis of the Boyd’s time with the Sceptre and Sovereign campaigns, whilst metre boat lovers of all walks will find the history surrounding Boyd’s 6 and 8 metres similarly fascinating. There is a lot for the student of yacht design to get his or her teeth into as well, as Ross writes with a deep technical knowledge of the designs under review and yacht design in general (being a past Merlin Rocket sailor probably helps here!). There is also a detailed perspective provided on the Robertsons yard where Boyd spent much of his working life, an interesting insight into the workings of a wooden (and latterly GRP) boat building yard.
The original idea of the book, a detailed history of the Piper itself, is treated in much detail. From the genesis of the boat through it’s colourful history (and that of many of those who sail them!), Ross and Donaldson leave few stones unturned. The story of Schools Week will bring nostalgic chuckles from many, whilst other stories of racing exploits, cruising adventures and well-known sinkings abound. There is a particularly interesting chapter on the current situation regarding copyright on the Piper design and production rights, with an overview of the various ‘interpretations’ of the boat by builders such as Rustler Yachts.
The small-ish format of the book and simple printing (it being an Amazon print) is not too much of an impediment to the presentation, and undoubtedly helps with keeping the cost of the book very manageable; indeed I bought 2 copies!
In an age where much culture and history is being lost through either neglect or the imposition of cold commercial forces, it’s refreshing to see efforts like that of Ross and Donaldson going into both documenting and celebrating the rich history of characters such as David Boyd and his boats. As Scots we are often accused of Calvinist self-deprecation: “Stand tall, but no taller than anyone else”. What “The Piper Calls the Tune” shows us is that perhaps we need to stand taller, and shout our heritage from the rooftops – or the masthead, as it were, more often. Just as well so many of Boyd’s boats are still out there doing exactly that.