Book Buzz: Working Boats: An Inside Look at Ten Amazing Watercraft

Working Boats: An Inside Look at Ten Amazing Watercraft” by Tom Crestodina

For many of us, the working vessels that ply local waters and the people who work aboard are a bit of a mystery. 

We board ferries. We watch sturdy tugs push heavy barges. And we may eat the catch the mariners bring to shore. But exactly what is going on aboard — and under the waterline — is mostly unknown. 

The organizers of Bellingham’s SeaFeast and Dockside Market do their part to pull back the curtain, inviting locals to learn more about maritime culture and our working waterfront at the annual October festival and twice-monthly seafood market at Squalicum Harbor.

On a recent Saturday, that is where I met author and maritime artist Tom Crestodina. Among Dockside Market booths selling cod, halibut, wild Alaska sidestripe shrimp and chowder, he was setting up a table loaded with his books, “Working Boats: An Inside Look at Ten Amazing Watercraft” — a 2023 Washington State Book Award finalist — and the recently released companion coloring book. 

Published by Sasquatch Book’s Little Bigfoot imprint, the 56-page, 9-by-12-inch full-color “Working Boats” is marketed to young readers, but it will appeal to people of all ages. In highly detailed cutaway illustrations, Crestodina peels back the exterior of the vessels to reveal the mechanics of each featured boat. The result is like having a chance to peek through the windows of a house passed each day. 

In addition to being an artist, Crestodina is also a working commercial fisherman and maritime engineer, which is evident in the vibrantly colored three-dimensional perspective drawings, cutaways and exploded view illustrations. His firsthand experience lends an accuracy and charming intimacy to each illustration. 

This is a book to slowly page through, spending time to study the intricately drawn illustrations of interior and exterior working elements and to consider what it must be like to work and to live aboard. Readers will become absorbed in the details, looking for slices of life — like a guitar on a bunk or laundry hanging on a line in the engine room of a salmon seiner. We see where the catch is stored, and find out where the crew eats and sleeps. 

Through sketches and brief text that is both practical and whimsical, we learn the mechanics of engines and propulsion and how to make a set when fishing for salmon. A cutaway of a double-ended ferry shows the activity of the upper decks most Washingtonians know — cars loading, passengers choosing snacks from the galley and families standing on the deck — but Crestodina’s illustration and text also reveal the engine room and hardworking propellers below.

In addition to details of the 10 featured vessels, “Working Boats” also describes topics such as safety gear, navigation aids, commercial fishing and lighthouse lenses.

The author and illustrator began making cutaway drawings in 2011 to connect with his young son while Crestodina was at sea. Soon, fellow mariners began asking for illustrations of their boats and a side business was born. Sasquatch editors found his work hanging on the walls of a Seattle coffee shop. 

“In part, (the illustrations) are made so that seafarers can hang them on their wall and use them to explain their work to aunts and uncles from Oklahoma,” Crestodina writes on his website, “Some are diagrams that explain fishing methods and other aspects of the maritime trades. Many of them contain inside jokes just for fishermen and sailors. Some contain silly jokes just for kids.”

Following the success of “Working Boats,” last month Sasquatch published the companion coloring book with 31 full-page illustrations of vessels, marine life and seafaring scenes to color. Bow-based poet and fisherman Tele Aadsen wrote the tightly crafted, compelling descriptions for each drawing. 

According to his website, Crestodina is working on a third title in his Working Boats Library to be titled “Safety, Salvage, and Survival at Sea.” 

When he’s not at sea, Crestodina lives in Bellingham with his wife and two children. His books are available at the library and local bookstores and will also be sold during the Holiday Dockside Market taking place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16 at the Fishermen’s Pavilion at Squalicum Harbor. They are a delightful way to learn more about seagoing vessels and our neighbors who work aboard.

Reviewed by WCLS Community Relations Manager Mary Vermillion

Originally published in Cascadia Daily News, Dec. 11, 2023