Duncan, Roger F. 1916-

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DUNCAN, Roger F. 1916-

PERSONAL: Born May 21, 1916 in Springfield, MA; son of Robert F. (a fund raiser and campaign manager) and Dorothy (Fenn) Duncan; married Mary Chandler (in special education), December 20, 1940; children: William Chandler, Robert Cameron, John Hamilton Duncan. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Phillips Exeter, 1934; Harvard University, B.A. (English), 1938, graduate work at School of Education. Politics: Independent. Religion: Unitarian Universalist. Hobbies and other interests: Sailing, swimming, rowing, teaching.

ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 66, East Booth Bay, ME 04544.

CAREER: Educator and author. Fenn School, Concord, MA, teacher of English and history, 1938-45. Belmont Hill School, Belmont, MA, teacher, coach, assistant headmaster, then headmaster, 1945-81.

MEMBER: Boothbay Regional Historical Society (trustee and past president), Concord Building Committee (chairman), Concord-Carlisle School Committee (chairman).


(With others) Enduring Friendships, International Marine Society Publishing Co. (Camden, ME), 1970.

The Story of Belmont Hill School, 1923-1973, second edition, Belmont Hill School (Belmont, MA), 1983.

Eastward: A Maine Cruise in a Friendship Sloop, maps by Denna Sterns, International Marine Publishing Co. (Camden, ME), 1976.

(Editor) The Practical Sailor, Scribner (New York, NY), 1981.

Friendship Sloops, International Marine Publishing Co. (Camden, ME), 1985.

Sailing in the Fog, International Marine Publishing Co. (Camden, ME), 1986.

(Coauthor) The Cruising Guide to the New England Coast: Including the Hudson River, Long Island Sound, and the Coast of New Brunswick, eleventh edition, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1995.

Dorothy Elizabeth: Building a Traditional Wooden Schooner, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 2000.

Coastal Maine: A Maritime History, Countryman Press (Woodstock, VT), 2002.

Contributor to periodicals, including Island Journal, Down East, Wooden Boat, Maine Boats and Harbors, and Maritime History and Traditions. Author of book reviews for American Neptune and column for Working Waterfront.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Afloat and Ashore, an anthology of essays, poems, and sketches, and Christopher, a historical novel.

SIDELIGHTS: Roger F. Duncan, an educator and writer, has been a lifelong resident of New England. A graduate of Harvard University, he taught English, history, and other subjects and served as headmaster of Belmont School for many years. An avid sailor, his works focus on sailing and the maritime history of New England. He is a frequent lecturer on sailing and maritime history, and is considered particularly knowledgeable in the area of ship building. Duncan produces a regular column for the periodical Working Waterfront and is writing a historical novel, Christopher, in addition to a collection of sketches, essays, and poems titled Afloat and Ashore.

Duncan's best-known work is A Cruising Guide to the New England Coast: Including the Hudson River, Long Island Sound, and the Coast of New Brunswick. Considered by many East Coast sailors to be an informative and indispensable guide to the navigation and appreciation of the area, it is the result of years of cruising and visiting harbor masters, merchants, and mariners, both by boat and by car. Sites of historical interest are noted, including the histories of lighthouses, ports, ships, and towns. The first edition of the guide was published by Robert F. Duncan, Roger Duncan's father, in the 1930s as a mimeographed document of fifty copies, distributed among family and friends. After helping his father compile the guide, Roger Duncan later assumed responsibility for it through many editions. Duncan has now passed it along to one of his own sons, Robert, who is aided by his son, Alec. In addition to the Duncans, Fessenden Blanchard was a contributor to the early editions, and later editions have included contributions from John Ware and Wally Fenn. In a review in Book World it was noted that the guide offers extensive information on tides, geography, weather, and animal life, fog, and sea conditions. A Cruising Guide to the New England Coast is also known for its wealth of anecdotal information, wit and grace of style. Maps and photographs are included.

Coastal Maine: A Maritime History is the story of 400 years of Maine's maritime history beginning with the first documented visit by a European, Giovanni Verrazano and continuing through the tumultuous seventeenth century and up to the twentieth century. In this work Duncan chronicles changes in the state's economy, focusing on the decline in commercial fishing, the changes in the environment, and the state government's attempts to regulate and re-invigorate the fishing industry. There are anecdotes about pirates, yachtsmen, privateers, and fishermen. The author, knowledgeable about all manner of sailing craft, gives detailed descriptions of vessels such as schooners, pinnacles, and clippers. The interaction of the people, land, and sea, and the changes that have occurred in each of these spheres have been carefully documented and considered. Extensive chapter notes are provided, along with an index and bibliography. Duncan's book has been praised in Library Journal for the meticulous attention to detail and graceful style of writing. Included are numerous illustrations and maps.

Duncan's love of the sea, sailing, and the East Coast are constant themes in his work. His 1981 essay collection The Practical Sailor and memoir Dorothy Elizabeth reflect this interest, but from different perspectives. In a review of The Practical Sailor in Book World he expressed a clear preference for sailing, but claimed to hold no ill feelings toward motorized vessels. Duncan served as editor of this volume, which grew out of a newsletter by the same name that he published earlier in his career. Topics such as navigation, boat repair, maintenance and equipment are covered. Innovative gear and techniques are critiqued. The Practical Sailor was praised in Booklist for its simplicity and practicality. An index, photos, and illustrations are all included. A later volume, Dorothy Elizabeth, is an account of the construction of Duncan's yacht. It is not so much a construction manual, but rather a detailed reflection on the motivations for, and the means of accomplishing such a project. Duncan and the men and women who built the Dorothy Elizabeth relied on both old methods and new to construct this vessel.

Duncan told CA: "As a student and teacher of English, particularly British and American poetry, I was early sensitized to what words can do if carefully used. In assisting my father on writing A Cruising Guide to the New England Coast, I was challenged not only to describe a harbor or scene accurately but to communicate some of its interest or appeal.

"A colleague at Belmont Hill School, Prentice G. Downes, had written Sleeping Island about his travels in the Canadian Arctic, distinguished from most of the other such books by the author's feelings and thoughts about his experience. I noticed that many accounts of voyages in yachting magazines were confined to itinerary and to vapid remarks about how 'nice,' 'beautiful,' or unpleasant an anchorage was. When I became coauthor of the Guide in 1960, I added bits of history, legend and experience to coastal information. Do you know that you can see the snow-clad White Mountains from Casco Bay in early summer? An inspiring sight. Champlain saw them in 1605 and Captain John Smith in 1614. The matter is of no navigational significance.

"In 1975 I wrote Eastward, an account of a cruise to Saint John, New Brunswick, with my wife and a British couple. We encountered various difficulties but no imminent disaster or exciting shipwreck. The success of the book lies in what my father called the 'featherstitching.'

"I found that sharing my responses to the Maine coast was interesting, challenging, and welcome to publishers and magazine editors. My involvement with the Guide and with the Friendship Sloop Society led to continuing projects. After I had taught two adult education courses on the maritime history of Maine, I applied much the same attitude I had used in earlier books to Coastal Maine and then to the building of our little schooner, Dorothy Elizabeth.

"My suggestion to the aspiring writer is to cease to aspire. Look to the situation in hand. Pick the significant details and only such of them as are effective. 'Brevity is the soul of wit.'"



Booklist, June 1, 1981, review of The Practical Sailor, p. 1284; July-August, 2002, G. T. Trellis, review of Coastal Maine: A Maritime History.

Book World, June 3, 1979, Dawn Druley West, review of A Cruising Guide to the New England Coast: Including the Hudson River, Long Island Sound, and the Coast of New Brunswick, p. E3; December 6, 1981, Stephen Petrane, review of The Practical Sailor, p. 20.

Choice, April, 1993, B. H. Groene, review of Coastal Maine, p. 1377.

Library Journal, July, 1992, Harold N. Boyer, review of Coastal Maine, p. 100.

New England Quarterly, June, 1993, Renny A. Stackpole, review of Coastal Maine, pp. 342-344.

Publishers Weekly, June 15, 1992, review of Coastal Maine, p. 93.


Boothbay Register online,http://www.boothbayregister.maine.com/ (May 2, 2002), 'Maine Clipper Ships, Downeasters, and Schooners; The Legacy Lives On'.

Countryman Press and Backcountry Guides,http://www.countrymanpress.com/ (October 16, 2002).

Maine Harbors,http://www.maineharbors.com/ (May, 1998), Carol Standish, review of A Cruising Guide to the New England Coast.

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