New fiction and nonfiction briefly noted; Tripping on a tramp steamer; Steaming Towards Bamboola, by Christopher Buckley. New York: Congdon & Lattes Inc. 219 pp. $14.95.

No one ever said life aboard a tramp steamer was easy. In addition to the backbreaking work, there are fights among the crew, hair in the food, and wind-driven waves that can wash a person into the sea like a piece of unfastened corkboard. But there's also a sense of adventure - the quest for something on the other side of the watery horizon, in a never-to-be-reached place called Bamboola. By balancing these romantic notions with the sometimes brutal realities, author Buckley creates an image of steamer life which is both involving and humorous.

Buckley, formerly an editor at Esquire and now speech writer for Vice-President George Bush, rode aboard the Columbianna in 1979 from Charleston, S.C., to the North Sea port of Bremerhaven and then back to New Orleans. His account of the trip is rich in details, reflected in vivid prose. The best parts are descriptions of characters who seem more like a human collage than a crew. Like the sailors themselves, the language is rough and unrestrained. Yet, in context, it adds credibility to a fascinating story.

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