You could fill the shelves of a community library with good books about sailing and the ocean. Rather than attempt to present a comprehensive collection of titles that have influenced me, I will instead post a selection of what I consider worthwhile reads. This page will be updated frequently. I also invite readers to submit selections of their own, and a sentence or two about why those titles are important to them. Categories will include: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Ocean Passage Planning, Maritime History, Environmental Awareness. Use the comment box at the bottom of this page to include your favorites and help me add to a collection of good nautical books.
OCEAN PASSAGE PLANNING
Dove–What kid who loved the ocean and adventure in the 1960s didn’t connect with 16-year-old Robin Lee Graham who sailed alone around the world in a 24-foot sloop. Five years and 33,000 miles later, he returned to home port with a wife and daughter and a lifetime of extraordinary experiences.
Sailing Alone Around the World–In 1895, Joshua Slocum set sail in Spray, a 36′ gaff rigged sloop oyster boat he had rebuilt himself. Navigating mainly without using his chronometer and only by dead-reckoning Slocum circumnavigated Spray covering a distance of some 46,000 miles over three years.
Sailing Down the Mountain–Ben and Helen Harrison set aside their life in San Francisco to go to Costa Rica and build a 38-foot sailboat. They had never built a boat before. Then, they had to get it down to mountainside to the water. And from there sail to Key West where they now live. A great book about two free spirited souls.
Longitude–John Harrison, in complete opposition to the scientific community, dared to imagine a clock that would keep precise time at sea. Longitude is the author Dava Sobel’s dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and of Harrison’s forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer.
Maiden Voyage–Tania Aebi could choose either a college education or a twenty-six-foot sloop. The only catch was that if she chose the sailboat, she’d have to sail around the world—alone. Recommended: Soulful Road
The Ship and the Storm–In October 1998, one of the most savage storms in Atlantic history cornered a 282-foot passenger sailing ship against an exposed Caribbean coastline. With nowhere to hide and no time to run, Fantome turned to face Hurricane Mitch’s assault of 180 mile-per-hour winds and 50-foot seas. The ship and its 31 crew members vanished. Recommended: Teresa Sopp
On the Water–From the acclaimed author Guy de la Valdène comes a meditation on water and nature, fishing and growing older. On the Water is a gorgeously written collection of essays that all take place on or near the water and pay tribute to the flora and fauna associated with those ecosystems. Recommended: Greg Kempson
My Old Man and the Sea–A story of adventure on a small boat with a father and son. On this voyage the father relinquishes control, the son becomes the captain, and before long they are utterly alone, with only the huge waves of Cape Horn, a compass, a sextant, a pet cat, and the tiny boat they’ve built together. Recommended: Chris Simonds
South Sea Tales–A collection of eight fascinating tales of fantasy and adventure in the South Seas. Based on Jack London’s own adventures sailing in the South Pacific. Cannibalism, brutality, and slavery are the most recurring themes in this book. Exquisitely written but definitely not light-hearted literature.
Wind From The Carolinas–Set against the exotic background of the Bahama Islands, it’s the saga of wealthy, aristocratic families from the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia who, following the American Revolution, fled the South for the Bahamas, where they remained loyal to England. The character Juan Cadiz sailing among the island in his Bahamian sloop with tanbark sails is enchanting.
The Riddle of the Sands–Regarded as one of the best spy stories ever written. It holds a special place in the affections of spy-novel fans for its richness of technical detail about inshore sailing. Recommended: John Martini
Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy–“I gotta go with the Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy for starters. I absorbed them when I was 14 and I’ve been ruined ever since. After that it was Two Years Before the Mast and I was ruined even worse.” Recommended: Bob Morris
Paddle-to-the-Sea–A young Indian boy carves a little canoe with a figure inside and names him Paddle-to-the-Sea. Paddle’s journey, in text and pictures, through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean provides an excellent geographic and historical picture of the region. Recommended: Susan Kennedy-Davis
Moby Dick–Is considered a Great American Novel and an outstanding work of the Romantic period in America and the American Renaissance. “Call me Ishmael” is one of world literature’s most famous opening sentences. Recommended: Sheri Lohr
Patrick O’Brian Series–This, the first in the splendid series of Jack Aubrey novels, establishes the friendship between Captain Aubrey, R.N., and Stephen Maturin, ship’s surgeon and intelligence agent, against a thrilling backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. Recommended: Sheri Lohr
Dolly and the Singing Bird–This novel introduces Johnson Johnson, a famous but enigmatic portrait painter who has far ranging and eclectic interests – and a beautiful yacht: ‘Dolly’. The ‘singing bird’ is Tina Rossi, a leading coloratura soprano. Recommended: Denise Vesuvio
Endurance—The astonishing saga of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s survival for over a year on the ice-bound Antarctic seas. Alfred Lansing’s scrupulously researched and brilliantly narrated book has long been acknowledged as the definitive account of the Endurance’s fateful trip.
Song for the Blue Ocean–Part odyssey, part pilgrimage, this epic personal narrative follows the author’s exploration of coasts, islands, reefs, and the sea’s abyssal depths. Scientist and fisherman Carl Safina takes readers on a global journey of discovery, probing for truth about the world’s changing seas, deftly weaving adventure, science, and political analysis.
The Gulf Stream–Bill Macleish’s portrait of the “River Within the Sea” not only affects the lives of Americans and Europeans but is also, from many points of view–oceanographic, climatic, historical, commercial, poetic, aesthetic–one of the world’s greatest natural phenomena.