Sailing books hold a special place in literature. Fictional and non-fictional, it does not matter when the book is good. Be it a solo journey over calm crests to decipher the secrets within one’s soul or a struggle against nature itself as a band of sailors come together to defy the inevitable, sailing stories have always been intriguing.
Here is a list of 10 Great Sailing Books
1. Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum
In 1985, Joshua Slocum set off on Spray to prove to all the doubters and naysayers that a man could indeed circumnavigate the world alone. Three years later, he returned vindicated and with a story that captured the hearts and minds of readers all over the globe. Joshua Slocum journey and story were practically the originators of the sailing as a hobby lifestyle that still endures to this day.
2. South Sea Vagabonds by John Wray
Unemployed and penniless, John Wray was the stereotypical man during the Great Depression. With no skills in sailing or building boats, he somehow managed to borrow and steal what he needed to make a yacht, Ngataki. With just a sextant and some loyal friends, John Wray set sail to find what he always dreamed off and succeeded. South Sea Vagabonds goes beyond an interesting story and speaks to us about freedom and mastering your fate.
3. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic by Alfred Lansing
August 1914 marked the beginning of Ernest Shackleton’s trip to Antarctica, where the last unexplored continent sat waiting to be conquered. He and crew battled hundreds of miles of ice and snow and, in January 1915, only a day away from his goal, his ship is trapped between two ice masses. Then Shackleton and his crew of 27 men began the incredible journey of over 850 miles to the nearest outpost of civilization.
4. Sailing to the Reefs by Bernard Moitessier
The only thing better than being the first person to circumnavigate the globe…is to be the first person to do so twice in immediate succession. Bernard Moitessier catapulted himself into the ranks of the legendary with his journey and his story that studies the independence and self-reliance required to survive anything at sea, even a shipwreck.
5. Wanderer by Sterling Hayden
Sterling Hayden was an actor at the top of his game in Hollywood when, suddenly, he left Hollywood, left his wife, lost all his money, ditched the courts and took his four children on a schooner headed for South Seas. His autobiography, contentious, and controversial as it is, provided a unique insight into the search for meaning in life.
6. The Strange and Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall
“A lie is only ever as good as its coverup” is a lesson Donald Crowhurst probably wished he had learned earlier. With little preparation and a boat barely good enough to float, Donald Crowhurst tried to become the first person ever to circumnavigate the world non-stop. Buckling under the pressure, he tried to create a hoax so elaborate and realistic it would save his reputation. A much-needed story of human tragedy.
7. Cochrane: The Story of Britannia’s Sea Wolf by Donald Thomas
Donald Thomas hits it out of the park with this historical biography of a man who defeated several ships in the Napoleonic era, becomes a revolutionary political figure, is imprisoned, escapes and is placed in charge of the Chilean Navy. The life of Lord Cochrane is an amazing story about defying the odds, even when they seem unconquerable.
8. Once is Enough by Miles Smeeton
A simple journey from Melbourne to Cape Horn gave birth to one of the most harrowing sailing stories ever recorded. Miles and Beryl Smeeton, John Buzzwell, and Pwe (a Siamese cat) took off from Melbourne to England when, their ship was flipped end over end, throwing Beryl overboard. She only survived by clinging to the wreckage of the mast. After making to England and continuing the rest of the journey without John Buzzwell, a rogue wave capsized their boat and broke their mast, yet they still sailed 2000 miles to Chile. Sure, these aren’t the kind of books you will often find cited by the Oscola referencing generator or other citation management software. However, they are still literary masterpieces, and that is unquestionable.
9. A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols
In 1968, the Sunday Times held the greatest sailing competition before the age of GPS and smartphones took over. Nine sailors took off to earn the glory of single-handedly circumnavigating of the world…but only one, Robin Knox-Johnston, would come back and win the fame and the glory. Bernard Moitessier chooses a different path. The others were rewarded with failure, insanity, and death.
10. A World of My Own by Robin Knox-Johnston
This is the story of how Robin Knox-Johnston circumnavigated the globe in 1968-1969. Knox-Johnston and Suhaili, a 32-foot sailing boat, cemented his legend by becoming the first to travel the world solo and non-stop. With excellent writing, gripping honesty and humor to boot, ‘A World of My Own’ is also legendary.