Top 10 Sailing Books

23 Feb Top 10 Sailing Books

There are few things better in life than reading a good sailing book whilst sailing! To go off watch, curl up in a warm sleeping bag and read about your favourite sailing adventure is pure bliss. The background sounds of the wind in the rigging, the water lapping at the bow and the odd crackle of noise on the vhf are perfect accompaniment to any sailing story. More so than ever you feel as if you are reliving the story with the author.

So many authors have been inspired by the sea and there are therefore hundreds of books to choose from.

Here is a list of our top ten sailing books:

1)     South Sea Vagabonds – John Wray

South Sea Vagabonds John Wray

One of the best sailing adventure books ever written. With no money and very little skill John Wray sets about building his own yacht, cobbles together some crew and then sets sail on a Pacific adventure. He is driven by an insatiable passion that as a reader can become quite contagious. The story is very inspiring and hugely entertaining.

  2)     Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic – Alfred Lansing

Endurance Shackleton's Incredible Voyage Alfred Lansing

Endurance really is the ultimate survival story. Alfred Lansing uses extracts from the diaries of the 28 men involved to recount this famous and extraordinary feat of human determination and courage. Shackleton and his team manage to survive for 2 years in the harsh and freezing Antarctic. With a fast pace, this book is a thrilling read.

  3)     Sailing Alone Around The World – Joshua Slocum

Sailing Alone Around The World Joshua Slocum

Joshua Slocum has been an inspiration to so many. His epic solo voyage around the world started in 1895 and ever since he and his famous vessel ‘Spray’ has captivated the imaginations of sailors everywhere. Joshua Slocum is as good an author as he is a sailor – and he is probably the best sailor to have ever lived.

  4)     The Strange and Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst – Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall

The Strange Last Voyage Of Donald Crowhurst Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall

Donald Crowhurst set sail on board his vessel ‘Teignmouth Electron’ in 1968. He was attempting to become the first ever person to sail around the world non-stop. He was ill prepared and his boat was clearly not up to the task at hand. Perhaps it was the solitude or the financial pressure, but Donald Crowhurst created an elaborate hoax that he thought would save him, but in the end added to his downfall and psychological demise. A powerful book about a terrible human tragedy.

5)     Cochrane: The Story of BritanniasSea Wolf – Donald Thomas

Cochrane Britannia's Sea Wolf Donald Thomas

A historical biography about the amazing life of Lord Cochrane. Against incredible odds Lord Cochrane defeats numerous ships during the Napoleonic era. Later in life he becomes a radical politician. He is imprisoned, then escapes and ends up commanding the Chilean Navy. Donald Thomas delivers this rip-roaring story in a compelling and captivating way. If you like Hornblower or Master and Commander then you must read about Lord Cochrane!

  6)     Once is enough – Miles Smeeton

 Once Is Enough Miles Smeeton

A first hand account of a disastrous trip around Cape Horn! In a huge sea their 46ft vessel ‘Tzu Hang’ is pitch polled. Very lucky to survive, Miles Smeeton and his crew end up drifting to the Chilean coast where they spend 10 months making repairs. On their second attempt they were once again capsized and dismasted. This book is a timeless and compelling read; it serves as the perfect reminder of how powerful and potentially devastating the sea can be.

  7)     A World of My Own – Robin Knox-Johnston

A World Of My Own Robin Knox-Johnston

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is a sailing legend. This is the story of his ten and a half month single handed trip around the world that put him in the record books. In 1969 Sir Robin, on board his 32 ft vessel ‘Suhaili’, became the first person to circumnavigate the world solo and non-stop. An extraordinary tale of courage and bravery, ‘A world of my own’ is gripping from start to finish, honest, humorous and excellently written.

  8)     Left for Dead – Nick Ward

Left For Dead Nick Ward

A horrific storm brought devastation during the infamous Fastnet Race in 1979 causing 15 sailors to lose their lives. Nick Ward was on board one of the vessels that capsized. His skipper had already been lost overboard, he was unconscious and his crew members abandoned the yacht in a life raft as they had presumed he was dead. It took nearly 30 years before Nick Ward was able to retell the story. The book includes vivid descriptions; it is a compelling and haunting journey of desperate survival – utterly absorbing from start to finish.

  9)     The Long Way – Bernard Moitessier

The Log Way Bernard Moistessier

Bernard Moitessier could have won the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in 1969 (by becoming the first person to sail non-stop and single handed around the world), but instead he chose to carry on and go round again! Bernard Moistessier was a mystical and poetic sailor and this account of his journey is a very non-typical description of life on the ocean wave. A philosophical and inspiring book that is a must read for anyone who enjoys long distance sailing.

  10)  The Lonely Sea and The Sky – Francis Chichester

The Lonely Sea And The Sky Sir Francis Chichester

Sir Francis Chichester is one of the greatest adventurers of all time. This is an autobiography that celebrates the achievements and personal triumphs of a man who really new how to live life to the full. He suffered with severe illness but didn’t let it get in the way of his dreams. A fantastic sailor and marvellous aviator, Sir Francis Chichester is a true inspiration. The book is informative and enthralling in equal measures.

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  • Mark
    Posted at 17:27h, 23 February Reply

    A good list of books, some I have read, some I have not. The one I would add is voyage of the madmen which I really enjoyed and it encompasses many of the sailing heroes you have in your list.
    I will look to get some of the books though.

  • Bernard Merryweather
    Posted at 08:33h, 24 February Reply

    I would also add “Desperate voyage ” by John Caldwell. It demonstrates what happens when you do everything wrong! I could not put it down, I nearly read it in one go!

    • Andrew Barron
      Posted at 14:43h, 24 February Reply

      I so agree! I first read this when I was 14 years old and could not put it down. Definitely time for a re-read!

    • Andrew Geddes
      Posted at 08:57h, 25 February Reply

      “Desperate Voyage” is a superb read. I met John Caldwell when he had retired but his family was still running the resort on Palm Island. Apart from the fact that he signed my copy he was still a most captivating personality in his elder years.John is now dead and the family sold the resort but it is a great place to go.

      • Capt Harry Birch
        Posted at 00:47h, 26 February Reply

        John Caldwell’s story was amazing and entertained my brother who read the story to his two small daughters, replacing Caldwell’s name with my own. Meanwhile I was batter ling my way on my own voyage adventures and crossed the Atlantic reading another amusing FUNNY sailing story BY Christian Jones on his converted life boat Creswell called the INCREDIBLE VOYAGE.
        When I lost my own yacht in a tornado in Florida and returned to the UK ill and broke, I wrote my own sailing story
        SAGA OF A NAUTI SAILOR. available on amazon . My next book is being edited called THE UNLUCKY SAILOR IN HAITI

  • Kees Koek
    Posted at 08:35h, 24 February Reply

    Nice list! What I would like to add is Peter Nichols’ “Sea Change” – the best sailing book I have ever read!

    • Will Colliver
      Posted at 15:20h, 14 June Reply

      Couldn’t agree more. I loved it.

  • Daria Blackwell
    Posted at 11:07h, 24 February Reply

    Very good list except these are not novels, though some might argue that a few of the stories straddle the border between fiction and non-fiction. I might add one of Sterling Hayden’s books to the list.

    • Richard Jepsen
      Posted at 19:17h, 24 February Reply

      Daria, great point; I loved the list but those aren’t novels.
      Sea Wolf, Moby Dick are novels.

  • Cap'n Matt
    Posted at 13:52h, 24 February Reply

    Great list, both by Pete Green as well as those suggested above. I might also lob in:

    “The Riddle of The Sands” by Erskine Childers. A great movie version was released in 1979 that has become a cult favorite among sailors with a penchant for history and political intrigue.

    Happy Reading!

    ~~_/) ~~

  • Tony Roberts
    Posted at 15:31h, 24 February Reply

    An amazing story of courage: “Red Sky in Mourning” written by surviving fiancé of Richard Sharp, lost at sea during a pitch-pole south of Hawaii while the two were delivering a Trintella back to USA. Richard was a true gentleman sailor and mentor who I counted as a personal friend.

    • Pamela Bitterman
      Posted at 20:42h, 24 February Reply

      Hi Tony Roberts! We know Tami (Red Sky In Mourning) very well, and were lucky enough to get to know Richard also (He actually named our first born.)! We sailed across the South Pacific to New Zealand with Tami aboard the 123 foot, three masted gaff topsail schooner SOFIA. And we had a chance to sail with them both aboard Mayaluga before they left for their fateful passage. I don’t recognize your name, but we apparently have our love and admiration for them in common. Nice to hear.

      • Tony Roberts
        Posted at 15:07h, 27 February Reply

        Hi again:

        Thanks for response. Richard and I worked side by side in the early 70 ‘s when he was building Mayaluga (Sampson 36′ design) and I an Endurance 40’ in the same yard he managed in SA, Rennies Marine. I too had opportunity to sail with him off Durban in the early days before he left.

        I lost contact before the that fateful voyage and never got to meet Tami. When I knew him he was dating an English gal, whose name I cannot currently recollect.

        We currently live in BC in Canada and are preparing a vessel for our big south seas adventia.

        Best regards,

  • Captain Jim Gordon
    Posted at 15:46h, 24 February Reply

    Since the list includes sailing books that are not novels,
    I’d add Atlantic High by William F Buckley, Jr.

  • Paultheboat
    Posted at 20:36h, 24 February Reply

    For lighter reading try anything written by either Sam Llewellyn ot Bernard Cornwall

  • Dave Andersons
    Posted at 20:54h, 24 February Reply

    Joseph Conrad is the best. Try Typhoon as a first read. Then you will be hooked on a great author!

  • Jeremy Walker
    Posted at 21:05h, 24 February Reply

    And since these also aren’t novels, either (or both) of Eric Newby’s fine books describing life in the Southern Ocean in the 30s. “The Last Grain Race” and “Learning the Ropes.” Alan Villiers’ book too….

  • Kevin Kerwin
    Posted at 21:22h, 24 February Reply

    “The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad. Short, but awesome.
    “The Last Grain Race” book and separate photo book

  • Kirsten
    Posted at 21:29h, 24 February Reply

    “hello sailor” by Michael Hutchinson
    Laugh out loud funny autobiographical story about Michael’ s passion for sailing as a boy, subsequently becoming a professional cyclist and later on in life trying to fulfil his dream of becoming a top sailor again. Neither my husband or I could stop bursting out in fits of laughter. Great book for dinghy and yacht sailors alike

  • jane K
    Posted at 22:02h, 24 February Reply

    Longtitude by Dava Sobel ISBN-13: 978-0007214228

    is another I would add to the list.

    Also available in an excellent film with Michael Gambon

  • Tom Cunliffe
    Posted at 08:47h, 25 February Reply

    Here’s the thing – I don’t like reading about the sea while I’m out there – I prefer something that takes my mind off it. I’ve always carried a copy of Masefield’s poems with me and crossing the Atlantic some years ago I read ‘War and Peace’. My library at home is full of wonderful sailing yarns which I’m continually dipping into during the winter months.
    The sailing book which first fired up my enthusiasm to go cruising was Bill Robinson’s ‘Deep Water and Shoal’ with its inspiring foreword by Weston Martyr about savaging the bowler hat, telling the 7.35 from Sunningdale to get stuffed, then go and do as Bill did and sail round the world with no money. What started you off?

  • Michael Howorth
    Posted at 14:23h, 25 February Reply

    What started me off? It has to be Swallows and Amazons and for getting kids interested in sailing it is still the best.

  • Bill Hunt
    Posted at 14:49h, 25 February Reply

    I agree with Michael Howorth about the Swallows and Amazons series. However, the best sailing novel I have ever read was The Shipkiller by Justin Scott. It is a wonderful and exciting story by an author who clearly understands sailing.

  • bob suggitt
    Posted at 14:59h, 25 February Reply

    Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl was my first adult book.
    Inspirational read by a man that inspired many others willing to test out their theories.

  • Pamela Bitterman
    Posted at 15:38h, 25 February Reply

    By the way, if you haven’t run across it already, my book “SAILING TO THE FAR HORIZON: The Restless Journey and Tragic Sinking of a Tall Ship” is my true, compelling and I think worthy story.

  • Andre Toczek
    Posted at 17:43h, 25 February Reply

    Definitely agree with the addition of Peter Nichol’s “Sea Change” (well suggested Kees). I would also have to think about including:

    Dava Sobel’s “Longitude” (good choice Jane), and
    Hemingway’s long short story “The Old Man and the Sea”.

    How about Pete Goss “Close To The Wind”, a good autobiographical account.

  • Grant Headifen
    Posted at 13:22h, 26 February Reply

    Alex Blackwell’s Butterfly Effect was good. A captivating fiction sailing story of a couple caught up in a terrorist battle.

    Also Cooks second voyage around the world on his vessel Resolution – book by same name was excellent and a great tie into Dava Sobel’s “Longitude”.

    Of course not sailing but all ocean stuff is Patrick Robinson’s whole series.

    Pete Goss “Close to the Wind” recommended above was awesome. He’s a real hero leaving a serious southern Ocean storm he turns back into the storm to save a soul. Wow!

  • Michael Creamer
    Posted at 05:33h, 27 February Reply

    Of course Conrad and Patrick O’Brien. A personal favorite – Peter Mathiessen’s FAR TORTUGA.

  • Deri ocock
    Posted at 06:58h, 28 February Reply

    I suggest Long Voyage Back.
    Wikipedia says: Long Voyage Back was written by George Cockcroft under the pen name of Luke Rhinehart. It was published in 1983, at the height of the Cold War. The story concerns a hypothetical World War III between the USSR and the United States, and graphically depicts the ensuing carnage. One family and some friends try to run away in a sailboat, and the story describes their battles with nuclear winter and fallout, and with the ensuing collapse of civilization.

  • Cecilie Miller
    Posted at 21:46h, 20 January Reply

    We have two great sailing adventures to add to your list written first person by the founders of our press company:
    Cape Horn One Man’s Dream, One Woman’s Nightmare
    by Réanne Hemingway-Douglass
    Don and Reanne’s boat pitch-poled off the African Coast and were lost at sea for forty-two days.
    Also Beyond Cape Horn by Donald Douglass

  • Rudy Hengeveld
    Posted at 11:05h, 28 April Reply

    Does anyone know the title of the book about the guy from south america who sailed solo to the south pole, stayed there during wintertime and the sailed solo to the north pole. I rad it but can’t remember the title
    thanks greetings from Amsterdam

  • Ivan Patekar
    Posted at 14:56h, 08 March Reply

    Excellent list of books. I would only add book from Tony Bullimore Saved.
    That book was inspiration to open this page and read the list of top 10 sailing books.

  • Glenn Ranson
    Posted at 16:06h, 13 February Reply

    Solitaire Spirit by Les Powles is a ‘must read’

  • Janet Browning
    Posted at 06:09h, 25 August Reply

    “North To The Night”…by Alvah Simon…true story, first published in 1998. He may have only written this one book…but, when he did…he wrote the best one, in my opinion and I have read a lot of true sailing stories. When you read this one….Alvah puts you right there with him and his wife, Diana…he had such a gift for writing and I had so hoped he would write more books, but I have yet to see any more books by Alvah!

  • Wood Ship Kits
    Posted at 10:11h, 18 December Reply

    That’s really nice post. I appreciate your skills, Thanks for sharing.

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