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Top Must-Read Books for Sailors

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

It’s the beginning of February; how are your 2023 resolutions going? Hopefully sailing was your top resolution, but if reading more was also a goal, I have just the list for you!

I’ve crafted the below list of must-reads after scouring the internet and the depths of Reddit for the most recommended read-for-pleasure books for sailors. After tallying votes from hundreds of comments and comparing them to lists from around the web, several titles rose to the surface.

Below are the results, with the most highly recommended at the top.

This title was the clear winner by a long shot and appeared on four of the five lists. Sailing Alone Around the World is a 1900 sailing memoir about the first person to circumnavigate the globe successfully single-handedly.

It’s hard to mention looking for sailing book recommendations without multiple people shouting the “Aubrey-Maturin series.” Master and Commander is the first of a long series of books that are adored by sailors and lovers of the sea. The series inspired the film adaptation “Master and Commander” starring Russell Crowe (great film, by the way!).

The Long Way is French sailor Moitessier’s personal account of his participation in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a solo, non-stop circumnavigation rounding the Capes of Good Hope, Leeuwin, and Horn.

Chronicling the same infamous race as the above-mentioned account by Bernard Moitessier, Peter Nichols’ book details the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, where nine sailors entered to circumnavigate the globe nonstop single-handedly, but only one crossed the finish line.

While it seems that most of the books on the list deal heavily with hardships and adventure, the consensus was definitely that The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float is full of light-hearted laughs about the woes of owning an old sailboat.

Many sailors praised Kon Tiki and promised it was much more interesting than it seemed at first glance. The book documents the author’s experiences crossing the Pacific Ocean in a raft.

South is described as “an epic struggle of man versus elements.” A favorite of my husband’s, Ernest Shackleton’s book brings readers along on the ship Endurance as his crew sets out to become the first to traverse Antarctica.

I found this book tucked in a bottom shelf at a used bookstore and was quite surprised to learn that it was a top ten favorite for sailors. Two Years Before the Mast is a memoir that details a two-year sea voyage on a merchant ship in 1834. The book is said to give a “vivid account of the life of a common sailor at sea as it really is.”

This true story about 16-year-old Robin’s 5-year voyage sailing around the world was a favorite for many and suggested as an annual read. Though I haven’t read it yet, at only 240 pages, it’s said to be quick and enjoyable.

I was surprised to see a book about whaling make it to the top ten list, but many sailors raved about this true historical book about the tragic loss of the whale ship Essex in 1820.

An uplifting true account of a father and son’s 17,000-mile adventure around Cape Horn on a boat they built together. Said to be “moving, often hilarious, often poignant…a rich and profound chronicle of their voyage and discovery.”

The 1979 Fastnet Race is described as the race that “changed the way yachts are designed” and is often cited as a disaster. The race resulted in the largest-ever rescue operation in peacetime and 19 fatalities. Author and sailor John Rousmaniere was there, and his book details the deadly race. A must-read for any sailor considering or interested in offshore sailing.

A 1903 adventure novel extremely influential in the spy fiction genre, Riddle of the Sands follows two young Englishmen who set out for a sailing holiday in the Baltic Sea on the eve of World War I.

Another personal account of the infamous Sunday Times Golden Globe race, but this time from the winner (and only finisher) and the first man to sail around the world non-stop single-handedly.

Another telling of the harrowing and fateful 1914 Trans-Antartic expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Said to be less tedious and technical than Shackleton's personal account (see South above).

John Kretschmer is considered one of the world’s most accomplished sailors and has logged over 300,000 offshore miles. Sailing a Serious Ocean is his memoir about 30 years as a delivery captain and off-shore sailor.

My ASA 103 & 104 instructor recommended this book and loved using anecdotes from it as part of the class. The 1998 Sydney - Hobart race was another infamous and tragic sailing race that changed yachting forever. The Proving Ground is the author’s account of the massive storm that ripped the fleet apart with hurricane-force winds and 80-foot waves.

The Kinsman is an adventure novel and fictional story about an unlikely America’s Cup challenge. Many reviewed it as a delightful and fun read.

I just added this one to the Audible library since the narration is said to be entertaining. Brave or Stupid is “an everyman tale about a middle-aged, seasick electrician with no money who suddenly and for no reason decides to sail around the world.” One reviewer on Amazon summed up other comments and reviews well: “The true story about a couple of buddies who take the meaning of mid-life crisis to a whole new level. While most guys do something fairly sensible like buy a Harley… these guys decide to sail around the world…none of them knew the first thing about boats or sailing.”

The story of a 65-year-old Sir Frances Chichester's single-hand circumnavigation of the globe in only 9 months.

Desperate Voyage is the author's true account after being stranded in Panama after World War II. Desperate to get to his new wife in Australia, John Caldwell teaches himself how to sail on a 20-foot boat and attempts to cross the Pacific Ocean alone. From a review: “I have read so many tales about the sea that I have grown numb from it all. Caldwell's story is one in which the reader, no matter how much nor how little has been read in the past, will ignite a fire to live for something greater than one's self. I have read this book four times, and it has never grown dull.”

Also, three authors were mentioned repeatedly when looking for sailing books. The consensus was that anything by John Kretschmer, Christian Williams, and Tristan Jones was highly recommended, so keep that in mind when plundering used bookstores!

Honorable mentions:

Surprisingly, this book didn’t get much attention on Reddit but was highly recommended by three of the five lists. One of the few accounts of a female sailor, Maiden Voyage details Tania’s acceptance of her father’s challenge of solo circumnavigating the globe in a 26-foot sailboat at the age of 18.

A New York Times bestseller, Adrift is Steven Callahan’s firsthand account of surviving the sinking of his sailboat and living on a life raft adrift in the ocean with meager supplies.

“This is the story of the 1996-1997 Vendée Globe, a solo sailing race that binds its competitors to just a few, cruelly simple rules: around the world from France by way of Antarctica, no help, no stopping, one boat, one sailor. “

Bonus: Planning a bareboat charter to the British Virgin Islands soon? Take Murder in Anegada for your on-theme beach read!

Is your favorite missing? Let me know by leaving a comment! :)

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1 Comment

Andrew Kramer
Andrew Kramer
Feb 02, 2023

Alone Together by Christian Williams should be on the list! The audio book version is great company.

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