Meteorological spring has officially begun but there’s no sign of it from where we’re sitting. So while we’re waiting for summer and our next sailing holiday, there’s only one thing to do: dream about the high seas. Is there anything more satisfying than snuggling up on the sofa with your favourite book, the sound of the rain in the background.
So get comfy and be inspired by our selection of the top ten best sailing books. Boil the kettle, prep the blanket and let’s go…
1. Pete Goss, Close to the Wind
If you’re into action and adventure, then this astounding story of a rescue that occurred on a grueling sailing competition will do just the trick. It all starts with Pete Goss, who embarks on the Vendee Globe, a non-stop, single handed, round-the-world yacht race. But things don’t go according to plan when a horrible storm threatens to overtake fellow yachtsman Raphael Dinelli and Goss must make personal sacrifices of epic proportions to save his friend and finish the race.
2. Ernest Hemingway, Old Man and the Sea
Published in 1953, this short novel by the famed American author won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The story recounts the plight of an aging fisherman who’s suffered many days without a single catch. When his bait is taken by a marlin, he commences an epic struggle that stretches for the length of the entire narrative. The story might seem simplistic, but the vivid imagery and heroic elements will hold your attention until you’re finished reading.
3. Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Let’s begin with an absolute classic of sailing literature. Moby Dick begins with one of the most famous opening sentences of world literature and continues to narrate, over almost 1000 pages, a fantastic tale of whaling in the 19th century. Captain Ahab’s desperate vendetta against the white whale is not only an incredible adventure, but also a meditation on class structures, good and evil and the existence of God.
4. C.S. Forester, the Horatio Hornblower Series
C.S. Forester first introduced his famous protagonist Horatio Hornblower – seafaring hero of the British Marine during the Napoleonic Wars – in The Happy Return in 1937. Forester tells of the epic adventures and personal crises of this complex character in an amazing 11 volumes.
5. J.W. Wray, South Sea Vagabonds
South Sea Vagabonds tells the true tale of John Wray, who in 1930s New Zealand builds his famous yacht Ngataki with his own hands, no money and little experience before gathering a small crew and setting off into the South Pacific. This beautiful book passionately tells of the freedom of a life at sea.
6. Björn Larsson, Long John Silver
The notorious pirate with the wooden leg, of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island fame, has returned to terrorise the high seas. As the magnificent subtitle says, Larsson’s riotous tale narrates ‘the true and eventful history of his life of liberty and adventure as a gentleman of fortune and enemy to mankind’.
This includes rakish buccaneers, reckless adventures and a lot of mutiny. Larsson has created an intertextual and multilayered pleasure of a read, in which the fearsome seafarer returns to life in 1720, a full 160 years before his creation in 1880.
7. Patrick O’Brian, Aubrey-Maturin Series
Many people might not even realize they know about this series, but if you’ve ever watched “Master and Commander,” then you do! This title is the first in this nautical historical series that centers around the relationship between the captain of the Royal Navy and his ship’s surgeon-cum-intelligence agent. If you want to immerse yourself in life at sea in all its sheer detail — including weapons, storms, and even food, then this is the read for you.
8. Erskine Childers, The Riddle of the Sands
The Riddle of the Sands was published in 1903 and is said to be one of the very first espionage novels. This famous thriller tells the story of Carruthers, who in 1902 is invited on a yachting holiday in the Baltic Sea by a university acquaintance. What begins as a leisurely cruise soon turns into a gripping and dangerous espionage adventure on the high seas. The Riddle of the Sands enjoyed huge popularity when it was published, and we’re not surprised: this riveting thriller is without a doubt one of the top ten best sailing books.
9. Alfred Lansing, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
In 1915, Sir Ernest Shackleton plans the first ever crossing of the Antarctic overland. Soon, the white continent turns into an icy hell as Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance – 28 men and 100 dogs – fight for survival for 635 days.
10. The Sailing Thrillers of Sam Llewellyn
British author Sam Llewellyn is a passionate sailor and it shows in his series of gripping sailing thrillers. Murder, jealousy and betrayal are daily fare in Llewellyn’s novels, which are set in Pulteney, on the southwest coast of England. We recommend: The Shadow in the Sands continues the mystery of Childers’s The Riddle of the Sands and offers a fascinating new set of interpretations.
11. Captain Joshua Slocum, Sailing Alone Around the World
Slocum’s brilliant travel account is a classic piece of adventure and sailing literature. In Sailing Alone Around the World Slocum recounts his famous 1895 solo journey around the world on the iconic Spray. This is a fantastic book – incisive and inspiring, with plenty of dry humour.