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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Like those of Forester, O’Brian’s sailing novels are set during the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The series focuses on the friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and his ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturin. Master and Commander, the first novel in this series, was made into a box office hit starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany in the leading roles.
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.
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.
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.
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.