sailing books to read

Some of the Best Sailing Books to Read

Top 3 Best Sailing Books to Read whilst in Isolation.

Unlike me, some of you will find you have extra time on your hands whilst working from home or your boat.  Below are a few recommendations for the best sailing books that, in my opinion, you should give some shelf space to.


Moby Dick by Herman Melville

This book was first published in England in 1896 under the title The Whale.  A month later it was released in New York with the new title Moby Dick.  Considered to be Melville’s greatest works, it tells the story of a whaling captain’s obsession to hunt and kill an elusive white sperm whale.  Narrated from the perspective of Ishmael, a crew member aboard the whaling vessel The Pequod, this tale is one of obsession, adversity and madness. It is also one of the best historical accounts of life aboard a whaling ship in the 1800s.  Melville had himself worked on whaling ships so could give firsthand accounts of the extreme hardships.  He also researched true stories like that of The Essex, a whaling ship sunk by a sperm whale in the 1820s and the legendary Mocha Dick, an aggressive white sperm whale that lived around the Pacific island of Mocha.

This book is a long read, frustratingly so at times with Melville using flowery prose and overly long descriptive sentences.  But it is these sentences that will also blow you away and you can’t wait to go back time and again. “He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.”

sailing books

A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nicholls

a voyage for madmen

The second of the top three best sailing books to read will have you sitting on the edge of your seat.  This is a must-read for any sailor be they leisure cruisers, competition racers or liveaboard nomads.  This story follows the nine men that took part in the inaugural Golden Globe Race of 1968.  The Golden Globe sailing race was a solo non-stop circumnavigation of the world.  Sponsored by the Times newspaper, anyone, experienced or not, could enter to win the £5000 prize, all they needed was a boat.  Nine men started the race and only one finished.  Robin Knox Johnson crossed the finish line in Falmouth 312 days after starting out.  Of the remaining competitors, six retired, one sank and was rescued and one is believed to have taken his own life.  Nicholls writes about the difficulties of taking part in such a race with limited navigational equipment and in some cases, substandard boats and equipment.  It’s a tale of hardships, perseverance, searching and personal tragedy.  Don’t read it at bedtime you’ll never get to sleep.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft by Thor Heyerdahl

kon tiki

In 1947 Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl set out with five other adventurers to show it was possible for a wooden raft to sail from South America to Polynesia.  It was a well-held belief at that time that the Pacific islands had been populated from Asia in an east to west direction.  Heyerdahl had a theory that people from South America may have populated parts of Polynesia.  He proposed that it was possible to sail west to east in wooden rafts on the trade winds.  Building a raft from balsa wood tree trunks and using only the materials, methods and tools available in pre-Columbian times, Kon-Tiki was born.  The explorers set sail from Peru on 28th April 1947.  Some 4300nm later they finally struck a reef near to the Tuamotus set of islands after 101 days at sea.  In the book, Heyerdahl details his previous expeditions to research the west-east theory.  However, it is mostly a fascinating record of preparing for the trip, the expedition itself and the experiences of crossing a vast ocean with little more than some sweet potatoes, courage and a can-do attitude.

Related Articles: Mocha Dick – Inspiration for Moby Dick

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