Reads for Summertime Relaxing
Roundup includes science, history, trivia, and laugh-out-loud fiction.
Summer arrives this month, and hopefully, the long, sunny days will include some time for summer reading. Practical Sailor editors have compiled our biannual list of worthwhile marine titles for just that purpose. This year’s summer reading list starts with a scientific look at something all sailors know—being on or in the water enhances life—but the book answers “how” and “why.” An entertaining new release on curious nautical knowledge and the strange history of nautical terms also grabbed a spot on our list, as did long-time sailing writer and editor Herb McCormick’s book on the lives of Lin and Larry Pardey. The other titles range from a history of sailing warfare to a Scotland cruising guide; two distinctly different memoirs; a Matinicus, Maine-based fiction mystery; and a book on teamwork derived from lessons learned in the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race tragedy.
Why are we drawn to the ocean? Marine biologist Wallace Nichols links neuroscience and nature to tackle this question in this summer’s new release, “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science that Shows How Being On, Near, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do” (Little, Brown and Co., July 2014, $24 print, $13 Kindle). Nichols’s fact-packed book examines the science behind why we feel calm at the sound of the waves and why we rejoice when we hoist our sails at sunset. He charts what it means to be happy, in a neurological sense, with information gained while rigged up to a swim cap transmitting brain data; he interviews surfers, boaters, fishermen, and professional watermen, and describes the emotions and sense of well-being the individuals experience, while detailing the feel-good neurotransmitters—adrenaline, dopamine, endorphins—that rise in waves inside the brain and body. This is your brain on water; enjoy it while you’re out there this summer.
So where in the world is “Honki-Dori,” and what exactly is the “Baboon watch”? Become a regular Jack Tar with Practical Sailor contributor Capt. Frank Lanier’s summer release, “Jack Tar and the Baboon Watch: A Guide to Curious Marine Knowledge for Landlubbers and Sea Lawyers Alike” (International Marine, July 2014, $16). Lanier began collecting maritime history and word-origin knowledge during his career in the U.S. Coast Guard. Over the course of two decades, he added nautical trivia, marine superstitions, and little known facts from maritime reference books, ships’ logs, and slang dictionaries. His “Jack Tar” collection is highly entertaining and informative; for example, his sub-categories of pirates include buccaneers, corsairs, and landrones.
In his book, Lanier touches on historical facts like Commander Matthew Perry’s opening of Japan and includes such quirky trivia as the maritime origins of “a touch-and-go situation,” “all hands and the cook,” and “shake-a-leg.” Perfect for summer reading, “Jack Tar” will satisfy your nautical curiosities and tickle your funny bone.
McCormick tackles the life and times of bluewater voyagers Lin and Larry Pardey in, “As Long As It’s Fun: The Epic Voyages and the Extraordinary Times of Lin and Larry Pardy” (Paradise Cay Publications, 2014, $15 print, $10 Kindle). Since setting sail in 1969 on their 24-foot Lyle Hess-designed Seraffyn, the Pardeys have become synonymous with self-sufficient, do-it-yourself, affordable world cruising. Their 11 books and numerous sailing awards have made them household names in the sailing community. McCormick’s biography accounts for their years on and off the water in an interesting and endearing story, warts and all. Between tales of the Pardeys’ boat-building, provisioning, and ocean crossings, McCormick peels back the curtain on the couple’s public persona and allows the reader to feel what it’s like to be Lin and Larry Pardey. Although the Pardeys are happily retired now from ocean passagemaking and enjoying life ashore in North Cove, New Zealand, readers suspect dinner conversation would still include their mantra: “Go simple, go small, go now.”
There is no yardstick with which to measure the effect of nautical warfare on the history of man. “Fighting at Sea in the 18th Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare” (Boydell Press, 2008, $34) by Sam Willis tackles in great length how sea battles were won and lost in the 18th century. Chapter topics include how crews identified allies and enemies, how skippers maneuvered the enormous ships in battle, the subtle tactics of chasing, the brutal realities of fleet engagement, and the important role of weather.
In a book filled to the bulwarks with history and details, we found one of the most fascinating chapters the one on how a ship’s commanders were able to communicate orders and control a ship and its sailors in the heat of battle. Filled with exquisite maps and illustrations, the book concludes with more than 50 pages of appendix, notes, a glossary of terms, and a bibliography—plenty of mind candy for the history buff.
J. Maarten Troost’s laugh-out-loud adventure through the Pacific Islands, “Head Hunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story” (Gotham Books Penguin Group, 2013, $19 print, $11 Kindle), will have you guffawing from the start. How Troost manages to make a post-rehab trip framed around the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson both hysterical and poignant is a mystery. Troost tramps through the Marquesas, Tuamotus, Tahiti, Samoa, and Kiribati. His stories endear sailors, Stevenson scholars, and all those who have ever lost something along the way. This is a must-read for those lazy summer days spent kicked back in a hammock, the cockpit, or at the beach.
Maine natives and New England sailors who know the waters around Matinicus Island might be the first to pick up Darcy Scott’s “Matinicus: An Island Mystery” (Maine Authors Publishing, 2012, $15 print, $4 Kindle), but everyone will enjoy the feisty, twisting murder-mystery that unfolds across two centuries on this remote piece of land. Botanist Gil Hodges arrives on the island to hunt orchids and escape trouble on the mainland, only to find himself faced with a haunted house, an unhappy ghost, and murder. The history and lure of the Maine island life is woven nicely into the plot, and the characters are right off the docks at Casco Bay.
The iconic, 723-mile Sydney-to-Hobart Race is considered one of the toughest ocean races in the world. In 1998, an unexpected “weather-bomb” with 100-knot winds and 80-foot waves hit the race crews during what was already a challenging race. The crew aboard the 35-foot AFR Midnight Rambler sailed directly into the storm and came out the other side, three days later, victorious. “Into the Storm: Lessons in Teamwork from the Treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race” (American Management Association, 2013, $16 hardcover, $8 Kindle), written by Dennis N.T. Perkins with Jillian B. Murphy, describes the kind of teamwork it takes to survive, and win, one of the world’s greatest races. According to Perkins, this extraordinary blend of collaboration, trust, planning, and execution can serve as an example for success in today’s business world.
“How To Sail a Boat” by Matt Vance (Awa Press, 2013, $14, $8 Kindle) is not, as the title suggests, a how-to book on sailing. It’s the poignant and often humorous tale of a boy’s journey into the sailing life. Vance takes us from his first shaky moments sailing solo as a boy to the freedom of sailing oceans as an adult. His funny and heartfelt descriptions of the sailing life—passages, marinas and moorings, dockside characters, and a heart-stopping peek at things that can go wrong—authenticate why we sail and encourage new sailors to learn how to sail. Vance, a New Zealand–based writer, artist, and filmmaker, marks each chapter with evocative quotes from such notable characters as Sir Francis Chichester, Nathanael Herreshoff, and Henry David Thoreau. He dedicates a full chapter to a “most dangerous book,” Johnny Wray’s 1959 classic, “South Seas Vagabonds,” and wraps up his small but mighty book with a list of 38 other dangerous books. Beware; there be inspiring tales of adventure in those pages.
“Breaking Seas: An overweight, middle-aged computer nerd buys his first boat, quits his job, and sails off to adventure” (Ninth Circle Press, 2013, $14 print, $4 Kindle) by Glenn Damato tells the tale of a computer nerd who, having no success with love and relationships, decides to try his luck at sea. Damato makes his share of mistakes and suffers rejection and humiliation, but in the end, he reaches Baja. His true accomplishment, though, is sailing his boat back to California alone and grabbing a hold of his newfound confidence and his first shaky steps toward becoming who he wants to be.