Books for Long Winter Nights

From the poetic to the practical, our short list has something for all.


Winter is upon us, and that means we’ll have a little time to catch up on our reading. Here are a few of the books that caught our eye this year. This list is supplemented with additional titles online, so be sure to check the Practical Sailor web version of this article.

Gritty Journalism


The injustices committed at sea lie in plain sight of any international cruising sailor, but even the widest roaming voyager will be shocked by Ian Urbina’s plunge into the dark underbelly of commercial fishing, forced labor, smuggling, piracy, and human trafficking, “The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier,” 2020, Vintage Books, 544 p., $24). A Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter, Urbina explores corners of the wild ocean frontier that few reporters would dare to approach.

Books for Long Winter Nights

Novel Escapes

In “Ferry to Cooperation Island,” 2020, She Writes Press, 357 p., $17) Olympic Sailor Carol Newman Cronin pulls back the bay-window blinds on Breton Island, RI, where past and future collide in salty sparks. Cronin’s island tale unfolds intimately through the eyes of two ferry captains and an engaging cast of characters, bringing life to the New England seascape as only an avid sailor can.

Books for Long Winter Nights

Set in 1898 Cape Cod, Sarah Anne Johnson’s “The Last Sailor” (2020, Sourcebooks, 304 p., $17), weaves a tale of brotherly rivalry against the backdrop of the New England maritime traditions. Schooner-lovers will appreciate the novel’s pivotal point, a fateful sail from Boston to the Yarmouth, and Johnson’s eye for the details of everyday life in age-of-sail New England.

Books for Long Winter Nights

Robert Macomber is on a roll with his series of historical military adventure tales spanning the career of fictional naval intelligence officer Peter Wake. In “Word of Honor” (2020, Naval Institute Press, 344 p., $18), Macomber’s 15th book in the Honor series, we find our hero’s peaceful retirement in jeopardy. The third and final book chronicling Wake’s adventures in the Spanish-American War features blockade running, a thrilling high seas pursuit, and an encounter with the roughest of Rough Riders, Teddy Roosevelt—what’s not to like?

Books for Long Winter Nights

Historic Voyages

Married to a New Zealand Mauri, Christina Thompson debunks the commonly accepted history of the people of the Pacific in this staff favorite. Her earnest search for answers to the Polynesian puzzle, “Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia” (2019, Harper Collins, 365 p., $30) will deepen a sailor’s admiration for the seafaring people that populated the planet’s largest ocean.

Books for Long Winter Nights

The sailing book-lover’s world would surely be shortchanged in 2020 without a proper examination of the pirate life, and Dr. Jamie Goodall, a staff historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington, D.C., is just the person to tell it. Goodall’s pirate research has stretched across the Caribbean, and she’s clearly sailing home waters in her compact, illustrated account of “Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay: From the colonial Era to the Oyster Wars” (2020, Arcadia Publishing, 160 p. $29).

Going North?

Books for Long Winter Nights

With the fabled Northwest Passage becoming a reality, interest in polar sailing has never been higher. The steep learning curve has to begin somewhere and a good starting point is High Latitude Sailing: Self Sufficient Sailing Techniques for Cold Waters (2020, Adlard Coles, 196 pgs., $28). Veteran weather router John Amtrup and Arctic sailor Bob Shepton add their hard-earned experience to this introductory survey of what it takes to mount an icy expedition.

Books for Long Winter Nights

Beneath the Seas

One can’t sail for long without growing curious about what lies beneath the keel. Two very different books on wreck-hunting tempt our fascination with ill-fated ships. Simon Mills’ richly illustrated “Exploring the Britannic: The Life, Last Voyage and Wreck of the Titanic’s Tragic Twin” (2019, Adlard Coles, $35), recounts his nearly lifelong involvement with the HMS Britannic, which was sunk after hitting a mine in the Aegean 4 years after her more famous sistership sank. Mills bought the wreck in 1996 from Jacques Cousteau, and his tale omits few, if any, facets of shipwrecking—from the excitement of discovery to the bureaucratic squabbles over rights.

Books for Long Winter Nights

In “Dangerous Shallows: In Search of The Ghost Ships of Cape Cod,” (2020, Lyons Press 256 p. ,$20) Eric Takakjian, and Randall Peffer present an engaging collection of shipwreck stories. Stars along this wreck-studded coast include a mysterious German U-boat, a treasure trove of silver, and a suspected Soviet spy ship. After reading these stories, the ocean view from Provincetown will never look the same to you again.

Books for Long Winter Nights

Imaginative Escapes

Two illustrated works of maritime magic close out our list. The first, Peter Van Den Ende’s wordless “The Wanderer” (2020, Levine Querido, 96 p., $22), follows the fantastic voyage of a paper boat with mesmerizing Escher-like illustrations. The second book for young readers, “The Lights and Types of Ships at Night,” (2020, McSweeney’s, $19) is written by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Annie Dills. The good-humored narrator accompanies the reader on a fanciful, lyrical tour of fabulously lit ships at night. Dills beautiful renderings of reflections, ship lights, and cityscapes lend the appropriate air of wonder to every scene.

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Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida.


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