Escape with a Good Sailing Book

Summer offers a great time to soak up some sailing fiction.


Sailing books

Sailing book

Sailing books

Sailing book

Weve compiled a list of books fit for summer reading, whether youre relaxing in the cockpit, hanging in a hammock on the bow, or parked on the beach. The list includes page-turning tales of adventure and survival, and lively accounts of maritime history.

Love, and hate, and the power of the sea build slowly off the coast of Mallorca in Peter Nichols latest book, The Rocks (Riverhead Books, 2015, $17, $14 digital). The novels layered plot crisscrosses generations, and the chapters struggle to untie the knots of misunderstandings between families and lovers that are like the gnarled roots of the islands olive trees. Nichols, himself a sailor and cruiser, paints multi-dimensional characters drowning in a dark, salacious script that unfolds like a modern-day odyssey-part beauty, part tragedy-spritzed with lemon juice and braced against a stiff Aegean breeze.

A lifelong seaman, author Jack London left behind a treasure of stories written with the passion of one who truly loved the sea. Make Westing & Other Tales of the Sea and Sail (New Street Communications, 2015, $10, $3 digital) by Jack London, selected and introduced by Edward Renehan, is a collection of Londons best writing, including his South Seas stories from The Cruise of the Snark. Make Westing also highlights some of Londons best fiction, such as The Cruise of the Dazzler, filled with San Francisco-based pirate stories drawn from Londons oyster-thieving days aboard the Razzle Dazzle. Like the man, Londons characters walk both sides of the law and sail all corners of the globe.

The Spray, the Snark, and the Sea Wolf have all faded over the horizon, but this small book reminds us of how London again and again captured the voice of his characters, in humor and in horror, and doused the pages with a briny, poetic voice few have been able to match.

Noble Chase (Ballentine Press, 2016, $13) is the debut legal thriller by New York lawyer and longtime sailor Michael Rudolph. Rudolphs smart, determined heroine lawyer Beth Swahn barely clears the halls of New Yorks court house before realizing that her clients multi-million dollar victory is a huge mistake. Her client, Leonard Sloane, skips town with his girlfriend and $70 million dollars of judgment money. The ensuing chase leads Swahn through a maze of money laundering and white-collar corruption, south through the islands, into Caracas, and beyond. Sloanes handsome son, a couple of questionable Chinese bad guys, and a missing encrypted file send Swahn on a wild chase downwind, tacking into more problems than she bargained for. Gritty characters and pulsing dialogue drive the story forward, sending the readers soaring up a wave of suspense and plummeting into a deadly storm at sea.

Maritime Casualties: Causes and Consequences (Cornell Maritime Press, 2015, $24) by Capt. Tuuli Messer-Bookman tracks the major maritime casualties of the last 100 years and examines the resulting regulatory changes. Featured accidents include the sinking of RMS Titanic, Lusitania, and MV Exxon Valdez. The account of the chain of manmade mistakes-many of them stunningly small with massive results-make for a valuable resource and a fascinating read.

The story of Ray Hunt, A Genius at His Trade: C. Raymond Hunt and His Remarkable Boats (Old Dartmouth Historical Society/New Bedford Whaling Museum, 2015, $30), written by Stan Grayson, is the accounting of a truly gifted sailor and one of historys most innovative boat designers. Hunts legacy of sailing yacht and powerboat design includes the Concordia and the original Boston Whalers. This beautifully produced book is a treasure of information and is a must-read for any sailor interested in boat design.

A Womans Guide to the Sailing Lifestyle: The Essentials and Fun of Sailing Off the New England Coast (AuthorHouse, 2015, $17, $4 digital), by Debra Picchi and Thomas Desrosiers, is an easy-to-read starter book for the newbie sailor. Picchis thorough descriptions and positive attitude may be just what a new sailor needs to ease them away from the dock.

Cruisers who have crossed the Pacific will greatly appreciate the detailed recollections of James Baldwin, recorded in his second book, Bound for Distant Seas (Atom Voyages, 2015, $14, $4 digital). Baldwins first book, Across Islands and Oceans (PS, July 2012), recounts his two-year circumnavigation, undertaken when he was 25 years old. Less than a year after his return to the United States, he set off again in his 28-foot Pearson Triton, this time for a 15-year voyage. Readers should take their time to savor Baldwins recollections of Gus Angermeyer in the Galapagos, the suicide cliffs of Saipan, and the chaos of Hong Kongs Aberdeen Harbour. Anyone who has built their own castle in the air will find this book a brick of inspiration. Baldwin has promised a third book in the series.

In the Wake of Heroes: Sailings Greatest Stories (Bloomsbury, 2015, $12, $22 digital), written by Tom Cunliffe, comprises 40 of the authors favorite maritime literary picks. The stories touch on yachting, small-boat handling, long-distance racing, cruising, and exploring. The book stems from Cunliffes popular Great Seamanship column in Yachting World magazine. The majority of the stories are drawn from a time before the Second World War and are, as Cunliffe points out …invariably well written, often with that dry brand of humor that pre-dates the current fashion for unloading ones emotions onto anyone who will listen. The book purposely steers clear of mainstream literature, making it a true wellspring of compelling stories that few have read.

Every once in a while, you hear a story that must be written. John K. Fulweiler Jr.s A Swim: Based on a True Story (Flood Tide Press, 2013, $13) is one of those stories. Joe Gross, a lifelong fisherman, set off alone from his home in Westerly, R.I., on a normal Tuesday in July, bound for Block Island. After a pleasant yet uneventful day, Gross turned the boat around and was halfway across Block Island Sound when his Eastern 22 Lobsterman hit a wave funny, sending Gross into the air and unceremoniously into the water. The boat motored off on its own and disappeared over the horizon. The story is an analysis, both emotional and physical, of the actions and choices that kept Gross alive. The recounting of Gross gritty 11-hour swim and the Coast Guards commitment and plain-old luck that led to his rescue, is a story that makes readers question why were here.

Marine writer Michael Tougias is making a name for himself in the page-turning, true-stories-of-survival-at-sea genre, and his latest book stays the course. So Close to Home: A True Story of an American Familys Fight for Survival from a U-boat Attack during World War II (Pegasus Books, 2016, $22, $15 digital), written by Tougias and Alison OLeary, is the story of the young Downs family who were passengers on a freighter boat sunk during a German U-boat attack in the Gulf of Mexico in May 1942. Tougias recently met Ray Sonny Downs Jr. through a mutual friend, and after hearing Downs story of surviving this harrowing ordeal when he was just 8 years old, Tougias knew he had to write the Downs familys story. Research showed Downs ship, the Heredia, was far from being the only ship that U-boats sunk in the Gulf, and Tougias book includes little known facts about this obscure piece of American and World War II history.

Talented storyteller Jim Lynch brings the saga of an idiosyncratic sailing family to life in Before the Wind (Knopf Publishing, 2016, $18, $14 digital), his fourth book. Based in the Pacific Northwest, the narrative is told from the perspective of Joshua Johannssen, who has been surrounded by sailboats all of his life: his grandfather a boat designer; his father a boatbuilder and racer; and his mother a physics teacher who enlightened her children about the science of wind and water. While Josh and his elder brother grow into accomplished sailors, it is his little sister who possesses supernatural sailing genius. When she sinks her chance to sail in the Olympics, its clear there is a breach in the Johannssens foundation. She abandons competitive sailing to volunteer on a hospital ship off Africa, while Joshs eldest brother heads out to sea solo. Suddenly at 31, Josh-who stayed close to home and now repairs boats in a marina south of Seattle-is pained by what went wrong with his family. As the Johannssens unexpectedly reunite for the most important race in their home waters, they find new destinies and a heart-shattering revelation. Gracefully navigating between past and present, Lynch charts the changing tides of the Johannssen family. Before the Wind, a cautionary tale of obsession and its price, is one of those impossible-to-put-down books that make ideal summer reading.

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. You can reach him by email at