Katy Stickland chooses her pick of the latest sailing books that will keep sailors entertained over the festival season
Sailing books are an ideal gift for the sailor in your life this Christmas.
I’ve read dozens of sailing books this year, but these are the ones that stood out, transporting me on small boat ocean adventures, helping me plan my sailing, teaching me about being at sea under fire and making me think about why people sail alone.
Here is my list of the best books for sailors to read this winter. I hope you enjoy them!
The Voyage of the Aegre by Nicholas Grainger
This well-written tale charts a young couple’s voyage to becoming small boat offshore adventures, akin to Roger D Taylor.
In the 1970s Julie and Nicholas Grainger sailed their 21ft wooden Shetland fishing boat from Scotland to Pago, Pago in American Samoa.
This was before modern instruments and GPS, and although the story of their time afloat, including their capsize off Tahiti which left the boat dismasted, is a gripping read about survival at sea, it is the details of the preparation of the boat that many Practical Boat Owner readers will find the most fascinating.
Nicholas and Julie both worked for John Ridgeway at his adventure school in Ardmore before leaving Scotland and based their concept of simple sailing – no electrics, toilet, shower, engine, and built-in buoyancy to make the Aegre unsinkable – on Ridgeway’s 20ft open dory, English Rose 3, which he rowed across the Atlantic with Sir Chay Blyth.
These meticulous preparations ultimately saved the Graingers’ lives.
The Voyage of the Aegre has all the hallmarks of a sailing adventure classic. Storytelling at its finest.
The Voyage of the Aegre published by Vinycomb Press, £15.95.
Sailing Alone: A History by Richard J. King
What motivates a person to sail alone?
Richard King sets out to answer that question after his own transatlantic solo crossing in a 28.5ft Pearson Triton left him ‘paralytically rattled’, proud of his achievement and questioning why he set out in the first place (he sold the boat and has never sailed alone since).
By examining the voyages of a diverse range of sailors, including Ann Davison, Florentino Das, Sharon Sites Adams and the more well-known Ellen MacArthur, Bernard Moitessier and Joshua Slocum, and examining what they saw, King, with an academic’s skill, lays out the history and the philosophy of the men and women who broke the mould and set out to explore the seas to find what many of us crave: the meaning of existence.
Ultimately, he concludes with Ann Davison’s philosophy, that courage is to accept our lives for what they are, without resignation; each small hurdle overcome is a triumph.
Brilliantly written, I have been drawn back to Sailing Alone again and again; each new reading brings a different perspective, and has also introduced me to remarkable sailors I really should have known about.
Sailing Alone: A History is published by Particular Books, £25.
We Fought Them in Gunboats by Robert Hichens
The war memoir that the British authorities censored, We Fought Them in Gunboats is a warts-and-all tale about the gunboats and their crew who played a vital role in World War II.
This was a new kind of warfare, where the tactical use of the MGBs and MTBs and their high speed engines were critical in defending the convoy routes.
A dinghy and racing sailor, Robert Hichens was the first volunteer officer to command a gunboat.
He also had a love of high speed engines and didn’t hold back his criticism of the poorly trained gunboat maintenance staff, or indeed the decisions of his commanding officers.
Hichens’s own engineering knowledge helped evolve the design of the motor gunboat.
Originally published in 1944 heavily redacted due to wartime censorship, this new edition is Hichens’s words in full.
A rare breed of war diary.
We Fought Them in Gunboats is published by Golden Duck Publishing, £14.99.
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Cornells’ Ocean Atlas: Pilot charts for all oceans of the world by Jimmy and Ivan Cornell
For anyone planning to sail offshore, this third edition of Cornells’ Ocean Atlas is vital reading.
Fully revised, all of the charts – of the most popular cruising routes – now reflect the latest understanding of how climate change is affecting the world’s oceans – such as the decrease in the reliability of the trade winds, as witnessed by the 2022 Golden Globe Race skippers, and the increased intensity of tropical cyclones, giving sailors a valuable safety tool when planning, preparing and sailing their passage plan.
This new edition also features monthly charts that plot the areas affected by tropical storms in every ocean.
Based on the recorded tracks of such storms over the last ten years, it clearly indicates the areas to avoid and the time of year to avoid them.
A must-have book onboard if you plan to sail any ocean.
Cornells’ Ocean Atlas is published by Cornell Sailing, £99
The Marine Quarterly, edited by Sam Llewellyn
The Marine Quarterly never fails to thrill when it lands on my doormat, with its eclectic stories about everything to do with the sea.
Published four times a year, each 112-page edition is brimming with insightful articles such as near misses at sea, traditional boat building, heritage craft, pioneering (and often forgotten) voyages, Naval adventure and seagoing life.
Each story has a charm all of its own, helped by the woodcut or black ink line drawings that adorn the top of each opening page and the fact the words are printed on thick, cream paper; it is a treat to hold and savour.
For those like me who consume sailing books, there is also a regular books section, where classic seafaring tales are reviewed, whetting the appetite for further reading.
Editor Sam Llewellyn, a prolific writer and Practical Boat Owner columnist, also shares his own reading recommendations, which have often led me down a rather wonderful path of nautical discovery.
The Marine Quarterly really is the gift that keeps on giving throughout the year.
Annual subscription rate £50 (UK), £64 (Europe and the rest of the world), themarinequarterly.com.
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