Best sailing books: 25 tales inspired by the sea

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A list of the best sailing books including memoirs, novels and biographies, constituting the most fascinating nautical tales ever penned

After recently compiling a list of the best sailing movies we’ve seen, I was prompted into some related reading. Fresh from a delivery of sailing bestsellers (and less-sellers), I’ve put together a list of the best sailing books.

The list covers everything from epic voyages, tales of survival, investigative biographies and sailing manuals – with a few coffee table reference books thrown in.

Best sailing books

The below list is in no particular order. If you have any suggestions that you feel deserve a place on this list of best sailing books, please add them in the comments below.

Sailing Alone Around the World
by Joshua Slocum

In 1895, Joshua Slocum set out to prove that a man could sail alone around the world. Some 46,000 miles and three years later, he completed the first single-handed circumnavigation of the globe in his 34ft sloop, the Spray.

A Voyage For Madmen
by Peter Nichols

In 1968, nine sailors set off on the most daring race ever: to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe non-stop. It was a feat that had never been accomplished and one that would forever change the face of sailing. Ten months later, only one of the nine men would cross the finish line.

The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst
by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall

One of the best sailing books I’ve ever read. Donald Crowhurst was a contestant in the above round the world race. Hopelessly out of depth, he attempted to pull off one of the greatest hoaxes of our time.

The Last Grain Race
by Eric Newby

This was one of the first sailing books I ever read and it got me hooked. In 1939, a young Newby set sail aboard Moshulu, the largest sailing ship still employed in the transportation of grain from Australia to Europe as part of what was known as ‘the grain race’. His story of the passage has become a classic.

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

The adventure of Thor Heyerdahl and his companions on their raft across the Pacific has gone down in legend as a feat of endurance and courage. This is that story in Heyerdahl’s own words.

The Annapolis Book of Seamanship
by John Rousmaniere

Since the publication of the widely hailed first edition in 1983, this book has set the standard. Used throughout the world as a textbook in sailing schools, the Annapolis Book of Seamanship thoroughly and clearly covers the fundamental and advanced skills of modern sailing.

montage of best sailing books
Atlas & Boots A few of the best sailing books

A Race Too Far
by Chris Eakin

Chris Eakin recreates the drama of the epic inaugural Golden Globe race. He talks to all those touched by the event: the survivors, the widows and the children of those who died.

Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea
by Steven Callahan

I’m currently halfway through this gripping tale and it is already one of the best sailing books I’ve read. Steven Callahan’s dramatic account was on the NYT bestseller list for 36 weeks. In many ways, it’s the model for the new wave of adventure books. At the time, he was the only man known to have survived more than a month at sea alone.

438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea
by Jonathan Franklin

In 2012, Salvador Alvarenga left the coast of Mexico for a two-day fishing trip. After 14 months, he washed ashore having drifted over 9,000 miles.

Master and Commander
by Patrick O’Brian

The first of Patrick O’Brian’s famous Aubrey/Maturin novels, regarded by many as the greatest series of historical novels ever written. There were 20 completed – and one unfinished – in the series set during the Napoleonic Wars.

Gipsy Moth Circles the World
by Francis Chichester

First published in 1967, just months after the completion of Chichester’s historic journey, the book was an instant international best-seller. It inspired the first solo around-the-world race and remains a timeless testament to the spirit of adventure.

Maiden Voyage
by Tania Aebi

Tania Aebi was an unambitious 18-year-old in New York City. She was going nowhere until her father offered her a challenge: choose college or a 26ft sloop. The only catch was that if she chose the sailboat, she’d have to sail around the world alone. Off she went.

another montage of best sailing books
Atlas & Boots A few of more of our favourites

DK Complete Sailing Manual
by Steve Sleight

DK are renowned for producing beautiful reference books and this sailing manual does not disappoint. Now in its fourth edition, the book covers the basics of sailing, mastering navigation and maintaining your boat.

The Ashley Book of Knots
by Clifford W. Ashley

First published in 1944 and reprinted many times since, this magnificent, fully illustrated book of knots is collated by Geoffrey Budworth with the help of other members of the International Guild of Knot Tyers.

Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening
by Liz Clar

Clar chronicles her 2006 solo voyage across the South Pacific in search of great surf. She recounts her story in gripping detail, telling tales of self-awareness, solitude, connection to the earth and surfing.

Once is Enough
by Miles Smeeton

This timeless classic is an exciting true story of survival against all odds. Smeeton and his wife sailed their 46ft ketch, Tzu Hang, in the wild seas of Cape Horn, following the tracks of the old sailing clippers through the world’s most notorious waters.

Last Man Off: A True Story of Disaster and Survival on the Antarctic Seas
by Matt K. Lewis

The waters of Antarctica, 1998. A 23-year-old Lewis has just started his dream job aboard a deep sea fishing boat. A storm hits. With the captain missing and the crew forced to abandon ship, Lewis leads the escape onto three life rafts, where the battle for survival begins.

A World of My Own: The First Ever Non-stop Solo Round the World Voyage
by Robin Knox-Johnston

In1968, a tiny ketch called Suhaili slipped almost unnoticed out of Falmouth. Ten and a half months later, Suhaili came romping joyously back to Falmouth to a fantastic reception for Robin Knox-Johnston who’d become the first man to sail single-handedly around the world non-stop.

another montage of eight sailing books
Atlas & Boots A few of more of our favourites

The Proving Ground
by Bruce Knecht

This is the story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart boat race, the most dramatic in yacht racing history. Of the 115 boats that started, just 43 would finish. Knecht recreates those dramatic hours and the gut-wrenching fear of those caught in the eye of the storm, battling for their lives.

The Racing Rules of Sailing for 2017-2020
by Royal Yachting Association

The essential manual includes the updated International Code and Race Signal flags. Water-proof editions are also available.

The Long Way (La Longue Route)
by Bernard Moitessier

The Long Way is Bernard Moitessier’s own incredible story of his participation in the first Golden Globe Race, a solo, non-stop circumnavigation rounding the three great capes of Good Hope, Leeuwin and the Horn.

Left for Dead: 30 Years On – The Race is Finally Over: The Untold Story of the Tragic 1979 Fastnet Race
by Nick Ward & Sinead O’Brien

The second edition is updated with a new chapter describing Nick’s eventual completion of the Fastnet Race 30 years after his first, ill-fated attempt.

Love with a Chance of Drowning
by Torre DeRoche

This sometimes hilarious, often harrowing, and always poignant memoir is set against a backdrop of the world’s most beautiful and remote destinations. Equal parts love story and travel memoir, the book is witty, charming, and proof that some risks are worth taking.

Two Years Before the Mast
by Richard Henry Dana Jr.

A memoir first published in 1840, written shortly after a two-year sea voyage starting in 1834. To this day, the book is regarded as a valuable historical resource describing 1830s California.

Godforsaken Sea: Racing the World’s Most Dangerous Waters
by Derek Lundy

In 1996, 16 sailors set out from the Bay of Biscay to embark on the Vendee Globe – a single-handed yacht race through the world’s most treacherous and isolated seas. Only six completed the course, six others withdrew, three were plucked from sinking boats and one disappeared without a trace.

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