Salty Tales from the Sea

The best time to read an engaging sea story just might be when you're going to sea.

hurricane book
A Furious Sky Herb McCormick

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One of the most enjoyable things about sailing and cruising—to me, at least—is the extensive collection of books and literature associated with the sea. From Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick to Bernard Moitessier’s The Long Way to Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm (all of which reside on my bookshelf, among many others), the collective works of this salty genre are long and storied. During the past couple of pandemic years, I’ve enjoyed having the time to catch up on some of the most recent arrivals to this canon. As many folks prepare for upcoming charter vacations, it seems like a good time to pass along some recommendations.

The best place to read a ­seagoing book, after all, is when going to sea. All the following are worth tossing into your duffel and are available from online booksellers.

A Peril to Myself and Others: My Quest to Become a Captain
by David Kilmer
Before he was a professional skipper, seasoned cruiser, accomplished writer and frequent contributor to Cruising World , David Kilmer was a mountain man with zero sailing experience who’d come to a fork in his personal road. He had two options: Settle down or set out. He chose the latter, hopping a plane to the Caribbean with dreams of making a living on the deep blue sea. What transpired next—terror, ­comedy, self-awareness—unfolds like a voyage unto itself in this witty, insightful, most ­pleasurable seagoing ­coming-of-age account.

A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America’s Hurricanes
by Eric Jay Dolin
In this lavishly illustrated, surprisingly engrossing and meticulously researched book (the footnotes alone account for more than 50 pages), author and historian Eric Jay Dolin pulls off a rare feat. By delving deeply into the lives and personalities of the forecasters, ship’s captains, journalists, and everyday folks who found themselves in the crosshairs of some of recorded history’s most terrifying tempests, he takes a subject that might otherwise be weighed down in science and numbers, and imbues it with the kinds of context, subtlety, and drama one might expect to find in a great work of fiction.

Bargain Boats and Budget Cruising
by Todd Duff
Hey, we’re sailors. When it comes to our boats, we all want a bargain, right? Marine surveyor (and longtime CW writer) Todd Duff, who’s owned a small fleet of cruising boats himself, totally gets it. In the first half of this fun, informative tome, he discusses what to look for and where; the pitfalls, practicalities and pleasures in finding and fixing up an older vessel; and tips on safe cruising and raising kids aboard. The second half addresses the nitty-gritty: 42 capsule reviews of what he considers the best cruising-­boat bargains of all time.

Green Ghost, Blue Ocean: No Fixed Address
by Jennifer M. Smith
A first-person memoir and narrative written in the spirit and style of the great Lin Pardey, Jennifer Smith’s honest and entertaining recounting of 17 years and 40,000 nautical miles rambling all over the watery world serves as both a guide to such adventures and the reason to seek out your own.

Bound For Cape Horn book
Bound For Cape Horn: Skills For Expedition Cruising Herb McCormick

Bound for Cape Horn: Skills for Expedition Cruising
by R.J. Rubadeau
The goal? Cape Horn. The problem? It was a 16,000-nautical-mile round trip from the author’s island home in Maine. As someone who has lived and loved high-latitude sailing, I was absorbed by every facet of this book: the planning, execution, seamanship, log entries, and especially Rubadeau’s terrific prose.

Book by Stephen Ladd
Three Years On A 12-Foot Boat Herb McCormick

Three Years in a 12-Foot Boat
by Stephen Ladd
And now for something completely different. Stephen Ladd has written a couple of cool books about small-boat wanderings, but this is my favorite: a personal, poetic, almost unbelievable tale of rivers, coasts and the high seas experienced aboard a tiny sailing/rowing boat called Squeak.

Sailing Commitment Around the World
by Capt. Bill Pinkney
Got young kids on board? Bring them this treat: a beautifully illustrated children’s book with valuable lessons therein. The story is about a recently honored member of the National Sailing Hall of Fame’s record-setting solo round-the-world voyage via the Southern Ocean, the first ever by a Black sailor. Those lessons, by the way, apply equally to young and old.

Herb McCormick is the author of five nautical books and is a CW editor-at-large.

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