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8 Sailing Books That Will Take You to the High Seas

Set sail with these thrilling and true nautical tales.

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  • Photo Credit: Katherine McCormack / Unsplash

Sailing requires a deep sense of adventure–to go places no one has ever gone before, to make your mark in the world. Even those who don't wish to sail into the horizon can appreciate the spirit and dedication of sailors. Upon returning home from their maritime journeys, many a sailor–in a proud seafaring tradition–weaves the tale of their time amidst the salt and spray. Some of those storytellers even write their tales down. These sailing books are drawn from the experience of sailors from recent decades and distant past alike. Whether their boats were chasing dreams, whales, or enemy combatants, these sailing stories will keep up any nautical explorer up far past their bedtime.

Encounters of a Wayward Sailor

Encounters of a Wayward Sailor

By Tristan Jones

Tristan Jones is perhaps the most notable sailor of the 20th century. The mariner first set sail in the Royal Navy in 1946, at the age of 17. He spent the greater part of the next three decades on a boat or ship. Jones, who wrote some sixteen books, focused entirely on sailors' journey. In this collection of short stories, Jones pays homage to the greatest sailors in history by retelling their voyages, and cementing the legacy they left behind for future generations of sailors. Jones also details some of his own voyages and experiences. A book to be enjoyed by any ocean-lover, even the ones who get seasick, Encounters of a Wayward Sailor paints an accurate picture of what sailors can expect to find when they embark on the open seas–the different people, places, and cultures.

Related: 11 Captivating Titanic Books

Godforsaken Sea

Godforsaken Sea

By Derek Lundy

The Vendée Globe is the most dangerous sailing race in the world. It takes place only once every four years and asks that each solo sailor circumnavigate the globe with no assistance whatsoever. While the task itself is simple, the consequences can be deadly if a sailor is underprepared. Throughout the nautical route are check-points and emergency response systems for those who find themselves overwhelmed. With no weather technology, the sailors are fully at the mercy of Mother Nature. Derek Lundy focuses on the 1996-1997 Vendée Globe and the sixteen sailors who took part. Frequently referred to as one of the best sailing books ever written, Lundy details the unforgiving waters that enticed these daredevils to spend months trying to survive at sea, and the price many of them paid for it. 

Related: 9 Thrilling Adventure Books for Intrepid Readers

The Barque of Saviors

The Barque of Saviors

By Russell Drumm

The U.S. Coast Guard training ship now known as Eagle has a rather sordid–and surprising–history. The barque used to be Horst Wessel of the Nazi Navy. The ship and some of its crew survived World War II but were left stranded off the coast of Germany. They were found and saved by Americans who saw potential in the vessel. The existing crew members were enlisted into the Coast Guard; they went on to teach the Americans the ways of their newly christened Eagle. Author Russell Drumm managed to track down original logbooks that offer insight into how the ship operated, from its time in war to the everyday life of the people onboard. Still functioning today, Eagle has a rich history that remained unknown for much of its active service time.

Across the Savage Sea

Across the Savage Sea

By Maud Fontenoy

The legendary sailor Maud Fontenoy tells the story of her first ever solo voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. She was the first woman to make such a journey–something that can be said about most of her nautical accomplishments. She was also the first woman to sail solo across the Pacific Ocean, although she took on the smaller Atlantic first. Never one to shy from a challenge, Fontenoy made sure that her shorter journey was just as perilous, choosing a route with the choppiest waters, determined to prove her worth as a sailor. With nothing but a rowboat and two oars, Maud Fontenoy made history. In Across the Savage Sea, she recounts her voyage, with nostalgia and terror alike coloring her memories.

Related: Rachel Carson's Books Defined an Environmental Revolution

In the Wake of Madness

In the Wake of Madness

By Joan Druett

In the Wake of Madness details the true story of a whaling expedition turned bloody in a mutiny that whittled a 29-person crew down to just four. In May 1841, the Sharon set out from the Massachusetts coast to hunt whales in the Pacific Ocean. The journey was supposed to take no more than a year. When the ship finally returned three years later, the world learned of the horror that occurred at sea. Despite the loss of 25 lives, there was never an official investigation into the matter. Here, Joan Druett recreates the mysterious voyage that was doomed from the start. She offers insight into the dynamics between an iron-fist captain and his crew and the horrifying chain reaction those dynamics created.

Related: The Strange and Tragic Shipwreck of the Morro Castle


Maiden Voyage

By Tania Aebi

Drifting and uncertain of her future, 18-year-old Tania Aebi was spending much of her time drinking in New York City bars when her father gave her an ultimatum: Go to college or sail around the world. An unusual set of options to be sure, but one that he thought might give Tania direction and a sense of ambition. Tania took the sloop her father offered and set off an a journey that would last three years. As her father had predicted, she quickly fell in love with the sea and realized this is what she was meant to do. This is the thrilling and inspiring story of her successful maiden voyage around the world–the first American woman to make the journey and, at the time, the youngest person to do so.

Related: The 11 Best Autobiographies To Change Your View of History


Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea

By Steven Callahan

In a real-life, far-less-magical version of Life of Pi, Steven Callahan became trapped on a raft in the open sea after his ship sank in a race. Luckily, he was able to inflate his ship's safety raft just in time, and was able to dive into his sinking boat to retrieve other emergency supplies, including food and water. This risky maneuver allowed him to stay alive for over two months while stranded at sea. Callahan tells his story of being lost in one of the most unforgiving places on Earth. As invigorating as the sea itself, Adrift will remind its readers of the terrible majesty of the ocean.

Related: 10 Survival Stories That Reveal the Power of the Human Spirit


Love with a Chance of Drowning

By Torre DeRoche

Torre DeRoche met the man of her dreams, only to find out that he was getting ready to sail around the world in a small boat and never look back. Convinced that he was the one, DeRoch followed him on board, despite her deep fear of the water. While battling the rage of ocean after ocean, DeRoche tries her best to keep both their relationship and themselves afloat. This travel memoir reads like a comedic love story, and DeRoche presents a style of storytelling that isn’t common in true stories about time spent at sea. 

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Featured photo: Katherine McCormack / Unsplash