Top Sailing Novels by Simon Phillips
Dreaming of exploring and sailing off this year? What better way to give you some food for thought in the following well known and top rated sailing novels. I find that I prefer to read about sailing when I am not sailing! Sitting by the fire in the evening with a good book, my favourite rum – Zacappa and warm toes is hard to beat!
Some books I have read and fully recommend – in no particular order.
Typhoon by Joseph Conrad
This novella, first published in 1902 and still in print, is best read while safely tied up alongside or in some snug anchorage – the description of the tropical storm in the title is unnervingly real. Conrad is thought to have ridden out a cyclone aboard the steamer John P Best.
This non-fiction book reads like a thriller, but it is an accurate account of loss and rescue at sea during an exceptional storm that hit the US in the autumn of 1991. You finish it with a better understanding of weather and an infinitely greater respect for it.
Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
The seafaring in this dark tale from 1936 is of a tragic nature – sailors are lured to their deaths by a gang of wreckers on the Cornish coast. The wonderfully drawn characters, action and twists in the plot make it a great read.
In the heart of the sea by Nathaniel Philbrick.
This is a well researched non-fiction book about the sinking of the whaler Essex in the Pacific in 1820 and the fate of the crew afterwards. The incident is thought to have inspired Melville’s Moby Dick. Philbrick is a champion helmsman who has a cruising boat near his home on Nantucket Island.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Widely regarded as one of the greatest novels of all time, Herman Melville’s 1851 tome tells the tale of Ahab, the captain of a whaler obsessed with getting revenge on a white whale, Moby Dick, which had destroyed his ship on a previous voyage causing him to lose both his legs below the knees. Narrated by a fellow sailor, Ishmael, the novel is notable for its accurate portrayal of whale hunting techniques while issues as diverse as class, race, status, religion and good and evil are explored through the whaler’s diverse crew. While the book was initially a commercial flop, selling just 3,200 copies during Melville’s lifetime, it was saved from obscurity by a 1920’s reprint and has gone on to be adapted dozens of times for stage, screen and radio.
Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
Thought to be based on the true events of the abandonment of the S.S. Jeddah in 1880, Conrad’s Lord Jim tells the story of a young seafarer who becomes the first mate on board passenger ship the Patna. The ship, full of Muslim pilgrims on their way to Mecca, begins to take on water and Jim and his fellow crew members abandon the pilgrims to almost certain death. However, when the passengers are rescued Jim finds himself being held solely responsible for the incident and is stripped of his navigation command certificate. Haunted by his moment of weakness, Jim moves around Asia simultaneously running from and trying to come to terms with his past.
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
This will get your children’s imaginations racing with the charming classic Swallows and Amazons. Set in the English Lake District, it tells the tale of five children from two families who join forces to defeat the treacherous Captain Flint with the help of their dinghies Swallow and Amazon. With a strong message of friendship, bravery – and the importance of remembering the dangers of the sea – this is a must for any ocean-going youngster. An adaptation released in summer 2016.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s last major work of fiction was also one of his greatest, winning the famed author both a Nobel and Pullitzer Prize. One for those with a passion for sportsfish yachts, The Old Man and the Sea tells the tale of an aging Cuban fisherman, Santiago, battling to catch a huge marlin off the Gulf Coast of Florida. Hemingway uses Santiago’s three day struggle across the ocean as a metaphor for the futility of life creating a novel with a moving, melancholic and surprisingly uplifting message.
The Odyssey by Homer
The famous poem – the second oldest piece of literature in the Western world – is the original sea-faring feat with the hero, Odysseus, coming up against sirens, the six-headed sea monster Scylla and the god Poseidon in his decade-long effort to return to his wife and child. If anything will make you appreciate the luxury of your owner’s cabin it is this!
The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
When British Foreign Office official Carruthers joins his acquaintance Davies for a yachting holiday on the Baltic Sea he expects a leisurely sunshine cruise. Instead he finds himself quickly learning to sail a much smaller boat than anticipated before discovering the invitation was a ruse to get him to help Davies investigate suspicious goings on by the Germans in the Frisian Islands.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
The novel is most notable for Verne’s remarkable description of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus which accurately predicted features of modern submarines – vessels that were still decades away from being invented when the book was published in 1870. If that’s not enough, a coterie of sea monsters, giant whales and octopus attacks should be enough to convince any fan of daring ocean exploits.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The most modern book here, Yann Martel’s Man Booker Prize winning fantasy novel tells the story of Piscine Molitor ‘Pi’ Patel. After his boat is shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean, Pi survives 227 days stranded in a lifeboat with Richard Parker – a Bengal tiger. Having sold over 10 million copies worldwide, Life of Pi reached even greater heights of fame in 2012 when it was adapted into an Oscar-winning feature film directed by Ang Lee.