Books for sailors: our selection of the best novelties

Yachting Monthly literary contributor Julia Jones reviews all the latest to pick the best books for sailors this summer

Books for sailors: our selection of the best novelties

Looking for inspiration for your holiday reading list?

From solo sailing adventures to practical seamanship, here are the best books for sailors to read during the summer.

old man sailing

old man sailing became a word-of-mouth bestseller among sailing titles.

In March 2020 John Passmore was happy with his Rival 32 samsaraon the wrong side of the Lowestoft Harbor Bridge.

Three months of confinement were imminent. He changed his berth within the hour.

Then, after a thorough refueling, he headed to the Walton Backwaters to complete preparations, observe the quarantine and choose a weather window before departing for the Azores north of Shetland.

When she returned, six weeks and 3,629 miles later, her action had captured the public’s imagination.

Passmore, a former journalist, is an accomplished writer who can shape his anecdotes and stay entertaining with irony and thought-provoking throughout.

These qualities will ensure old man sailing continues to play long after the lock has disappeared from memory.

old man sailing by John Passmore, Samsara Press, £10.24

Buy Old Man Sailing on Amazon (UK)

Buy Old Man Sailing on Amazon (US)

Buy Old Man Sailing from Audible

Addicted to more adventure

Addicted to More Adventure by Bob Shepton Book Jacket

A new collection of the adventures of Bob Shepton is an instant delight.

As he is a chaplain by trade, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is also a message: “The risk is good, take advantage of it”.

Ellen Massey Leonard’s Afterword lays out the essential link between risk and joy. ‘Bob found lifelong joy climbing unclimbed cliffs […] and reaching some of the world’s most remote wilderness areas by sail.

In many of the trips described here, his role is to help others achieve similar experiences.

As well as leading a west-east return through the Northwest Passage, he acts as a delivery skipper and sail master and transports other younger climbers to make those thrilling first ascents that are now beyond his reach. .

Addicted to more adventure by Bob Shepton, Amazon, £15

Buy Addicted to More Adventure on Amazon (UK)

Buy Addicted to More Adventure on Amazon (US)

Buy Addicted to More Adventure at Waterstones (UK)

A river in Borneo

A River in Borneo cover

Richard Woodman insists that this is his last novel and one of his best, which is why it has been included in our list of books for sailors.

A river in Borneo is set in Malaysian and Indonesian waters which he explored as a junior officer in the 1960s merchant navy.

The sailing scenes are pure delight as Captain Harry Kirton handles his old brigantine as if it were a yacht.

The central action takes place in the middle of the 19th century and Kirton must learn to navigate the sensibilities of the different ethnic groups within his crew with the same skill as he negotiates the complex island passages between the seas of Sulu and Celebes.

Molded by pain, Kirton is one of Woodman’s most psychologically interesting characters. If that’s Woodman’s swan song, that’s a good way to go.

A river in Borneo by Richard Woodman, McBooks Press, £21.95

Buy A River in Borneo on Amazon (UK)

Buy A River in Borneo on Amazon (US)

Buy a river in Borneo from Waterstones (UK)

The sea is not made of water

The sea is not made of water

It’s a book with the wow factor.

It’s a surprisingly vast tour de force that ultimately culminates in the assertion that the sea “is a world to mingle with, to go beyond the predator with.”

While most sailors will have little trouble with this concept, Nicolson heads into it from a coastal perspective.

Although he sails to Lismore Lighthouse in the Sound of Mull in a 16ft wooden lugger, his interest is in observing intertidal rocks, weeds, creatures and legends.

Writing about the tides, he highlights the Newtonian theory that what we experience is not the sea being pulled over the surface of the earth, but the turning of the earth under the surface cover of the sea – a concept to both impressive and dizzying.

The sea is not made of water by Adam Nicolson, Harper Collins, £20

Buy The sea is not made of water on Amazon (EN)

Buy The sea is not made of water on Amazon (US)

Buy The sea is not made of water at Waterstones (UK)

Buy The sea is not made of water from Audible

Continued below…

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The five-year journey: exploring the coasts and rivers of Latin America

Book cover for the five year journey
Steven Ladd has already spent three years living and exploring solo in a 12-foot homebuilt canoe.

When the wanderlust returned he had a partner, the equally adventurous Ginny, so fitted a slightly larger boat.

Thurston was an adapted Sea Pearl 21, a two-masted tug, drawing only 9 inches.

They added a cabin roof, potable water ballast, storage and a sliding seat rowing system.

Two years later, after traveling from Florida to Panama, they added a 2 HP Honda outboard.

This allowed them to spend three more years exploring the coastline and major rivers of South America all the way to Buenos Aires.

Along the way, they got married and had a baby.

This is an intensely awe-inspiring small boat trip. It is also strikingly readable.

The five-year journey: exploring the coasts and rivers of Latin America by Stephen Ladd, Seekers Press, £15.99

Buy The Five Year Journey on Amazon (UK)

Buy The Five Year Journey on Amazon (US)

Essential boat electronics

Essential Boat Electronics Book Jacket

Electricity is the “number 1 problem on any boat”, states the blurb.

While some may wish to dispute this, the fact remains that the past few decades have seen an unprecedented increase in system complexity on even the most modest cruising yachts.

Often, these systems overlapped as new needs were identified or previous installations were found to be inadequate.

This helpful guide avoids too much theory but encourages better organization and an understanding of personal priorities.

Even those of us who are personally determined to turn to professionals whenever possible would be well advised to read this book and keep it on board, for those times when self-reliance is unavoidable.

This is not a problem that will go away.

Essential boat electronics 3rd edition by Oliver Ballam and Pat Manley, Fernhurst Books, £16.99

Buy Essential Boat Electronics on Amazon (UK)

Buy Essential Boat Electronics on Amazon (US)

The Shetland Sea Murders

Nautical Thriller - The Shetland Sea Murders book jacket

the Shetland Sea Murders is the 9th book in an established series featuring sailor Cas Lynch, but can be read as a standalone thriller.

The story begins when Lynch runs her last charter of the season, which is interrupted by a VHF radio call from the Shetland Coastguard.

What follows are two seemingly unrelated murders, and soon Lynch herself is threatened.

Fans of Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope series will thoroughly enjoy the plot twists.

It will certainly entertain you!

Buy The Shetland Sea Murders on Amazon (UK))

Buy The Shetland Sea Murders on Amazon (US)

Buy The Shetland Sea Murders from Waterstones

Buy The Shetland Sea Murders from Audible

The dinghy cruising companion

The Dinghy Cruising Companion (2nd edition) book jacket

This is the second edition of an important book, and deserves to be included in our list of books for seafarers.

Roger Barnes’ writing is reminiscent of Maurice Griffiths’ titles from the 1930s – Magic of the Swatchways and Ten small yachts – where the romance of solitude and the challenge of self-reliance took people and their boats to unexpected anchorages, as well as the warmth of the pub at the end of the day.

Like Griffiths, Barnes writes beautifully but also offers sound, experience-based advice and discusses the qualities of different ship types as well as platforms, equipment, and modifications.

Arguably, we would all be better sailors if we remembered more often the interaction of wind and waves felt inside the hull of a dinghy.

The dinghy cruising companion (2nd edition) by Roger Barnes, Adlard Coles, £16.99

Buy the Dinghy Cruising Companion on Amazon (UK)

Buy the Dinghy Cruising Companion on Amazon (US)

Buy The Dinghy Cruising Companion at Waterstones (UK)

Note: We may earn a commission when you purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you. This does not affect our editorial independence.

Visit the Yachting Monthly Book Club for more of the best sailing books published this year.

If you have book recommendations for seafarers, contact us at [email protected]


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Colin L. Johnson