Can you ever have too many books? Though there are so many different ideas on sailing and boat construction I have tended to drift towards books written by sailors that have a philosophy more similar than dissimilar. Most of these sailors have a "keep it simple" philosophy. Some of the more useful books I have, but in no particular order:
- Joshua Slocom: Sailing Alone Around the World, The Voyage of the Liberdad, and The Voyage of the Destroyer.I have read this collection of Slocom's adventures four or five times and every time is as good as the first. Powerful narrative and, to me, edge of the seat sailing. A fearless professional mariner that knew the ocean, sailing, and navigation.
- Eric and Susan Hiscock.I probably have a half-dozen of their books. Every thing they have written is worth reading.The Hiscocks were true intrepid voyagers. They were sailing as a couple long before it was popular. Every voyage was expertly executed and well documented. Though dated, especially for the gear-head, their books are full of practical advice and seamanship.
- Lin and Larry Pardey. I have at least a dozen books by the Pardeys. Their travel books are inspiring and their technical books are at the top of the pyramid--if you like practical advice about simplifying your boat. I think they are the most common sense writers and practitioners of keeping it simple and superb seamanship still sailing. Some of their ideas don't translate easily to a conventional sailboat, but most do if you are willing to oppose mainstream conventions. Until I was deep into the rebuild of the Far Reach I did not understand what geniuses they are on the design, construction, and layout of both of their boats. They have mastered the very real skill of making something elegant and simple at the same time. I picked up "Classic Boat Construction--The Hull" by Larry Pardey recently. There are hundreds of photos of every step of the construction of Taliesin's hull as well as detailed narrative. If this book does not make you want a wood boat then you better check to see if your heart is still beating.
- Hal Roth. I have a half dozen or so of his books. All are first rate in my opinion and have had a considerable influence on my thinking over the years about seamanship and boat simplification. Hal Roth was a highly experienced sailor who pretty much did it all. His views evolved over time but remained grounded in common sense and keeping it simple and safe.
- Don Street: Ocean Sailing Yacht Vol I and II.Don Street's books were some of the earliest I can recall reading about off-shore sailing. Another common sense practical seaman whose writings are filled with great ideas. Dated if you are into gadgets and technology but timeless if you want to know what works and how to keep it simple.
- Tom Colvin: Cruising as a Way of Life.A fine book by a man who is the rare combination of naval architect and off-shore sailor. Full of practical advice for setting up your boat for off-shore sailing as well as sound advice on sailing routines while underway.
- Richard Baum: By the Wind. Written about 1960. Most people have never heard of this book. Other than Slocom, this is probably the best book I have read about off-shore voyaging, adventure, and the joys of engineless sailing. A gifted and honest writer who really captured the love of sailing through his adventures on his Starling Burgess designed 34' cutter Little Dipper. I saw this boat for sale just last year, though sadly it now has an engine.
- Ferenc Mate: From a Bare Hull and The Finely Fitted Yacht. A great writer with a humorous touch. Though they have lots of good advice, tips, and techniques for rebuilding your boat from the keel up some of the info is a little pedestrian.
- Bernard Moitessier: The Long Way and Tamata and the Alliance.If you like philosophy and introspective writing Moitessier is in a league of his own. I have found his writing not only interesting and inspiring but full of practical advice as well.
- Frank Mulville: Single Handed Sailing.Like Richard Baum, this is an overlooked book. Very technique oriented. Logical and sound advice.
- David McIntosh: How to Build a Wooden Boat.This book makes you want to own a wooden sailboat. It contains lots of great narrative and drawings about how to build a wooden cruising sailboat. Much of the information applies to fiberglass boat cabinetry, joinery, etc. This book reveals how boat were built before the advent of power tools though it is not limited to the hand-tool enthusiast. Very informative.
- Howard Chapelle: Yacht Designing and Planning. Chapelle's book is good for understanding why sailboats are designed the way they are but in simpler language than Skene. I believe Chapelle was a contemporary of John Alden and Carl Alberg worked for Alden for a while. I see a lot of the Cape Dory in Chapelle's writings and drawings.
- Norman L. Skene: Elements of Yacht Design. Sure there is a lot of math in this book but enough of it is understandable even for my challenged mind to make it worthwhile. This book contains a lot of information written in the 1920 that today's writers and architects act like they invented. Fin keels and light construction had all been done well before 1920. Skene, and Chapelle, write about and diagram the pros and cons of sail boat design and construction that apply today nearly as much as in their own time.
- Nigel Calder: The Marine Diesel Engine and The Boat Owners Mechanical and Electrical Manual.Good solid up-to-date info (and pictures) of how to install and maintain sail boat equipment. If you are into gear and equipment this is probably a worthwhile book.
- Everett Collier: The Boatowner's Guide to Corrosion. A great book for understanding the metals you have on your boat and what to do about them.
- Allan H. Vaitses: The Fiberglass Boat Repair Manual.Other than the West Systems Epoxy manuals, this is my go to book for all things regarding fiberglass repair. Clear, concise writing that's easy to understand and gets to the "how to" of repairing anything on a boat made of fiberglass. Lots of drawings and pictures.
- Fred Bingham: Boat joinery and Cabinetmaking Simplified. The only decent book I have found on sailboat joinery. Though not a lot of detail, it does have good advice for how to build and fit together anything made of wood that is on your boat. Also lots of good info on "human dimensions" and the ergonomics of the interior of your boat.
- Dan Spurr: Upgrading the Cruising Sailboat.Though dated for those only interested in the latest boat designs (written in the early 1980s, Spurr's book provides lots of good basic info and ideas about upgrading your sailboat.
- Dave Gerr: The Nature of Boats and The Elements of Boat Strength. Both of these books are interesting. Nature is about why boats are designed the way they are. Strength contains lots of information about construction considerations and scantlings.
- Steven Callahan: Adrift. An amazing story of Callahan's 76 day drift across the Atlantic, alone, in a rubber raft. There is plenty of drama in this book but it also contains lots of information about survival at sea.
Miles Smeeton: Once is Enough. The harrowing saga of the Smeeton's two failed attempts to round Cape Horn . . .the first time with John Guzzwell as crew. The story serves as an example of superb seamanship under incredibly adverse conditions. The Smeeton’s were in a league of their own.
High Endeavours, The extraordinary life and adventures of Miles and Beryl Smeeton, by Miles Clark. Probably the most amazing book I have ever read. The author, Miles Clark, an accomplished sailor himself, was the godson of Miles Smeeton. He had unprecedented access to the Smeetons during their lifetime as well as to their papers, friends, and immediate family. The book details the life of Miles and Beryl Smeeton. The gist of the book is that the Smeetons though individually unique were perfectly suited for each other with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Harder than woodpecker lips, savvy, intrepid, and fearless they were masters of their own destiny. If the undertaking was neither dangerous nor required incredible physical perseverance, extraordinary skill, and luck to survive then it just wasn’t worth doing. High Endeavours is only partly about sailing. It is filled with stories about climbing mountains, trekking through jungles, fighting in WW II, homesteading in the Canadian wilderness, etc, etc. Miles was the quintessential professional warrior turned skilled adventurer. Beryl’s solo treks across China, Burma,and South American in the 1930s alone are some of the most incredible stories I have ever read. At times I could not decide if Beryl Smeeton was a Jedi warrior or had gone completely mad. But, I recommend you read it and decide for yourself. The Smeetons exemplify that one can sit on the side lines watching life go by or pick up a ruck-sack and live life to the fullest. I truly hated for this book to end.
Patrick O'Brian: Aubry/Maturin Series. No collection of sailing books can be complete without the Aubry/Maturin Series. Richard Snow of the Washington Post called O'Brian "the greatest novelist of the 20th Century." There are 21 volumes in the collection that details life in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Though sailing is at the heart of the series it is really about friendship, struggle, and human factors. O'Brian's insights into the human condition are amazing. The characters are fully developed--flaws and all. Terminology is not explained. You are expected to figure it out. You read as though you are living it. Though I had heard of the series for years I did not take the plunge until three or four years ago. Then, I read it straight through in 14 months. Incredible is all I can say . . . so much so, I read it again.