Who doesn't love reading stories about those who push the limits to achieve the extraordinary. We choose the best adventure books for sailors
Adventure books can cover the risky and the extreme, transporting the reader into a life full of hazards and uncertainty…all from the safety of home.
They can also inspire others to broaden their horizons and try new things.
Think of those pioneering sailors, like Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, Tracy Edwards, Sir Francis Chichester and Laura Dekker who pushed themselves to the limits to achieve what many though was unachievable.
Their success have inspired thousands and, in some cases, launched a generation of sailors.
We choose the best new adventure books for sailors.
Madhouse at the end of the World
There’s a startling opening to this account of the Belgica 1897-8 expedition to the Antarctic.
Frederick Cook, a doctor, serving 14 years for fraud in Leavenworth Goal Kansas, has finished his voluntary night duty among the inmates howling from the agony of opium deprivation, when he is visited by the most famous polar explorer of his generation, Roald Amundsen.
The deep bond between the men was forged 25 yers earlier when they were shipmates on Adrien de Gerlache’s flawed voyage, when pressure of national expectation, inadequate finance and individual misjudgement led to a dark winter of illness and insanity in the Antarctic pack ice.
Julian Sancton’s impressive research and incisive writing style ensures that the interest never flags.
Madhouse at the end of the World by Julian Sancton, WH Allen
David Lewis grew up in New Zealand. His childhood included a formative period in Rarotonga where he attended the Polynesian school, identifying as Maori. H
i later research into Polynesian navigational methods was perhaps his most significant achievement though he’s most frequently remembered for his Antarctic survival alone in the dis-masted Ice Bird.
Naomi James describes him as her ‘go-to nutter’.
Lewis was a GP whose sailing career was changed by the 1960 OSTAR.
Many of his subsequent voyages were with various wives and children, including very small daughters around Cape Horn.
Ben Lowings’ interviews with Lewis’s family are fascinating. Understanding the ‘why’ of Lewis remains as challenging as navigation without a compass
The Dolphin by Ben Lowings, Lodestar Books
The Years Thunder By: A voyage across two oceans and a continent
A book which inspires one to ponder the difference between cruising and voyaging.
Nick Jaffe had little money and minimal sailing knowledge when he began to dream of small boats and the vast sea.
He craved space and self-discovery.
Jaffe had left his native Australia to work in Europe.
He acquired Constellation, a Contessa 26 and achieved his vision through his own tenacity and the kindness of strangers.
It’s a solipsistic venture but his honesty enables the reader to buy into the dream.
We’re rewarded with some profound insights and passages of great beauty.
The Years Thunder By by Nick Jaffe, independent publication
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Sea, Ice and Rock
Chris Bonington was in New Zealand, considering a climb in Tien Shan (part of the USSR – remember?) when Robin Knox-Johnston persuaded him they should sail together to Greenland and climb there instead.
They collected a crew and did just that – each of them sampling each other’s expertise.
This new edition of their joint boat (first published in 1993) has acquired a certain period charm: GPS is still a novelty: there’s no radar to help Suhaili in the fog and when they hear news of the fall of Gorbachev, they wonder whether their younger members will be needed to fight.
It remains a good read, full of insight and excitement.
Sir RJK’s tenacity through his first climb had me gripping the pages, white-knuckled!
Sea, Ice and Rock by Chris Bonington and Robin Knox-Johnston, Vertebrate Publishing.
Never Leave a Man Behind
Two former Royal Marines rowing the Pacific with only a single paid of oars.
One of them is registered blind, has run out of essential medication and suffered a compression fracture in his back,
Hurricane ‘Lane’ is imminent.
They are already exhausted – should they ask for rescue?
Mike Dawson, leader of the expedition, offers some insightful revelations about the experience of his companion, ‘Sparky’ Sparkes, blind in an open boat at sea.
Dawson also gains a deeper understanding of the effects of PTSD as he and RM veteran Steve Garnham kayak together round East Falkland in an effort to lay the ghosts of war.
Written in a ‘bootneck’ style, this is a worthwhile and very readable book about courage, endurance and friendship.
Never Leave a Man Behind by Mick Dawson, Little Brown
Mingming II & the Impossible Voyage
Roger Taylor‘s 24ft junk-rigged yacht is the star of the story, as she carries him north of Svalbard to cruise areas normally ice-bound – the Queen Victoria Sea.
The pair continue to Franz Josef Land, only turning south when they discover their ‘limit of rational endeavour’.
This is a philosophical account, which is also filled with humour and love for Mingming II, as well as providing a fascinating account of Taylor’s sailing technique, particularly in heavy weather (dropping the sails, and either heaving-to or strapping himself into the leeward bunk and placing his trust in his self-steering gear).
Taylor reflects on his earlier adventures and considers a possible ice-free future, acknowledging that he is ‘sailing along the cusp of a seismic shift in our species’ relationship with its world.’
He feels the grief yet achieves intellectual distance and some challenging insights.
Mingming II & the Impossible Voyage by Roger D Taylor, Fitzroy Press
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