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.
The Lugworm Chronicles
Lodestar’s paperback omnibus edition includes the late Ken Duxbury’s Lugworm on the Loose exploring the Greek Islands in a Drascombe Lugger during 1971; Lugworm Homeward Bound, sailing from Corfu to Fowey; and finally Lugworm Island Hopping, living an isolated semi-wild existence on the Scillies and the Isle of Ensay in the Hebrides.
The three volumes can be savoured independently for their minutely observed detail of coastlines, small settlements and wild spaces, or read continuously as the autobiographical reflections of a professional seaman and artist.
The writing is always vivid, the commentary individualistic and the small boat handling deeply impressive.
The Lugworm Chronicles by Ken Duxbury, Lodestar
Blokes up North
Blokes up North is an honest account of the highs and sometimes boring and depressing lows of sailing a 17’ open boat through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
Yachtsmen Kevin Oliver and Tony Lancashire were inspired to sail from Inuvik to Resolute having read about Frank and Margaret Dye’s adventures in their Wayfarer dinghy.
Both men were Royal Marines when they decided to undertake the voyage, which tested not only themselves but how well they worked together, adopting a go/don’t go principle, with more weight given to the person with the more cautious view.
Unpretentious and thoroughly recommended. A great adventure book.
Blokes up North by Kevin Oliver and Tony Lancashire, Lodestar Books
On a Belt of Foaming Seas
This absorbing account of his participation in the 2018 GGR confirms that neither designation is accurate. Lehtinen is a talented and experienced sailor, used to racing in the highest company.
He and his yacht Asteria, could have expected to be in contention for a place on the GGR 2018 podium.
Instead, they finished almost four months after the winner, due to an extraordinary mistake with the antifouling applied.
However they did complete the challenge when the majority of boats did not.
I would recommend Lehtinen’s wise and humorous book as a travelling companion for others.
On a Belt of Foaming Seas by Tapio Lehtinen, Paul Trammell, Ari Pusa, Barry Pickthall, Amazon
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.
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
A Challenger’s Song
Philip Pearson’s great grandfather, Charles Collings (or Collins) was a leading stoker on the survey ship HMS Challenger.
Born in 1847, to an unmarried mother, he joined the navy as a boy of 14, committing himself to ten years continuous service from age 18.
This period included the whole of the Challenger Expedition from December 1872-May 1876.
The hard work of her crew helped lay the foundations of modern oceanography as well as undertake essential groundwork for the laying of intercontinental telegraph cables.
Conditions were poor and many deserted. Collings lasted the course but led an unsettled life thereafter.
Pearson offers a readable, human perspective on a major scientific undertaking.
A Challenger’s Song by Philip Pearson, Austin Macaulay.
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