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

Books for sailors: our pick of the best new releases

Looking for inspiration for your holiday reading list?

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

Old Man Sailing

Old Man Sailing Book JAcket

Old Man Sailing has become a word-of-mouth bestseller among sailing titles.

In March 2020 John Passmore was content on his Rival 32 Samsara, the wrong side of the Lowestoft Harbour bridge.

Three months lockdown was imminent. He shifted his berth within the hour.

Then, after some careful provisioning he moved to the Walton Backwaters to complete preparations, observe quarantine and pick a weather window before leaving for the Azores northabout Shetland.

When he returned, six weeks and 3,629 miles later, his action had caught the public imagination.

Passmore, a former journalist, is an accomplished writer able to shape his anecdotes and remain wryly entertaining as well as thought-provoking throughout.

These qualities will ensure Old Man Sailing continues to be read long after lockdown has faded from memory.

Old Man Sailing by John Passmore, Samsara Press, £10.24

Buy Old Man Sailing at Amazon (UK)

Buy Old Man Sailing at Amazon (US)

Buy Old Man Sailing at Audible

Addicted to More Adventure

Addicted to more adventure by Bob Shepton Book Jacket

A new collection of Bob Shepton’s adventures is an immediate pleasure.

Perhaps, as he’s a chaplain by trade, it’s not surprising that there is also a message: ‘Risk is good, enjoy it’.

Ellen Massey Leonard’s afterword spells out the essential connection between risk and joy. ‘Bob has found joy throughout his life in climbing unclimbed cliffs […] and in reaching some of the world’s most remote wildernesses under sail.’

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

As well as leading a west-east return through the North-West passage, he acts as a delivery skipper and a sailing master and conveys other, younger, mountaineers 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 at Amazon (UK)

Buy Addicted to More Adventure at Amazon (US)

Buy Addicted to More Adventure at Waterstones (UK)

A River in Borneo

A River in Borneo book jacket

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

A River in Borneo is set in the Malaysian and Indonesian waters he explored as a junior officer in the 1960s Merchant Navy.

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

The central action is set in the mid 19th century and Kirton must learn to navigate the sensitivities of different ethnic groups within his crew with the same skill that he negotiates the intricate island passages between the Sulu and Celebes Seas.

Moulded by pain, Kirton is one of Woodman’s most psychologically interesting characters. If this is Woodman’s swansong, it’s a good way to go.

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

Buy A River in Borneo at Amazon (UK)

Buy A River in Borneo at Amazon (US)

Buy A River in Borneo at Waterstones (UK)

The Sea is not made of Water

The Sea is not made of water book jacket

This is a book with the wow factor.

It’s an astonishingly wide-ranging tour-de-force which finally reaches the assertion that the sea ‘is a world to come alongside, to be-with in ways that go beyond the predatory’.

Whilst most sailors will have little trouble with this concept, Nicolson works his way towards it from a coast-based perspective.

Although he does sail out towards Lismore Lighthouse in the Sound of Mull, in a 16ft wooden lugger, his interest is in observation of the inter-tidal rocks, weeds, creatures and legends.

Writing on tides he highlights the Newtonian theory that what we experience is not the sea being pulled about the surface of the earth, but the turning of the earth under the surface covering of the sea – a concept both awe-inspiring and giddying.

The Sea is not made of Water by Adam Nicolson, Harper Collins, £20

Buy The Sea is not made of Water at Amazon (UK)

Buy The Sea is not made of Water at Amazon (US)

Buy The Sea is not made of Water at Waterstones (UK)

Buy The Sea is not made of Water at Audible

Continues below…

The Five Year Voyage: Exploring Latin American Coasts and Rivers

Book jacket for the Five Year Voyage
Steven Ladd previously spent three years living and exploring solo in a 12ft homebuilt dinghy.

When the wanderlust returned he had a partner, Ginny, equally eager for adventure, so adapted a slightly larger boat.

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

They added a cabin top, drinking water ballast, stowage and a sliding seat rowing system.

Two years later, having travelled from Florida to Panama, they added a Honda 2hp outboard.

This enabled them to spend a further three years exploring the coastline and great rivers of South America as far as Buenos Aires.

On the way they married and had a baby.

This is an intensely impressive small boat voyage. It’s also grippingly readable.

The Five-Year Voyage: Exploring Latin American Coasts and Rivers by Stephen Ladd, Seekers Press, £15.99

Buy The Five Year Voyage at Amazon (UK)

Buy The Five Year Voyage at Amazon (US)

Essential Boat Electronics

Book jacket fro Essential Boat Electronics

Electrics are the ‘number 1 problem on any boat’ states the blurb.

While some may wish to challenge this, the fact remains that recent decades have seen an unprecedented increase in the complexity of systems on even the most modest cruising yacht.

Often these systems have been overlaid on one another as new needs have been identified or earlier installations found inadequate.

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

Even those of us who are privately determined to use professionals wherever possible, it would be well advised to read this book and keep it on board, for the moments when self-reliance is unavoidable.

This is not a problem that’s set to go away.

Essential Boat Electronics 3rd edition by Oliver Ballam and Pat Manley, Fernhurst Books, £16.99

Buy Essential Boat Electronics at Amazon (UK)

Buy Essential Boat Electronics at Amazon (US)

The Shetland Sea Murders

Sailing 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 starts will Lynch running her last charter of the season, which is disrupted by a VHF radio call from the Shetland coastguard.

What follows is two apparently unrelated murders, and soon Lynch herself is under threat.

Fans of Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope series will throughly enjoy the plot’s twists and turns.

It will certainly keep you entertained!

Buy The Shetland Sea Murders at Amazon (UK)

Buy The Shetland Sea Murders at Amazon (US)

Buy The Shetland Sea Murders at Waterstones

Buy The Shetland Sea Murders at Audible

The Dinghy Cruising Companion

The Dinghy Cruising Companion (2nd edition) book jacket

This is the second edition of an important book, and deserves inclusion in our list of books for sailors.

Roger Barnes’s writing recalls Maurice Griffiths’s titles of 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 into 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 types of vessel as well as rigs, equipment and modifications.

It’s arguable we would all be better sailors if we reminded ourselves more often of the interplay of wind and waves experienced from inside the hull of a dinghy.

The Dinghy Cruising Companion (2nd edition) by Roger Barnes, Adlard Coles, £16.99

Buy The Dinghy Cruising Companion at Amazon (UK)

Buy The Dinghy Cruising Companion at Amazon (US)

Buy The Dinghy Cruising Companion at Waterstones (UK)

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence.

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

If you have recommendations for books for sailors – get in touch at yachtingmonthly@futurenet.com


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