Tom Cunliffe's The Complete Ocean Skipper is the bible for anyone planning on bluewater cruising. You won't be able to put it down

The Complete Ocean Skipper (2nd edition)
Tom Cunliffe
Adlard Coles, £32

Technically this is the second edition of a book first published in 2016. It would be equally valid to consider it the umpteenth edition of an ocean sailing life which began in 1975.

That was when Tom and Roz Cunliffe set out for Brazil in the Colin Archer designed Saari, with minimal engine, no electrics and scarcely standing headroom.

Then they became parents and explored the Arctic, the Caribbean and the US with their small daughter on the 1911 pilot cutter Hirta.

Westernmann, a newly built replica pilot cutter took centre stage in the next chapter and all this while Tom was regularly acting as skipper on many other yachts of all ages and styles.

More recently Tom and Roz have embraced both GRP and 21st century technology in the Mason 44 Constance.

His writing on hull design, rigs and the particular qualities of seamanship required for long distance sailing beyond temperate zones and continental waters, draws on experience that is approaching half a century.

The greatest quality of this book therefore is its sense of perspective together with a clear expression of priorities.

There is a breadth to Cunliffe’s approach as he considers the positive qualities of AeroRig and junk rig as well as refusing to give up on the salty joys of gaff ‘more whippings and splicings to the ton that any other setup’. He’s good at referring to other authorities which gives the reader a welcome feel of being present at a conversation between experts.

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As one would expect this book covers the preparation and equipment for a long voyage, the routines and techniques for a successful passage and the essential skills.

His argument for putting meteorology at the beginning of the navigation section is illuminating. New for this 2022 edition are updated sections on multihulls, autopilots, radar, anchoring and software.

As Cunliffe comes closer to consolidating his National Treasure status his writing style continues to delight and motivate.

Lesser mortals might cry out for a Cunliffe glossary – what are ‘gollywobblers’, ‘jumpers’, ‘gas kickers’ and how may one avoid a ‘lack of roach’ but the essential dynamism cannot be denied.

As I was reading contentedly in my cockpit a single sentence set up a rhythmic hammering in my head: ‘An ill-lit yacht is a wretched thing where joy is hard to find.’

I could not continue. I was compelled to leave the book, find a screwdriver and head for my spares drawer to replace the two faulty cabin lights on my conscience before I was able to continue.

Subsequent application to the domestic Gilbert and Sullivan expert, identified this sentence as rhythmically identical to the HMS Pinafore song, ‘A British tar is a soaring soul as free as a mountain bird’.

If Cunliffe were ever to be set to music I would fear for the future of the RYA exam system.

Meanwhile this book goes above and beyond as it attempts to instil the ‘can-do’ attitude which makes it hard to stay ashore a moment longer than necessary.

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