Okay, of these books, only the reference ones are going to make it aboard Del Viento, and many books aboard will never be reflected here. Rather than our ship's library, this page is a list of only the cruising or sailing books I wholeheartedly recommend to other voyagers or anyone thinking about voyaging. I included my own short description with each. To learn more about any book, click the picture to go to the Amazon page (we earn a referral fee if you buy from this link).
Cruising Reference Books
Marine Diesel Engines, Nigel Calder
I bought my copy of this book in the early 1990s from Calder himself, after a talk he gave about diesel engines for cruising sailors. It is the clearest guide on the care, operation, and diagnosis of a diesel engine I have ever seen. It is not a long book (195 pages) and about every page is filled with pictures and drawings. There is a section on transmission and an appendix on tools. For me, the key is that Calder doesn't just tell you how to do something, he explains why. My copy is an older second edition, but I imagine it has improved, though it is difficult to see how it could have.
Boatowners Mechanical and Electrical Manual, Nigel Calder
This guide to the mechanical and electrical stuff on boats is both clear and comprehensive, as you would expect from Calder. It is a big book and a long book (500 pages), but it has earned a place aboard our boat as the go-to resource for any systems problem or question that arises. There is a section on engines in this book too, but that information is not as comprehensive as what is in the stand alone diesel engine book (above). It is a bible, of sorts.
This Old Boat, Don Casey
Don Casey is a venerable writer of all things having to do with boat systems and equipment. He is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to boats and his informative writing is not limited to purely electrical systems or engines, like Nigel Calder. Don Casey covers it all, from freeing a frozen zipper to repairing the hull. He has more than a half-dozen books in print, but this is the only one I’ve read. (And I've not yet read the entire thing. We've had it only a few months and I can't pry it out of Windy's hands to get my turn. 12/15/2010)
The Voyager’s Handbook, Beth Leonard
This book is another large, heavy, comprehensive tome, but also an asset aboard. Ms. Leonard has cruised for years and covers a wide range of topics, from best anchoring practices to managing your financial and business affairs from a cruising boat. Ms. Leonard writes this reference book from a very neutral point of view, adding immesely to its value. She is generous with her own real-world observations and experiences, but covers topics with the perspectives of a range of cruisers, of varied budgets. I wrote here about this book in our blog.
World Cruising Routes, Jimmy Cornell
There is nothing else like this book. For the cruising sailor sketching out a rough itinerary for the following year, this book contains valuable information about when it’s best to make any passage in the world. Much of this information is available anecdotally among the fleet, but Mr. Cornell’s book is both a good starting point and a confirming source. After a talk he gave a couple years ago, I approached him afterward and told him we were going cruising and asked if the earlier version of his book would suffice, or if I really needed to buy the new edition. In his thick, heavy accent he said simply, "You must buy the new book, lots of changes." Oh well.
The Cost Conscious Cruiser, Lin and Larry Pardey
Nobody has covered this topic as well as the Pardeys. For anyone cruising, or planning to cruise, on a budget, this sage book is filled with quotable passages and practical advice. From provisioning to equipping the cruising sailboat, the Pardeys cover it—and with an understanding that you likely have an auxiliary aboard. As the title implies, this book is especially intended for anyone cruising, or preparing to cruise, on a modest budget. It is inspiring and easy to read.
Sailpower, Peter Nielsen
There are a million books that cover sail trim in great depth. Unfortunately, from my perspective, they all seem to be geared towards the racing sailor. This book is unique in that it focuses exclusively on sail trim and sailing techniques for cruising sailors. Nielsen opens with a review of the physics of sailing and then gets to the art and science of trim. He roughly breaks the book down by sail type: main, headsail, spinnaker. There are lots of pictures and diagrams to compliment the text. Nielsen is the editor of SAIL magazine. He published this book in late 2004, several months before I sold a feature length article to SAIL. Before I accepted, I asked the editor I was working with if they would throw in a copy of this book as part of my compensation. She checked with Nielsen and the answer was no. I bought a copy later and am glad I did.
Into the Light, Dave and Jaja Martin
This book opens with a riveting first-hand account of sailing at night in the middle of the frigid North Atlantic, with your kids aboard, and a hole in the hull. From there, this book does not let go, with frequent back story diversions that let you know who the Martins are and funny, poignant present-day tales of the family’s winter aboard in Iceland and their nationwide publicity campaign to retain their Norwegian visa. The Martin’s story is very well written and though it may reflect an adventurous side of cruising you don’t want for your own family, you won’t help but feel that if they can accomplish what they did, your own ambitions are within reach.
All In the Same Boat, Tom Neale
The Neale family’s cruising story is pedestrian in contrast to the Martins (above), but inspirational and spanning a much longer period of time (read this post about how this book inspired me). Tom was a New England lawyer who decided with his wife to go cruising soon after their first daughter was born. For their entire lives, their two girls lived aboard while the family migrated annually, with the seasons, up and down the ICW and across the Gulf Stream, from Boston to the Bahamas. Perhaps more than other cruisers, their repetition allowed them to become very comfortable with their route, to almost dispense with passage-planning anxiety, and to give their kids a sense of continuity.
The Cruising Life, Jim Trefethen
Do you want inspiration, at the nuts and bolts level? Do you want someone to tell you exactly why you should be cruising and how you can actually make it happen? Then this book is for you. The subtitle is, “How to set sail within 5 years and live well and adventurously, even if you don't have a boat yet” and Trefethen offers insight, advice, and inspiration found no place else. One piece of wisdom we took to heart is his recommendation to wait as long as possible before buying the boat you intend to voyage on. His sensible reasoning is that it costs a lot of money to own and keep a boat, why spend that money before you need to? Rather, wait so that you have more money in your pocket when you do go. Until we bought our boat this past June, whenever people would learn we are into sailing, they would ask why we didn't have a boat. Our response was always that boats are too expensive, that we're saving to go cruising instead. Thank you Jim.
Dove, Robin Lee Graham
This is the classic. Back in the late 60s and early 70s, before cruising was mainstream, a 16-year-old Graham set sail on a 24-foot boat around the world. The world has since changed, but the spirit of adventure that he stoked in many cruisers since, is alive and well. Especially interesting to me is the beginning of the book in which he describes his motivation and the boyhood exploits that defined who he is. The movie version of the Dove is okay, worth renting. (If you're interested, the follow up book is Home Is the Sailor and has nothing to do with cruising, but with Graham's and his family’s subsequent life in the mountains of Montana, where they felled trees to build their own home. Interestingly, this book opens with a graphic account of just how difficult it was for Graham to achieve, and be defined by, his around-the-world accomplishment.)
Chasing the Horizon, Fatty Goodlander
Capn’ Fatty is like no other. He is a self-described sea gypsy who cruises the world on a sunken boat he salvaged, and got himself a gig on NPR. His monthly Cruising World column is always humorous, insightful, and a delight to read. This book chronicles (embellishes?) experiences he and his family had while cruising the Caribbean back when it was a comparative wild west. This is a collection of well-told stories with characters that could not be made-up. Goodlander also has a second book out and recently released a compilation called Collected Fat. Any aspiring writer, whether sea-going or not, should check out the “Writers Only” section of his web site and read his remarkable essay on how he became a writer.
North to the Night, Alvah Simon
Alvah Simon wrote this book with a power and eloquence that is impressive. When I first read it in 1997, I bought a copy for everyone on my Christmas list. The book chronicles his year up north, way up north, with his boat, Roger Henry. When his wife, Diana, was called away early in the adventure for a family emergency, he stayed alone with his cat, Halifax of the North. A dark and persistent night descended, temperatures dropped, and all fuel needed to heat the boat was lost. This book also features remarkable pictures and accounts of his interactions with the inuit who call the north their home. His writing and descriptions in this book are so masterful, just reading it makes me want follow in his footsteps, but also give up writing forever. Simon is a regular Cruising World contributor.
Adrift, Steven Callahan
Hit a whale, watch your boat sink out from under you, take to a life raft, and wait…for more than two months. Callahan relates his ordeal in this compelling book that will give you cause to think very carefully about the integrity of your life raft (or life boat), the contents of your ditch bag, and the fortitude of your mind. In this post, I wrote about my encounter with the author at the 2009 Annapolis Sailboat Show.
Fastnet, Force 10, John Rousmannerie
This book is part story, part news report, part study, part interview, and a riviting classic. You know the story before you open the cover, but Rousmannerie keeps you turning the pages, introducing you to one crew after another and placing you in the cockpit of their boats during the worst of this sail boat racing tradgedy. There are many lessons you can take away from the 1979 Fastnet race, but the one cited most often comes right from the pages of this book: never abandon your ship until you have to step up to your life raft (or life boat). Also included among the pages are graphic pictures, many taken from search and recovery craft after the storm had passed.
The People’s Guide to Mexico, Carl Franz
Think about your knowledge of the culture of our diverse neighbor. Where did it come from? The Cinco de Mayo celebrations in college? News stories about illegal immigration? Cezar Chavez boycotts you read about in civics classes? The staff at your local Mexican restaurant? The week you spent in Cozumel or Cabo San Lucas? That night in Tijuana? Respectively, if you haven’t lived for years in Mexico, among Mexicans, your understanding is shallow at best, misinformed at worst. The next best thing to living in Mexico, to really get it, is to read this hilarious and insightful book. It is long, but the format is segmented and the writing delightful. If you are cruising Mexico or intend to cruise Mexico, I can’t recommend this book enough, for really getting the most out of your experience.
Deep Water, 2006
In 1968, as a publicity stunt, a British newpaper (Sunday Times) sponsored a yacht race, a race like none before it. For a 5,000 pound purse, sailors had to singlehand their vessels around the world, non-stop, and unassisted. Nine men set out, only one man completed the race: Robin Knox-Johnston aboard Suhaili. But while this film covers the race and the entrants, it is really about the story of Donald Crowhurst aboard Teignmouth Electron. Crowhurst not only failed to finish the race, he never left the Atlantic and radioed fake position reports to make it appear he was on a blistering pace. In fact, log books recovered later indicate an early realization that his boat was not up to snuff and a desperation about what that meant for his homecoming. He had a wife and children and had mortgaged everything to the hilt to fund his entry. The stress drove him to madness, an ill-conceived plan to fake a win, and an apparent suicide. Crowhurst's story is wrenching and fascinating at the same time. (Bernard Moitessier was also an entrant and poised to win before he changed his mind and decided to keep sailing, halfway around again. He understood that he did not desire--and nor was he suited to--the fame that would have been bestowed upon his return. His sidestory makes me eager to read his autobiographical books.)
In our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we lived the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are.
Check out this blog and others on the Cruising World website!