Bridging the gap

Without a doubt, there are many distractions to help bridge the gap between boating seasons these days, a lot of them thanks to technology. I’m thinking specifically of online classifieds (a personal favorite; see the trouble it got me into), YouTube and Vimeo, sailing vlogs, and streamable documentaries – all of which I enjoy year-round, not just when the weather outside is frightful.

My personal favorite, however, and I’m not just saying this because I’m the editor of the kind of magazine you can roll up and swat flies with, has very little technology involved in its production: books. I love sailing books. And there are so many of them. As sailors, I’ve noticed, it’s not enough that we do something cool. We’ve then got to shout the news from the highest mountain, and thank goodness for that, because listening has gotten me through many a New England winter.

A bonus is that the best sailing books transcend the genre. That is, they’re great literature. Period. With this in mind, here are my top-10 favorites, listed in no particular order.

“Sailing Alone Around the World,” by Joshua Slocum. This is an old friend of which I never tire. Slocum’s writing is simultaneously wry and exuberant, and while I love a good storm story, this book doesn’t suffer from their omission. His solo voyage around the world in a self-built oyster smack is many things: funny, incredibly romantic, adventurous and surreal (think: tacks on the deck to ward off bare-footed savages). We’ve all read this book, and for good reason.

“The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst,” by Tomalin and Hall. Meticulously researched, exceedingly well-written, and haunting, this book pieces together the ill-fated voyage of a brilliant, yet troubled, trimaran sailor in the first-ever Golden Globe Race.

“The Thousand Dollar Yacht,” by Anthony Bailey. The title pretty much says everything you need to know, but I’ll add that it’s gorgeously written and hilarious, as well (damn, those Brits can write). Most of the action takes place in and around Long Island Sound, which is an added bonus for those of us who cruise these grounds.

“Tinkerbelle,” by Robert Manry. What does a veteran journalist do when his transatlantic ride falls through? Why, he kits out the 13-foot family daysailer and crosses on that! This feat was a sensation in the ’60s, and even today the account of it boggles the mind. Manry was no hotshot sailor, yet he dreamed big and made it happen.

“Princess,” by Joe Richards. Essentially the account of a long-term love affair with a wooden Friendship sloop. This book is incredibly funny, written in a unique style, and achieves the wondrous effect of making anyone reading it thank God for fiberglass while simultaneously pining for a wooden Friendship sloop.

“The Bounty Trilogy,” by Nordhoff and Hall, and, as a companion book, “Captain Bligh’s Portable Nightmare,” by John Toohey. Seldom have I so eagerly devoured a book series as I did this one. I was so immersed, and felt so intensely close to the subject matter that, after finishing “Pitcairn’s Island,” the final book in the series, I researched the island with the vague notion of moving there. Seriously. “Captain Bligh’s Portable Nightmare” humanizes the villain that was Capt. Bligh in the Nordhoff and Hall books, and makes you appreciate the stunning feat of seamanship and navigation he was forced to pull off.

“Shackleton’s Boat Journey,” by Frank Worsley. An account of one of the most famous – maybe the most famous – open-boat voyages ever, as told by Shackleton’s New Zealand navigator, Frank Worsley. Shackleton was a great leader of men, of course, but it didn’t hurt that he had behind him great men like Worsley, a navigator of the highest order.

“The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow,” by A. J. MacKinnon. The setup: an Australian-born teacher in England decides to go on walk-about, and chooses as his vehicle one of the sailing dinghies on his school’s campus. He gets permission to do so, drops the thing in a nearby canal, and off he goes, eventually traversing much of the European canal system. Incredibly charming and beautifully written, this is one of my all-time faves.

“Wanderer,” by Sterling Hayden. In the middle of an ugly divorce, the then-famous – but broke – actor Hayden defies a court order and sails for the South Pacific, his kids in tow aboard his schooner, Wanderer. Supremely engaging and beautifully written, this is the “Rebel Without a Cause” of sailing books.

“Heavy Weather Sailing,” by Adlard Coles. Never has one amateur sailor run into so many blockbuster weather events. Coles, an avid ocean racer, tangles with one scary storm after another, mostly on small, wooden boats, and survives to methodically describe the events, and the orderly, seamanlike responses to them, by himself and his various crews. Understated, precise and eminently readable.

You know, now that I’m done, I realize I’ve forgotten “The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float,” by Farley Mowat, and “Heart of Darkness,” by Joseph Conrad, and . . . see? It’s a pretty amazing genre.

Stay warm, everyone, and enjoy whatever distraction gets you through another New England winter.

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