With a rainy day lingering in the oldest city, a schooner crew can get restless. It’s a great time to sit down with some great nautical literature! Some of our favorite sailing books:
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
In the middle of the South Pacific the ship was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale. The crew drifted for more than ninety days in three tiny whaleboats, succumbing to weather, hunger, disease, and ultimately turning to drastic measures in the fight for survival. This true story is the basis for the fictional classic, Moby Dick. I read this book in one sitting, that’s how riveting it is! I can’t wait to see Ron Howard’s big screen version.
Pride of the Sea by Tom Waldron
The story revolves around The Pride of Baltimore, a ship built in 1976 as part of Baltimore’s waterfront redevelopment program. Originally intended to serve as a floating museum, The Pride was modeled after the city’s legendary clippers—the favorite ships of 19th-century smugglers, slave traders and privateers, for whom a ship’s speed was more important than its safety. Baltimore clippers frequently disappeared without a trace, but, according to crew members, their sailing was “unforgettable,” “like riding bareback at night on a wild black mare.” Naturally then, when The Pride was completed, its supporters longed to take it on the open sea, and they eventually convinced the city to send it on a two-year, 2,800-mile goodwill voyage to Europe, with a group of 12 bright young sailors as its crew. It was on its way home when, on May 14, 1986, it was struck by an unexpected squall; it turned on its side, filled with water and sank in a matter of minutes. This book is like an old friend, I return to it at least once a year. And although I’ve read it countless times, I still find myself holding my breath throughout the narrative!
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr.
This is the story of Richard Henry Dana Jr., a young Harvard student, who, in 1834, leaves school to go on a sea voyage to improve his health. He ships out of Boston on the brig Pilgrim bound for California to bring back cow hides, presumably for the leather industry around Boston. This book can get a little slow if you are not interested in the technical aspects of handling the boat (we, of course, are fascinated by it, but not everyone is) but, seriously, hang in there! This journal is one of the most vivid accounts of seamanship at the time. Sailors were treated as slaves, dealt with in the harshest of ways, and they usually ended a journey owing the ship more money than they had earned. A little side note, before the mast was the term used for lower ranked sailors. Officer quarters were towards the stern of the ship. As these ships were brigs, the wind always came from the aft of the ship; therefore, the cabins at the stern of the ship had the best breeze, those forward of the mast were stuffy. Really, you should read it!
The Ship and the Storm by by Jim Carrier
In October 1998, a wayward tropical storm blossomed into one of the most powerful hurricanes in modern history. When it finished its devastating course throughout the Caribbean, Hurricane Mitch had killed thousands of people, left hundreds of thousands more homeless, and destroyed whole towns. Journalist Jim Carrier turns up a small but telling incident: the disappearance of a 282-foot schooner, part of the famous Windjammer fleet, called the Fantome. Guided by a young but accomplished English captain and manned by seasoned West Indian sailors, the cruise ship put into port in Belize to discharge its passengers, then set out to sea in an attempt to outrace a storm that, defying expectation, changed its course and in the end sent the Fantome and its crew beneath the waves. All that was terrible enough; added to it was the legal battle that awaited the crew’s survivors, one that hung over the disaster “like a poisonous cloud.” This is one of those accounts that remains heart thumping through the entirety of the retelling.
A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols
In 1968, nine sailors set off on the most daring race ever held: to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe nonstop. It was a feat that had never been accomplished and one that would forever change the face of sailing. Ten months later, only one of the nine men would cross the finish line and earn fame, wealth, and glory. For the others, the reward was madness, failure, and death. This race took place in the days before cell phones, satellites, global positioning systems. One contestant communicated with the press by sling-shooting film canisters filled with notes to passing ships – no iPhone calls here! Even though we’re not racers, this book is a must read, simply for the true grit and absolute madness these men possess.
Of course I could go on for many more words about our favorite nautical books, but then I wouldn’t be able to curl up with a cup of tea and a good, seafaring book. Part II is coming up, so don’t fret, your favorite may be on there! Any recommendations for what should be on Part II?