I’m often asked the difficult question,
I’m learning to sail. What books should I read?
There are hundreds of learn-to-sail books, but I’ve never read a single one. I didn’t learn to sail from a book. I learned to sail through experience, by working my way up “through the hawsepipe,” as it’s said, and I believe that the right experiences with the right mentors are the best way to learn to sail.
Once you have a good understanding of the basics, here are some excellent books that I believe are essential references for every shipboard library. They’ve helped me identify a fish I caught for lunch, they’ve refreshed my memory on the steps involved in a bow beam bearing, or troubleshooted white engine smoke from a bent connecting rod. I referred to my library before stitching up an open wound, and when I was simply curious to know if Daphne actually had a poop deck.
This is the companion to the almanac. While I choose to use Eldridges (see below) for tidal and current information, I love REED’s Companion. Be sure to select the companion and not the almanac. This is a great reference with nearly every topic you can think of. However, I believe it was out of print for a while. If you can get a copy, then hang on to it. Its worth every penny.
You’ll need a tide and current reference aboard. I find Eldridge’s to be easy to use and informative. Eldridge’s is only an East Coast reference.
Don’t be nervous by the size of this book. Its absolutely fascinating and having a solid knowledge of traditional navigation doesn’t only help you find your way. Practicing traditional navigation enhances the entire experience at sea.
Harvey Garrett Smith has made two beautifully illustrated books about the beauty of rope work. Instead of taping the end of your lines learn to whip in a beautiful way. Make art out of sailing. Sure you can tie a bowline, but there are thousands of knots and beauty is an important quality too.
One of the wonderful things about sailing is experiencing the ocean first hand. But understanding your environment makes it all the more beautiful and interesting. Perhaps you’ve seen some of my Sea Science articles in SAIL magazine. This oceanography textbook is a great read on a calm passage. You’ll want to read it cover to cover!
First Aid (I’m still searching for the best first aid book! Its been a long search)
Books that Capture the Spirit of Sailing
Learning technical skills is only one step to becoming a good sailor. Developing a spirit of tenacity, resourcefulness, resilience, and humility is also critical. Sometimes even more critical than anything that can be learned from a book. This develops not from know-how, but from experiences, from years of sailing, from storms and cold wind burning your face, and from scary incidents. There is no certification or skills checklist to determine if you’ve gained this mental attitude. In fact, it can never be achieved completely and the moment you believe you’ve arrived is the same moment when you’ll be knocked down. Here are some books to help inspire the old salt in you:
Shackleton’s is an amazing leader and captain. This is a must read.
I love everything by Emerson. While he wasn’t a sailor, he does embody the values that I try to carry with my while sailing and in life in general. His is a good perspective to think about while at sea.
Excellent little nuggets of inspiration or for a daily reading. It will keep you thinking throughout the day and experiencing the wilderness in a new frame of mind.
Movies that Capture the Spirit of Sailing
This is the absolute best sailing mini-movie ever! If you haven’t seen it then you must. Without a doubt.
One Simple Question …nudge nudge, wink wink!
Now its your turn! What books am I missing? Which ones are on your essential list? Please add them in the comments below to help build this listing of wonderful references and sea stories.
P.S. Daphne does in fact have a poop deck and she has been pooped! The term comes from the French word poupe. Can you guess what it means?