Three Great Sailing Books

Here are three of my favorite sailing tales.

Sailing Alone Around the World – Joshua Slocum

Joshua Slocum's Spray.  (photo credit:  Wikipedia)
Joshua Slocum’s Spray. (photo credit: Wikipedia)

This classic sailing tale by Captain Joshua Slocum has been in print continuously since 1900.  In 1895 Slocum left New England aboard his gaff-rigged yawl Spray and returned in 1898 having circumnavigated the globe single-hand.  Along the way he meets an array of figures including a shadowy late-night visitor in the cockpit.  He fights off thieves with sly methods.  He writes of whales, birds and flying fish for breakfast.  He is a guest in many homes along the way and even “meets” royalty in Samoa.

It’s a book that belongs in every sailor’s library.

Endurance with dogs in foreground (photo credit: Wikipedia).

A Voyage for Madmen – Peter Nichols
A book about the world’s first solo around-the-world sailboat race.  In 1968 The Sunday Times (London) sponsored the race with a prize of £5,000 (about $51,000 in 2014 US dollars) for the fastest time.  It’s a wide-ranging story of adventure, personalities, difficulties and an unusual mid-ocean maneuver by one of the competitors.  This 2001 book should get more attention now that a fiftieth anniversary edition of the race was just announced (to be held in 2018).

Endurance –  Caroline Alexander
The 1914 story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s mission to be the first to put a man on the South Pole.  In the years since I got this book as a gift from my wife, I’ve returned to it many times.  It’s hard to decide which I like more:  the hundred-year-old black and white photos (by the ship’s photographer, Frank Hurley) or the shipwreck and rescue of the sailors aboard Endurance.  After his ship was beset and crushed by ice near the South Pole, Shackleton took a crew of five men 800 miles in a 22-foot boat to search for help.  It’s a story that befits the name of the ship – Endurance.

Sailboat Racing and a Mysterious Death at Sea

In 1968 nine sailors set out from the British Isles to achieve in sailing what had never been done before:  race non-stop around the world.  Alone.

When it was over only one had finished.  One was dead, five had retired, one sank (rescued) and another just kept on sailing around again.

It was the Golden Globe race.  And now it’s back.  Australian adventurer Don McIntyre is staging a fiftieth anniversary re-run of the Globe in 2018.  Yesterday McIntyre released more details about the event.

"Knox Johnston Golden Globe". Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -
Robin Knox-Johnston aboard his winning boat Suhaili.  (Photo credit:  Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.)

In a nod to history, the rules will limit technology to what was available years ago.  That means no GPS, no satellite communication or modern boat designs.  About all they can use is high frequency radio.

Racers will be provided a satellite phone that only the race committee can call.  A GPS (in a sealed box) will be available for life-threatening emergencies only.  McIntyre says on his website:

They will be navigating with sextant on paper charts, without electronic instruments or autopilots. They will hand–write their logs and determine the weather for themselves. Only occasionally will they talk to loved ones and the outside world when long-range high frequency and ham radios allow.

If the 2018 edition is anything like the original, it will be a wild ride.

Route of  original Golden Globe race (photo credit:  Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The winner of the 1968 race, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, was already a skilled sailor and went on to be hailed as a sailing hero for the rest of his career.  In 1995 he was knighted in the UK.  The French mystic Bernard Moitessier held a clear lead in the race but deliberately turned away near the end and sailed off to Tahiti, allowing Knox-Johnston to win.  Moitessier said he was disillusioned with the commercialization of the race.

The strangest of all was Donald Crowhurst, a small-time English businessman and electronics designer.  With the help of sponsors he built an unusual, not-very-seaworthy trimaran.

Sadly, Crowhurst literally went off the deep end.  He was late to depart in Falmouth, England and soon after had serious problems.  While the others were proceeding around the world, Crowhurst —  plagued by a leaking hull — remained in the Atlantic, calling in false position reports to the race committee.

Ultimately Crowhurst committed suicide.  His abandoned trimaran Teignmouth Electron was found but his body never was.  He left behind journals with rambling, unintelligible entries written by a man losing his mind.  In a further twist Crowhurst’s preparation for the race was captured on film and later released in a documentary (Deep Water, 2006).  I saw that film a few years ago.  It’s a personal documentary with interviews of Crowhurst, his family and financial backers.  In the film you can sense Crowhurst’s anxiety.  The pressure of raising money and building a round-the-world racing yacht was getting to him.

I’ve left out the most intriguing bit of his story in case you want to read it for yourself.  I recommend the book A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols.

It can’t wait to see who competes and how this new Golden Globe plays out.  I’ll be watching as it does.

Donald Crowhurst (photo credit: News International and London Sunday Times)