Books With The Sea in Sight

Cancer had a way of sweeping mediocrity from my life while intensifying the beauty around me. When I sailed, the potency of the experience was blissful. When I read, I found what I sought, or I kicked the book aside. When I wrote, I wrote from my heart. While I penned Sailing the Pink Sea I always had a well-worth-reading nautical book at hand. Some of these books released me from my troubles, some readings taught me seamanship skills and other, such as the Navigation Rules, I used for study. Here are a few recommended books, both practical and fanciful, with the sea in sight.


The Shipping News

by E. Annie Proulx

If I had to name my favorite author it would be a toss up between James Agee and Annie Proulx. Both have an extraordinary talent for weaving simple language into a rich, complex and mythic place. When I read The Shipping News, I was transported to rural Newfoundland to observe Quoyle, Petal, Agnis and the small town cast of characters in yarns of sorrow, love and shame. Like rural life, the pace in Shipping News is slow enough to pick up lint, but the reach of generations past extend before Quoyle to lead him to a new beginning.

This book also appears on Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction


Chapman Piloting & Seamanship 65th Edition

by Elbert S. Maloney

If you own only one book on boating, seamanship or piloting, it should be Chapman's Piloting & Seamanship. From abaft to zodiac, Chapman's is a primary source for learning about anything nautical. Now in its 65th edition, the book beloved among boaters is chock full of great illustrations and photos. It can help you learn how to read the weather, dock your boat, navigate through locks — you name it. The basics of just about anything nautical is outlined in concise, understandable language in Chapman's.


Life of Pi

by Yann Martel

Perhaps Martel was inspired by the story of Noah or Job or Buddha, surely his novel serves as a modern parable for faith and belief. This epic of a young boy trapped in a tiny lifeboat — first with a menagerie, and ultimately as nature took its course, alone with a Bengal tiger — The Life of Pi literally sent me to a spare bedroom to read until, like Pi, I could stay awake no longer. In a word, it is as magical and complex as is the mathematical constant.


The Sailor's Illustrated Dictionary

by Capt. Thompson Lenfestey, Jr., Thompson Lenfestey

Although the title is not quite appropriate (don't expect a picture of each baggywrinkle or scuttlebutt) this is a solid book to sort out the enormous sailing vernacular. If you need to know what distinguishes a jib from a genoa the Sailor's Illustrated Dictionary is a fine place for discovery.


On Chesil Beach

by Ian McEwan

Set in the era of virgin brides (and virgin grooms, for that matter), Ian McEwan carves out the most intimate slice of life with the skill of a renowned brain surgeon as he retracts a tragic picture of cultural expectations, sexual repression and naiveté. This very short book is so vivid in the detail of the young couple's disastrous honeymoon, the reader will likely squirm with shame of their literary voyeurism. I ached for the characters.

This book also appears on Great (Mostly) Novels on Sex and Love


Navigation Rules

by The U.S. Coast Guard

Not exactly a page-turner (I have used it to cure insomnia) but it is a necessity for any serious boater. The NAV RULES (or COLREGS, as it is commonly known) serves as the rule-of-maritime-law for keeping boats from bumping in both international and inland waters. This little book is so important it is required by the US Coast Guard to be aboard all boats over 39.6 feet long while underway.


Sailor Song

by Ken Kesey

Sailor Song is not as highly praised as Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. When it was published in 1993, New York Times Book Review critic Donald E. Westlake wrote, "Sailor Song does not make one single particle of sense." I can understand the criticism, but attribute it not to Kesey's writing but on Westlake's total lack of imagination. Sailor Song is not written about a world in which we happily live, but is set in a hair-raising over-warmed future. Although I cannot outright declare I "enjoyed" the book, Kesey's portrayal of what lies ahead, with images of fishing nets hauled with a bounty of only slimy parasitic lamprey, haunts me even 16 years after I read the dark tale of our environmental ruin. Called a "tail dragger" in a 1999 review still featured on Amazon, I would agree it is indeed a bummer, only because it is so close to what we can now imagine as our dim fate. Kesey's Sailor Song illustrates the old maxim so well: Mother Nature is a bitch.


The American Practical Navigator

by Nathaniel Bowditch

Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838) was an early American mathematician who is often credited as the founder of modern ocean navigation. He wrote the first edition of the book published in 1802, and it is still considered a basic for any marine library at sea or ashore. Need I say more?


The Perfect Storm

by Sebastian Junger

The Perfect Storm caused such a stir the title has become widely used to describe a confluence of ill luck. The tale of a fishing boat lost at sea captures the harrowing last hours of the six fishermen aboard the Andrea Gail and brought the dangers of earning a living from the sea to the minds of us ashore. Written in the style of a docudrama, Junger fills in the gaps of what is know with the skill of an on-the-scene reporter in a tale that will leave the reader thankful for the solid ground beneath them.