Know-how - 12 great boating books

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12 Great boating books

My assignment for this month was to write about what I consider the best boating books. This is an honor, but I fear it may be the equivalent of a voice crying in the wilderness. We are fast approaching what Marshall McLuhan described as the “post-literate society.” On the other hand you’re reading this magazine, so with optimism I humbly submit my choices for best boating books.

1. Topping the list is “Chapman Piloting & Seamanship” the recreational boater’s bible. The answers to questions on any basic aspect of boating can be found in its pages. I’ve been on the water for close to 60 years, and I still carry a copy on board. It’s the best reference work of its kind in the United States. “Dutton’s Navigation and Piloting” is another reference text worth having, but not necessarily to carry aboard.

2. A good reference for coastal boating is “Shoreline and Sextant” by John P. Budlong. It’s easier reading and more concise than Dutton’s, and is a good backup if your electronics go wonky.

3. Two short books by Alan Watts — “Instant Weather Forecasting” and “Instant Wind Forecasting” — are easy to use, with color photographs of sky conditions to compare with your observations on the water, regardless of what NOAA weather is broadcasting on the VHF. These books will help you dope out your immediate local conditions.

4. For pure pleasure I suggest all of C.S. Forester’s books about Horatio Hornblower. Set during the Napoleonic Wars — the late 18th and early 19th centuries — they follow Hornblower’s career from impoverished midshipman to English lord. They are stories about one of the first non-heroes. Hornblower gets seasick on board while docked, and he’s quite unlucky when it comes to winning prize money.

5. The antithesis of Horatio Hornblower is Jack Aubrey who, along with Stephen Maturin, is the hero of Patrick O’Brian’s 20-novel Aubrey-Maturin series. These also take place during the Napoleonic Wars. Aubrey is fond of telling the worst jokes and puns, and cracks himself up with his wit. The author effectively draws readers into early 19th-century society: the way people think and speak, their attitudes and manners, what they know and don’t know. For example, they had no concept of germs, so no one washed their hands before or after surgery. The naval battles aren’t fictional but are based on the logs of actual vessels. One battle is between the USS Constitution — aboard which Aubrey and Maturin are “guests” — and the HMS Java.

6. A classic, great read is Joshua Slocum’s “Sailing Alone Around the World.” He was first to solo-circumnavigate the globe, from 1895 to 1898, in a 12-ton sloop he found rotting and unclaimed in a meadow. He rebuilt it and made history. Slocum would spread nails on the deck to discourage being surprised by pirates. He was a great seaman and a terrific writer. Regardless of whether you’re a powerboater or sailor, it’s outstanding reading.

7. I read Sebastian Junger’s “The Perfect Storm” on Buzzards Bay, en route to Falmouth, Mass. Perhaps not the best book for a nervous spouse or crew while under way, but it’ll grab you.

8. Bernard Moitessier sailed around the world 1-1/2 times non-stop. After leading in a single-handed race and crossing his outbound track in the Atlantic, Moitessier decided he didn’t want the prize and continued sailing. His tactics for sailing in heavy weather are interesting, but that’s for another article. He wrote two books, “The First Voyage of the Joshua” and “The Long Way.”

9. Written during different times but interesting and, I think, kind of fun is L. Francis Herreshoff’s “The Compleat Cruiser.”

10. Anything and everything by Joseph Conrad. A great writer and a professional sea captain.

11. Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” It’s one of the two greatest novels written by an American author. You can skip the treatises on the natural history of whales when you come to them; it’ll considerably shorten the book.

12. Last, but not least, Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” A great read.