Books for Yachties

24 July 2009 By Louisa Beckett
Photo by Suki Finnerty

Remember “beach reading”? Sitting in a chaise longue, cold drink in hand, toes in the sand as you languidly turn the pages of a good book?

Alas, the summer season doesn’t afford yacht crew as much time for lounging on the beach with a page-turner as it does people in other industries who enjoy more regular holidays. But judging by the forum “Books for Yachties”, when crew do find a few minutes to spend alone with a book, they devour it.

There are legions of books about yacht design and yacht building, and even a number of “how-to” guides for newbie crew – including The Insiders’ Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess by Julie Perry. But there aren’t too many “escapist” reads on the shelves that are set against the backdrop of life aboard a superyacht. A couple of recent ones penned by yacht chefs (a surprisingly literary group) are recommended in the “Books for Yachties” forum:

Sea Fare, A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean by Victoria Allman, the chronicle of a chef who has seen the world from the windows of several different megayacht galleys – complete with recipes.

Mediterranean Summer
by David Shalleck with Erol Munuz, the memoirs of a chef to the stars who served on sailing yacht Serenity for a season along the Côte d’Azur and the Italian coast.

But while yachtie-centric books are few and far between, many wonderful marine-themed books have been published over the past decade or so, possibly to feed the long-overlooked market for men’s literature. These popular sea yarns, which include the best-selling The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, have shattered the prevailing myth that “real men don’t read books.” They do, and women – particularly yachties – love these titles, too.

Here are some sea stories that are fun to read and educational, to boot.

1. Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder. This book is in two parts – a vivid description of the sinking of a ship full of prospectors returning from the Gold Rush in 1859, along with a fascinating account of the shipwreck’s discovery – along with a fortune in gold – off the Carolina coast in 1989.

2. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. Another scary sinking – this time by a huge sperm whale mid-Pacific. Legend has it this true incident and the story of its survivors inspired Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Spoiler alert: It includes cannibalism.

3. The New New Thing by Michael Lewis. Part biography of Silicon Valley magnate Jim Clark; part history of the building of his highly computerized 42.2m Royal Huisman sailing yacht Hyperion, this book by the author of Liar’s Poker and Moneyball is frequently hilarious, especially when describing the early bugs in Hyperion’s system. While Clark went on to build the monumental 90m Athena, the smaller yacht is still ahead of her time.

4. Longitude by Dava Sobel. Most of us take for granted the navigational instruments that measure lat and long, but prior to the invention of a clock that could keep perfect time at sea in the early 18th century, most mariners only had a vague clue as to where they actually were on the globe.

5. The Riddle of the Compass by Amir D. Aczel. Not quite as brisk a page-turner, this book about the compass and its invention in the 12th century is another detailed history of one of the tools of our trade.

6. Thunderstruck by Erik Larsen. Another essential invention that greatly enhanced the lives of mariners was Guglielmo Marconi’s wireless telegraph system in the early 20th century. Larsen, who is also the author of the historical mystery The Devil in the White City, weaves a murder story into Marconi’s race to invent ship-to-shore communications.

7. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky. Did you know that the discovery of North America really took place because of the quest for cod, a staple of the European diet?

8. All Fishermen Are Liars by Linda Greenlaw. The author, a former swordfishing boat captain (who also had a bit part in The Perfect Storm) swaps hair-raising sea yarns with an old salt over a long lunch while safely in port.