Books, Historical


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South: The Endurance Expedition
Ernest Shackleton
In 1914–1916, Shackleton and his crew survived a shipwreck on ANTARCTICA. In 1919 he published South, his understated account of the ordeal.
There are PBS documentaries and a full–length movie dramatization (done rather well, imho) that you can get on DVD. First, though, read Shackleton’s own words. He and his crew pulled off an amazing feat, surviving the Antarctic with minimal gear (circa 1915 gear, mind you; that means no GoreTex!) by eating penguins and sailing an open boat to South Georgia — an 800 mile trip, and then a 36–hour, 22 mile hike over glaciers and mountains to a settlement. Imagine doing just the crossing of the glaciers and frozen mountains of South Georgia, on foot, and then remember that these guys did it after living on penguin meat for over a year, had just made a two–week, 800 mile crossing in an open boat in strong winds and cold waves that (was later discovered) sunk a 500 ton ship, and were wearing the same worn-out boots and clothes they had been wearing 24/7 for over a year. Damn!
These men were no sissies. On one of the PBS specials, the now–adult son of one of the crew said his father didn’t speak about the expedition very much, and when pressed would shrug his shoulders and say, “Yes, we did have a bit of hard time of it.”
Most of us are just not this strong, but the story does plant the seed that just maybe you, also, are capable of far more than you ever imagined.


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Blue Latitudes (Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before)
Tony HorwitzAn educational but FUN book about Captain Cook’s voyages and his influence on the current state of the lands he “discovered.”
This well–researched book will fill you with amazement and awe over the facts of the voyage (did you know that the Beagle was a converted coal barge, with a pretty much flat bottom and soft chine? The modern equivalent of sailing her into the then unknown Pacific would be exploring space in a refurbished school bus! And remember, not only no GPS navigation, of course, but no charts!) Meanwhile, as you read and learn to admire the men and their accomplishments, you’ll laugh out loud at some of the author’s anecdotes about his retracing of Cook’s steps. It’s captivatingly descriptive but unromanticized history, with humor.
By the way, every person I’ve lent this book has returned it with good things to say about it!


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Knockdown (The Harrowing True Account of a Yacht Race Turned Deadly)
Martin Dugard
In the extreme sport of open–ocean yacht racing, the 735–mile Sydney to Hobart challenge is considered one of the most treacherous races in the world. December 27, 1998, proved why. Slammed by a freak storm that unleashed 100 mph winds and waves eight stories tall, twenty–four boats were abandoned at sea as hundreds of sailors fought for their lives. This is the riveting story of that tragic race — the punishing storm, the heroic rescues, the grim loss of life — and a thought–provoking look at the people who risked families and fortunes for victory.
This book explains why Australians care about the Syd–Hob the way Americans care about the Super Bowl, why the race’s route is a particularly dangerous passage, and how, in 1998, a Southern Hemisphere “Perfect Storm” made the race infamous world–wide. The author does a great job of combining facts and background with the very human stories of the sailors and the people on shore who cared for them.
If you’re an ocean sailor, even if you do not care a whit about racing, this book will help you understand the potential seriousness of your sport; if you’re not a sailor, this book will help you understand what any adventurer goes through and why he takes the risks. As many Syd–Hob racers say, “Never again, and this time I mean it.”


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Fastnet, Force 10: The Deadliest Storm in the History of Modern Sailing
John Rousmaniere
In August 1979, 303 yachts began the 600–mile Fastnet Race from the Isle of Wight off the southwest coast of England to Fastnet Rock off the Irish coast and back. It began in fine weather, then suddenly became a terrifying ordeal. A Force 10, sixty–knot storm swept across the North Atlantic with a speed that confounded forecasters, slamming into the fleet with epic fury. The Fastnet racers expected a little rough weather, but they did not expect mere rough weather to so quickly escalate into a hellish storm. Because of the undersea geography, currents, and winds, the seas became very steep and very tall — “unimaginably horrifying” even for sturdy men who had plenty of experience challenging the raw power of angry seas. If you’re an ocean sailor, this is definitely well worth reading — it is not meant to scare you off the sea, but it should put enough of the fear of God into you to help you prepare wisely.
Btw, the author is not just a journalist: he was there, on a boat, in the race.
From the Back Cover:
John Rousmaniere’s gripping account of that calamitous race is a must read for anyone thinking about sailing offshore. This richly detailed account provides inspiration for all sailors to thoroughly prepare and use good sense at sea.” — Gary Jobson, ESPN commentator
There are few new lessons in safety at sea. What we teach is the accumulated wisdom of centuries, passed down to us by those who took the trouble to think and then to write. [Fastnet, Force 10] is still the best single source of those lessons, in my view…. Thanks for a great book and a lifetime of caring for those who go down to the sea in ships.” — John Bonds, Safety–at–sea expert and former director of the U.S. Sailing Association and the U.S. Naval Academy sailing program
“I reread Fastnet, Force 10 for at least the fourth time, with pleasure and admiration, as always. For a long time now, it has been a huge favorite of mine; as a writer, I’m dazzled by [John Rousmaniere]’s sure–footed handling of a complex narrative, with multiple points of view, all beautifully woven into a continuous and powerful story. After twenty years, it still reads as freshly as ever.” — Jonathan Raban, author of Passage to Juneau, Coasting, and Old Glory, and editor of The Oxford Book of the Sea.


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The Perfect Storm
Sebastian Junger
You’ve probably seen the movie, or at least heard of it — this is the story of the “perfect“ storm, meteorologically speaking, told mostly from the point of view of a few ships and boats that were in it. After seeing the movie, I read this because I’d heard that the book explained ocean weather systems well. I learned from this book, not as much about meteorology as I thought I would, but plenty about weather. The difference? One is science, the other is the meaning of the science. Junger’s description of historical storms, known shoal wrecks, and what is involved in modern ocean rescue will leave an impression with you. Sure, the images of the movie screen do the same, but the book adds layers of fact and understanding behind the images. The book is about the “perfect” storm and it is unlikely any of us will find ourselves in the same situation, but if you’re a sailor, and you sail on the open ocean, you should read this before you go, while you’re making preparations.


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In the Land of White Death
Valerian Albanov
An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic
From the back cover:
In 1912, the Saint Anna, a Russian exploration vessel in search of fertile hunting grounds, was frozen into the polar ice cap, trapping her crew aboard. For nearly a year and a half, they struggled to stay alive. As all hope of rescue faded, they realized their best chance of survival might be to set out on foot, across hundreds of miles of desolate ice, with their lifeboats dragged behind them on sledges, in hope of reaching safety. Twenty of them chose to stay aboard; thirteen began the trek; of them all, only two survived.


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Sailing Small
Stan Grayson
From the back cover:
You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Enjoy a Lifetime of Cruising!
Sailing Small is a book for all those who’ve dreamed of cruising in their own sailboat but have other commitments and can’t (or don’t want to) spend the money involved in financing and maintaining a bigger yacht. Presented here is the combined experience of boat owners who have, in some cases, spent a lifetime learning to live and cruise aboard sailboats ranging in size from 17 to 23 feet. Each has managed to cover more sea miles and spend more time afloat than many owners of much larger craft. Included are both wooden boats and readily available fiberglass models.