A Sea Vagabond’s World Book Review

A Sea Vagabond’s World, by Bernard Moitessier (Sheridan House Maritime Classic, 2019; 218 pages)

Review by Brian Fagan

Eric and Susan Hiscock, Peter and Ann Pye, and Bernard Moitessier are immortals of ocean cruising in the days before electronics when sextants and good, old-fashioned DR plotting, and meticulous pilotage carried one over the horizon and along challenging coastlines. Moitessier was one of the last of these unique folk, famous for his lengthy voyages and simplicity aboard. A Sea Vagabond’s World is his last, incomplete book, completed and ably edited by his companion, Véronique Lerebours Pigeonniére. As she says, he was part fish and part monkey, “which was very useful at sea.” He merged with the sea in ways that are unintelligible to many modern-day sailors by philosophically merging himself with the marine environment, just like ancient navigators.

Sea Vagabond is a fascinating mix of experience and philosophy. The book has four major parts. The first two cover preparation and fitting out. Moitessier believed in starting modestly and provides a fascinating chronicle of his boats. In the end, he thinks 32 feet LOA is ideal. The Fitting Out chapter is crammed with wise recommendations and common sense ideas on everything from ground tackle (heavy) to rigs and navigational aids. Interestingly, had radar been truly affordable in his day he would have shipped out with it. The Distant Shores section is a gold mine of wisdom on everything from hurricanes and weather forecasting to heaving to and anchoring. Moitessier provides you with a mix of common sense, philosophy, and practical advice based on his unrivaled experience. This is one of the few cruising books that talks about adaptation, solo sailing, beachcombing on Pacific islands, and aptitude, a far cry from the often-macho encouragements that appear in the literature. No one would describe this book as a definitive guide to ocean cruising, or, for that matter, beachcombing, but that’s not the point. Sea Vagabond is the book you should read first if you’re contemplating long-distance cruising, digest its advice, and then go onto more lengthy tomes while sailing to gain experience. He covers cooking in the tropics, knockdowns, maintenance, self-sufficiency on tropical islands, and woolen socks—and that’s just a start.

If Moitessier’s down-to-earth, no-nonsense, workmanlike book makes you realize that you’re not by nature an ocean sailor, great. But if you decide to go, there is more wisdom in these pages than in many books three times its length. Moitessier knew what he was talking about and we’re fortunate that he distilled his experience in this work.

Reviewer Brian Fagan was born in England and trained in archaeology and anthropology, earning a PhD in 1964. From 1967 to 2003, he served as a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He’s written dozens of acclaimed books on a wide range of archeological and anthropological topics, nearly all aimed at a general audience. Along this path, he’s found time to pursue his sailing passion and is the author of a few books about sailing California’s Channel Islands. His The Cruising Guide to Central and Southern California: Golden Gate to Ensenada, Mexico, Including the Offshore Islands is considered a bible among Southern California sailors.

Compass & Sextant: The Journey of Peregrin Took Book Review

Compass & Sextant: The Journey of Peregrin Took, by Phil Hoysradt, with Carol Hill (Yankee Publishing, 2019; 157 pages)

Review by Michael Robertson

Good Old Boat uses affiliate links and may earn a small commission if you purchase anything after clicking through one of them. This comes at no cost to you. 

This is author Phil Hoysradt’s memoir, covering the span of his life that begins in a Portland, Maine, classroom in 1968, when he dropped out of college to join the Peace Corp, and ends roughly seven years later, when he sailed into the Gloucester, Massachusetts, harbor aboard Peregrine Took, capping a near-circumnavigation.

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Arrow’s Fall Book Review

Arrow’s Fall, by Joel Scott (ECW Press, 2019; 340 pages)

Review by Chas. Hague

Good Old Boat uses affiliate links and may earn a small commission if you purchase anything after clicking through one of them. This comes at no cost to you. 

Jared Kane and Danny MacLean are intrepid Canadian yachtsmen, sailing the ketch, Arrow, around the South Pacific. Although they are starting to run low of the funds they obtained from a previous adventure, described in the book Arrow’s Flight, they are not so bad off that they need to take on a charter from a pretty young woman, Laura Kennedy, to go looking for a lost shipwreck.

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The American Practical Navigator ‘Bowditch’ Book Review

The American Practical Navigator ‘Bowditch’, by Nathaniel Bowditch and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (Paradise Cay, 2018; 1228 pages)

Review by Fiona McGlynn

If you’ve ever found yourself aboard, beyond cell phone reception, with a pressing question, you’ll no doubt appreciate the value of having a good reference book aboard. As you wrack your brain to remember, “How to calculate the distance between one point and another?” or, “What’s the difference between a flashing and occulting light?” you’ll reach for your trusty “Bowditch,” as sailors before you have done for 200 hundred years.

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200,000 Miles: A life of adventure

by Jimmy Cornell
(Cornell Sailing, 2018; 409 pages)

Review by Fiona McGlynn

Reading 200,000 Miles: A life of adventure, I had the sense of sitting over a cup of tea, below deck, with a sailing legend, while he enthusiastically told me everything I ever wanted to know about offshore cruising.

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Storing Food Without Refrigeration

by Carolyn Shearlock
(Blue River Press, 2019; 160 pages)

Review by Fiona McGlynn

On day 20 of a Pacific Ocean crossing, having long-since raided the fresh-food stores, my husband and I were subsisting on cans of chicken and “vegetable medley.” I know now that if I’d read Storing Food without Refrigeration before departure, I might have saved myself some heart ache (and heart burn!).

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Chapman Boating Etiquette

by Queene Hooper and Pat Piper
(Hearst, 2005; 144 pages)

Review by Jerry Thompson

Have you ever heard the machine-gun rat-a-tat of halyards slapping masts? I have, quite often in my marina and marinas I visit. It occurred to me that some folks are oblivious to the need to quiet their halyards. And it may not be their fault. After all, who teaches sailors about the need to take steps to make sure their halyards do not constantly bang and clang in a breeze? Where is it written that thou shall not allow ones halyards to disturb thy neighbors? The offenders may not even realize the unpleasantness caused as they may not be aboard when a blow comes through causing the disturbing cacophony of noise.

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John Rae, Arctic Explorer: The Unfinished Autobiography

by John Rae
edited by William Barr (University of Alberta Press, 2018; 648 pages)

Review by Brian Fagan

Orkney-born John Rae (1813-1893) acquired many of his survival skills and his toughness from an idyllic childhood. He became a surgeon for the Hudson Bay Company and soon thrived in the challenging environments of the far north. Over his lifelong association with the Company, he became known as a consummate northern traveler and acquired a remarkable knowledge of Inuit culture. It was Rae who first broke the news of the fate of the Franklin expedition and brought back artifacts from the sailors acquired by Inuit informants. This was his main claim to fame, but he has always remained in the historical background.

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All the Oceans: Designing by the seat of my pants, a memoir

by Ron Holland
(Ron Holland Design, 2018; 350 pages)

Review by Rob Mazza

Anybody who lived through, and was part of, the extraordinary growth in offshore racing in the 1970s will be familiar with the name Ron Holland. He and his friend Doug Peterson, and later, German Frers, were the top independent designers of IOR offshore racing yachts in this New Age of Sail ushered by the new IOR rule in 1970. Indeed, Holland points out that these three designers accounted for 49 of the competitors in the 1979 Admirals’ Cup racing — 29 by Holland, 35 by Peterson, and 17 by Frers!

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Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time

by Michael Palin
(Greystone Books, 2018; 352 pages)

Review by Rob Mazza

Most of us know Michael Palin from his days with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but he has also produced several superb BBC travel documentaries. It was probably his fame from the former and involvement in the latter that led to his becoming President of the Royal Geographical Society, and then being asked to address the Athenaeum Club in London, being required to tell the story of one of their past members. Palin chose the renowned 19th Century British botanist Joseph Hooker (whose story Palin had first encountered during filming of one of his travel documentaries in Brazil).

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Fun with Sailboats

by Peter Brennan
(Page Publishing, 2018; 152 pages)

Review by Chas. Hague

Peter Brennan has “wrung more salt water out of his socks than most of us have sailed over.” This memoir encompasses 10 voyages the author has made aboard his Pearson 30, Happy Times; on Mists of Avalon, a two-masted schooner out of South Carolina; on the Irish tall ships Asgard II and Thallassa; and on Anthie, a 1979 37-foot CSY. Aboard these varied vessels, Brennan takes us to varied places: Block Island Sound, the waters surrounding Ireland, across the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Isla Mujeres, and to Havana, Cuba.

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Dick Carter: Yacht Designer in the Golden Age of Offshore Racing

by Dick Carter and John Rousmaniere
(Seapoint Books, 2018; 192 pages; $29.95 print)

Review by Robb Mazza

Over the past several years, the sailing community has been blessed with the publication of several excellent biographies of prominent yacht designers, including those of L. Francis Herreshoff by Roger Taylor, Starling Burgess by Louie Howland, Ray Hunt by Stan Grayson, and GL Watson by Martin Black. However, there have been few autobiographies, other than perhaps Olin Stephens’ excellent All This and Sailing Too. So it is gratifying to read Dick Carter’s first-person-singular narrative of his own remarkable design career during the surge in offshore racing in the 1960s and 70s. Carter says the genesis of this book was his need to dispel the persistent rumor that he died five years ago!

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The Accidental Captain: the Hilarious True-Life Adventures Of the Nerd Who Learned To Sail Across the Atlantic – Eventually

by Glenn Patron
(self-published, 2016; 257 pages, soft cover).

Review by Wayne Gagnon

Glen Patron was born, as he says, “on the wrong side of the docks,” and grew up on Great Neck, on Long Island, New York. As a young boy, Glen developed a love for all literature that had anything to do with adventure. In this book, he chronicles his life and some adventures of his own. And he’s had his fair share. He spent his early adult years wandering around Mexico as a (kind of) student who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, live up to his father’s expectations. When he finally settled down enough to work for his father, he started “at the bottom,” as a stock boy, but learned enough about business to eventually take over and revive a failed company in Puerto Rico. But while Glen attained success as a businessman, he also pursued lives as an entertainer in local nightclubs and on TV, as a dirt bike racer, and eventually as a sailor. There’s a lot more to that story. I touched on the highlights only to illustrate the author’s diverse background, one that sets him up for a life worth writing about.

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A Drop in the Ocean

by Jasna Tuta
(Independently Published, 2018; 192 pages; $12.00 print, $5.99 digital)

Review by Karen Larson

Jasna Tuta and her partner, Rick Page, are self-described sea gypsies, members of the water tribe who cruise the world’s oceans. Their first book, Get Real, Get Gone: How to Become a Modern Sea Gypsy and Sail Away Forever, describes how they adopted the cruising lifestyle, what liveaboard techniques work for them, what you must have, what you can do without, and what to look for when buying a boat for your own cruising adventure. Get Real, Get Gone is a liveaboard how-to book and a good one.

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The Impractical Boat Owner

by Dave Selby
(Adlard Coles, 2017; 112 pages, $14.00 print)

Review by Tom Wells

When I started reading this humorous take on boating and boaters, I expected more of the usual, but Dave Selby has a new and refreshing approach to the genre. The description on Amazon says a lot: “It is a book with no practical purpose whatsoever. It won’t make you a better sailor, and it won’t provide any instructions on boat maintenance. But it will entertain: Selby’s light but observational writings tap the rich well of all those things that sailors know but few dare admit.” As he did with the title on the cover, Selby has scrawled additions to headings throughout the book. This device reflects his tone, evidence of his dry and self-deprecating humor. All and all, it makes for a very enjoyable read.

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Magnetic North: Sea Voyage to Svalbard

Magnetic North: Sea Voyage to Svalbard, by Jenna Butler

by Jenna Butler
(The University of Alberta Press, 2018; 120 pages, $19.95 print, $18.95 digital)

Review by Wendy Mitman Clarke

“I feel my body gone glass, emptying and refilling with Arctic swell. Darkness and safety a trick of the mind, as distant as the long, light fields of home.”

So writes Jenna Butler in Magnetic North: Sea Voyage to Svalbard, a collection of prose poems that reads like a hybrid memoir of short essay and prose poem describing her two-week journey as a writer-in-residence aboard the ice-class barquentine Antigua with Arctic Circle Expeditions. Each year, the organization invites a small group of scientists and artists to travel through the waters and fjords of Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago within 10 degrees latitude of the North Pole.

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A Dream of Steam

A Dream of Steam by James W. Barryby James W. Barry
(Aloft Publishing, 2018; 326 pages; $14.95 print, $4.95 digital)

Review by Karen Larson

Great Lakes sailor James Barry was inspired to write his first historical fiction novel by a true story he discovered while sailing among the islands of Lake Huron’s North Channel. The short version, as he tells it, was that of, “the Moiles brothers who, in 1889, executed the heist of their own sawmill to save it from being taken by creditors.”

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Ten Degrees Of Reckoning

by Hester Rumberg (Putnam/Berkley, 2010; 272 pages; $24.95 hard, $15.00 soft, $12.99 digital)

Review by Don Davies

On November 24th, 1995 the sturdy 47-foot Compass, Melinda Lee, sailed in 35-knot gusts and 8-foot seas at the end of a long passage and only 20-odd miles from her destination in New Zealand. Mike and Judith Sleavins had tucked their two children into their berths and were preparing for their last night at sea.

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Rigging Modern Anchors

by Drew Frye (Seaworthy Publications, 2018; 147 pages, $24.95 print, $9.95 digital)

Review by Robin Urquhart

This is a guide to everything you could possibly want to know about anchors and anchoring. Rigging Modern Anchors includes elegant illustrations and informative graphics and tables. Frye presents facts and withholds from giving personal opinions on anchor types. It’s unlikely you will need any other book on anchoring.

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The Adventures of Mike the Moose

by Ellen and Ed Zacko and illustrated by Robert McKeon (Pomona Club Productions, 2018; 24 pages, $19.95)

Review by Karen Larson

You already know Ed and Ellen Zacko. Ed writes award-winning articles for Good Old Boat. Ellen is the smiling co-sailor occasionally pictured in those articles. Also occasionally pictured in those articles is any one of a few small stuffed animals. “The boys” are hams who like to have their pictures taken and have been known to sneak into a photo when Ed and Ellen forget to check the background.

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Uncharted Waters

by Mary McKSchmidt (14 Karat Books, 2018; 272 pages; $24.99 hard, $15.00 soft, $9.99 digital)

Review by Don Davies

Mary McKSchmidt was like many idealistic young people of the 1970s. She eschewed business and material possessions. She was going to travel, write, seek adventure, and live free. And for a short time, she did just that until she found herself penniless and unable to work in South Africa. Food was not a problem, there were always scraps to be had. With apartheid, the poor and the blacks walked miles to muddy, polluted sources, but cool, clean, potable water was available only to those whites who could afford it; and she was not one of those people. So against every moral value she learned growing up, she stole it. That experience changed Mary’s life forever and it may well change yours if you read this book.

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Shakedown Cruise

by Nigel Calder (Adlard Coles, May 2018, 225 pages, print $25.00, eBook $22.50)

Review by Sara Dawn Johnson

As a cruising parent, I’ll be frank: narratives that sugar-coat what it’s like to set sail with very young children (the children are happy day and night, nobody gets seasick, it’s always blowing 15 knots, the anchor never drags…) are — how do I say this nicely? — lies, all lies. Shakedown Cruise is not one of those stories; it’s probably the most truthful tale of sailing with young children that I’ve ever read.

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Archipelago New York

by Thomas Halaczinsky (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2018; 160 pages; $29.99 hard)

Review by Jim Papa

Archipelago New York is an extended photo essay chronicling documentary filmmaker Thomas Halaczinsky’s single-handed sail in his 30-foot sloop, Sojourn, in and around New York Harbor and out to Long Island’s east end by way of the Long Island Sound. Specifically, Halaczinsky documents his sails in and around Jamaica Bay, along the Brooklyn waterfront, through New York harbor, up the East river through Hell Gate, and then east through Long Island Sound past Fishers Island to Rhode Island and back, with detours to Greenport in Gardiner’s Bay, as well as to Montauk. It is, Halaczinsky tells us, a “trip [he] had been dreaming of since first arriving” in New York from Europe twenty years before.

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Of Sea and Cloud

by Jon Keller (Gallery Books, 2014; 322 pages; $24.99 hard, $15.99 soft, $4.99 digital)

Review by Wendy Mitman Clarke

If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, you might want to plug in your UV lamp before cracking open Jon Keller’s riveting first novel, Of Sea and Cloud. In the depths of coastal Maine’s winter, the darkness can be a living thing that stalks and haunts mere mortals who are longing for the turn of season. But the darkness in Keller’s novel goes far deeper than the mere shortness of days, as he tells a story of murder, betrayal, loyalty, family, and a battle for the soul of the lobster industry and, by extension, a community.

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Sailing Wondertime

by Sara Dawn Johnson (Sara Dawn Johnson, 2018; 330 pages; $16.95 print, $5.99 Kindle edition)

Review by Ann Hoffner

“People have told us how lucky we are, to get to sail far away. My typical response is to say luck has little to do with it, that we’ve worked so very hard, made many difficult decisions, and given up so much for so many years to get to this place on the Earth. But on nights like this, under a sky full of stars and our spinnaker full of warm trade wind pulling us deeper into the South Pacific Ocean, I see how very lucky we truly are to be here together.”

Anybody who’s cruised in places where families gather—Georgetown, Bahamas, for example—has encountered sailing children. Experiencing something wonderous (such as sailboat cruising) in the company of a child induces added wonder—which makes the title of this book, also the name of the author’s boat, pretty apt. Sailing Wondertime is a cruising narrative distilled from the author’s blog posts and recollections of a voyage with her husband, Michael, and daughters, Leah and Holly, that begins in 2011 in Seattle, spans Mexico and the islands of the South Pacific, and ends in New Zealand.

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The Sea Is Not Full

by Charles J. Doane (Seapoint Books, 2017, 356 pages; $24.95 print)

Review by Jeremy McGeary

Many a young scion of Maine’s summer people has enjoyed a boyhood spent messing about in boats, and the experience has no doubt caused some to drift off their expected career course. That seems to have been the case with Charlie Doane. He tried to meet his family’s expectations, and even practiced law for a while, but in the first chapter of The Sea Is Not Full, we find him in Key West, Florida, sea bag on his shoulder, after answering a “crew wanted” advertisement in a magazine.

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by Gary S. Maynard (Flat Hammock Press, 2018, 227 pages; $24.94 hardcover print, $14.99 Kindle edition)

Review by Gregg Bruff

Set in the alluring South Pacific, this coming-of-age novel describes three young friends on their personal and shared journies, reckoning with their past while looking toward a potential shared future. They work together through difficult situations aboard the wooden gaff-rigged sloop Plumbelly to leave their troubled lives behind and discover new opportunities.

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The Mercy

directed by James Marsh and starring Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz (Roadside Attractions, 2018)

Review by Fiona McGlynn

The Mercy depicts the tragic real-life story of British sailor, Donald Crowhurst, who attempted to become the first person to sail solo, non-stop around the world in the 1968 Golden Globe Race.

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An Inexplicable Attraction: My Fifty Years of Ocean Sailing

by Eric B. Forsyth (Yacht Fiona, 2016; 400 pages; $24.95 print, $7.19 digital)

Review by David McDaniel

269,161! That’s how many nautical miles Captain Eric B. Forsyth has sailed over the Earth’s oceans, 247,362 of which were aboard his custom-finished Westsail 42, Fiona. Astonishingly, most of these miles were accumulated after his retirement from the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Imagine, two circumnavigations, including one eastabout loop following the old clipper route around the southern capes; two successful trips to Antarctica (four attempts were made); two trips through the Arctic Circle, including a circumnavigation of North America via the Northwest Passage; a spin around the North Atlantic as far south as Fernando de Noronha off the coast of Brazil; and numerous cruises to and along the coasts of Maine, Greenland, Iceland, the Azores, Falkland Islands, Shetland Islands, Caribbean Islands, and the Baltic Sea. For this sailing background, Captain Forsyth is a recipient of the distinguished Cruising Club of America’s Blue Water Medal. This book is a narration of his voyages to remote regions and foreign lands aboard Fiona. Pictures of his exploits are sprinkled throughout to carry the reader along.

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New World, Inc.: The Making of America by England’s Merchant Adventurers

by John Butman and Simon Targett (Little, Brown & Co., 2018; 405 pages; $29.00 print, $14.99 Kindle edition)

Review by Chas Hague

Modern sailors are driven by the challenge of crossing big waters, to see what is on the other side of the horizon. But back in the 16th century, the men crossing the Atlantic Ocean wanted only one thing: profits. New World, Inc. summarizes the major ventures that set out to do business with the new world.

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