When we go to sea in good old boats, we go to enjoy the romance of sailing. In the preface to The Annapolis Book of Seamanship, John Rousmaniere says that to enjoy the romance fully, we must have “forehandedness.” That’s a state of mind, a kind of mental and technical preparedness. We’d do well to listen to him. With more than 40 years and 30,000 sea miles of experience, he’s a top-gun sailor. He’s also a sailor who’s able to translate his experience to the written page. Credited with 15 nautical titles, John Rousmaniere’s name is spread across the seascape of sailing literature.

This extraordinary book could be called The Chapman’s for Sailors. First published in 1983, it quickly became the yardstick by which to judge other sailing references. The U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Power Squadrons use it as the text for their sailing classes. It’s now available in a third edition. It’s an exceptional place to gain forehandedness.

Charles F. Chapman’s Piloting, Seamanship, and Small Boat Handling is focused on powerboating, while this book will make you a better sailor. It is clearly and logically organized. John starts with basic skills and “bathtub naval architecture.” He includes chapters on weather, health, and safety. Building on these basics, he covers advanced topics like heavy-weather sailing and emergencies. He uses some clever devices to underscore important points.

For instance, a brief section on dead reckoning introduces the chapter on magnetic compasses. Some chapters conclude with useful review quizzes. “Hands on” sections, sidebars with quick-reference facts, are placed throughout the book. The illustrations and graphics are fresh-looking and complement the excellent writing. In this edition, John made some significant changes. He does a superior job of gender-neutralizing the language. For “helmsman” he substitutes the word “steerer.” Sailboats, with a nod to tradition, continue as “she.” Sections on multihulls, equipment updates, and terminology are new to this edition. New section or old, every current sailing topic seems to be addressed.

This book will be immediately beneficial to the beginning sailor. A sailor of medium ability will find a lot to recommend it. The most seasoned sea dog will also find it useful. It will be a life-long reference for any sailor. John Rousmaniere sets himself the goal to provide sailors with the knowledge and skills needed for forehandedness. That, for him, and us, is the basis of confident, comfortable sailing. He certainly accomplishes his goal, for the book is the consummate sailing reference.

But this reference book has heart as well. John Rousmaniere, the sensitive romantic sailor, is in evidence. On almost every page, his love of sailing shines through. This book really leaves behind only one unanswered question: buy one copy, to carry between home and boat, or one for each place?

The Annapolis Book of Seamanship by John Rousmaniere (Simon & Schuster, 1999)