Bum boats, gun boats, slow boats, row boats, I like boats.
July 30, 2015 7:00 AM   Subscribe

And yachts, dinghys, paddleboats, battleships, canoes, schooners, tugboats, and catamarans. I love reading about boats and life aboard them. Fiction or non-fiction, freshwater or salt, genre and era unimportant. Please recommend books about boats!

That's about it. I really have no criteria other than:

1. Must be a good read (no dry academic tomes, please, although I will read juicy academic tomes)
2. The majority of the book should take place on a boat, and ideally talk a lot about the minutiae of day-to-day boat life.

My ideal boat* book is every book in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brien. Meticulously detailed descriptions of shipboard life, jargon for days, whole books where they never set foot ashore, I love it. Other boat-related fiction I have enjoyed:

Ultramarine, Malcom Lowry
Billy Budd, Sailor, and Moby Dick, Herman Melville
The Horatio Hornblower novels, C.S. Forester
Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
The Farthest Shore, Ursula K. LeGuin

Some non-fiction I have enjoyed:

Sailing Alone Around the World, Joshua Slocum
Maiden Voyage, Tania Aebi (teenager sails alone around the world in the 80s)
The Last Grain Race, Eric Newby (last days of sail before WWII)

I am interested in everything. From WASPS and their yachts on Martha's Vineyard to the lowliest cabin boy aboard the Santa Maria, I want to read it all. Thank you!

*Captain Aubrey would have me flogged for calling it a boat
posted by lollymccatburglar to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm going to recommend something a little outside-the-bilge: Railsea by China Miéville. The linked review will give you a pretty good sense of if it sounds like something you would be into without major spoilers.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:17 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Since you've already got the Hornblower series (and personally I prefer those to the Aubrey-Maturin books!), how about a true story of a 16-year-old who set off 'round the world? Robin Lee Graham did his circumnavigation in 1972 in a 23-footer named Dove, which is also the name of his first book about voyage.

(And a quickie I learned as a Navy brat: all submarines are boats, no matter their size; surface craft --- aka 'targets' to the submariners I grew up surrounded by! --- under 100 feet are boats, over 100 feet they're ships.)
posted by easily confused at 7:21 AM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: "Cruising in Seraffyn" is a great read and if you are hooked there's a lifetime series of books by the Pardeys.
posted by sammyo at 7:29 AM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: Possibly too obvious but since you didn't mention it explicitly: Two Years Before the Mast is a classic, an 1840 memoir of a sea voyage intended to describe the life of a common sailor.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:31 AM on July 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

The Shipping News isn't all about boats, but what isn't about boats is pretty excellent. Boats are heavily featured, however.
posted by h00py at 7:35 AM on July 30, 2015

Here's a long-form article that ran in Wired a while back about the fastest sailboat in the world.
posted by adamrice at 7:37 AM on July 30, 2015

Also (sorry if this is a bit of a data dump) Goodreads has about 1500 suggested books about sailing/sailors here.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:37 AM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: Erskine Childers, The Riddle of the Sands : lovely and detailed descriptions of how boats behave in various weather as a backdrop to a spy story.
posted by jet_silver at 7:45 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It may be difficult to find, but Lis Sails the Atlantic is a fun nonfiction book, written by a young Dutch girl whose dad bought a boat and, per the title, sailed around the Atlantic ocean in the early 20th century. Most all of it takes place on their boat, with some excursions in ports which are still quite sailor-y.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:57 AM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: Not sure if this would work for you, but the Temeraire series by Naomi Novak reimagines the Napoleonic Wars in an alternate history where dragons are essentially flying war ships. In addition to being a good read, they have a lot of technical minutiae of dragons-as-boats.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:16 AM on July 30, 2015

And come to think of it, also a fair amount of dragons on boats.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:17 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Up for some excellent short fiction? Try Jason Brown's Afternoon of the Sassanoa.
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:17 AM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: Not totally about boats, but Give Me The World by Leila Hadley is worth a read.

From the amazon listing:
At the age of twenty-five, Leila Hadley, bored with her New York PR job, buys two tickets aboard a cargo ship headed for Hong Kong: one for herself, and one for her six-year-old son Kippy. This decision sets her life on an entirely new course. After Manila, Hong Kong and Bangkok, their travels take an unexpected turn: she meets four young men sailing their boat around the world, and convinces them to let her and Kippy join them.
posted by gudrun at 8:19 AM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: If you liked Moby Dick, you might like Nathaniel Philbrick's "In the Heart of the Sea" which is becoming a movie soon(ish?), or cut right to the chase (as it were) and read First Mate Owen Chase's own description of the events in "The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex."
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:19 AM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: Baggywrinkles by Lucy Bellwood (who is excellent) just got funded on Kickstarter - if a comic is acceptable as a book, you might enjoy it. Full of nautical joy from someone who spent time as a crew member on tall ships.
posted by terretu at 8:25 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

On The Wind's Way and other books by William Snaith.
Various books about sailing adventures by William F Buckley
The Log Of Christopher Columbus (translated by Robert H Fuson) is just what it sounds like.
Joseph Conrad is the best.

I suggest various of the books by Jonathon Raban with mixed feelings. He's highly thought of in literary circles as an author, but I found him self-involved and unpleasant as a person.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:13 AM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: I'm going to come back with either a photograph of our boating books or a more detailed list from my husband but to start off:

I'm going to second Railsea - but also want to add another China Mieville boat-heavy book The Scar.

Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series - there is a reason these books are classics, but they are not all set on water. Peter Duck is brilliant but Missee Lee, Swallow Dale and Winter Holiday are less boat centric (though there is still a lot of boat talk).

If you want to chuckle as you work on your marlinspike skills - the very opinionated Hervey Garrett Smith's The Arts of the Sailor is worth the time. I now know all the things about canvas buckets.

If the objects on board a boat are fascinating, ordering a (free) copy of the Toplicht catalogue will bring you hours of distraction.
posted by pipstar at 9:15 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea

Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft

Both true-life stories and incredibly exciting!
posted by stinkfoot at 9:23 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: American Sea Writing: A Literary Anthology is an excellent collection and potential jumping-off point for many authors.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 9:27 AM on July 30, 2015

Ferenc Mate has written several nonfiction books about boats that are supposed to be highly regarded.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:31 AM on July 30, 2015

A few more:

Anything from Alan Villiers, especially Captain James Cook which is biographical but reads like O'Brien or Forrester.

Jack London: The Cruise of the Snark (non-fiction) and Sea Wolf (fiction).

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson isn't really a sea story but Pirates!

Marley Fowat: The Boat Who Wouldn't Float and The Serpent's Coil.

John Rosmaniere's After The Storm. Essays describing storms and the aftermath
posted by SemiSalt at 9:31 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

A ridiculous, delightful, terrible reference book is The Lore of Ships (flickr set here will give you the flavor). It's not organized at all — one page will have different riggings, then deep sea fish, then engines, then yachts. It's my favorite coffee-table book.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:39 AM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: Oh, I think I have the perfect suggestion. The Grey Seas Under by Farley Mowat is a non-fiction book about salvage tugs in the North Atlantic, which are the boats that go out in crazy storms and rescue ships in trouble.
posted by carolr at 9:53 AM on July 30, 2015

Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It's about being stuck on a life boat with a tiger. I loved this.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:01 AM on July 30, 2015

I hadn't heard of this: The Ebb-Tide. A Trio and a Quartette (1894) is a short novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson and his stepson Lloyd Osbourne. It was published the year Stevenson died.

There are a number of books out there by Tristan Jones. They make interesting reading, but it's generally held now that Jones was a scamp and rascal, and the books are mostly fiction masquerading as non-fiction.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:05 AM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: The Hungry Ocean: The Captain's Story by Linda Greenlaw, one of the boat captains out at sea at the same time and place as the events chronicled in The Perfect Storm.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:06 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea.
posted by archimago at 10:13 AM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: It's a rollicking adventure story, and will give you plenty of boat stuff: Kipling's Captains Courageous. It's available online (recommended with reservations because the sea/boat/fishing stuff is timeless, but Kipling's attitudes on other subjects are distinctly dated and I had to grit my teeth and skim over some bits).
posted by gudrun at 10:36 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'll try to stop after this:

The Cruise of the Diablesse by Frederic A Fenger, about a cruise in the Caribbean about 100 years ago.

The Boy, Me, and the Cat, about a cruise down and up the Atlantic Coast about the same time.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:41 AM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: Pete Goss's "Close to the Wind: An Extraordinary Story of Triumph Over Adversity." Goss was a Royal Marine who competed in the Vendee Globe, the non-stop solo race around the world, and he was diverted during the race when another racer's boat foundered off Australia. It starts out as a quick autobio, but gets into the meat of the race before long.

Seconding Conrad, Tristan Jones, Childers, Richard Henry Dana
posted by Sunburnt at 10:42 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Blue Road by Windy Baboulene might fit the bill - it's his (somewhat anonymised) account of travelling the world in the merchant navy. Most amusing, including the explanation of how he came to be called "Windy".
posted by car01 at 11:10 AM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: Dava Sobel's Longditude.

Best science/history of navigation book ever. Boat heavy.
posted by slateyness at 11:13 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh, and look up "How to Avoid Huge Ships" by Captain John W. trimmer on Amazon.

Don't buy the book.

Read the hilarious, snarky, amazing reviews and comments in the Amazon ratings sections for 1,200+ comments of witty, amazingness.
posted by slateyness at 11:17 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, yes! Keep them coming! You are my people, you understand me.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 11:29 AM on July 30, 2015

a previous ask of mine has great boaty recommendations

i also have a ton of stuff in my amazon "save for later" which i will find when i get home
posted by poffin boffin at 11:47 AM on July 30, 2015

Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. Rowing on the Thames, a comic novel that's been a hit since 1888.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:50 AM on July 30, 2015

re: slateyness' comment the huge ships thing is very funny on Amazon but as fellow mefite Dreadnought has pointed out at length it's actually an interesting topic.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:17 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh! How could I have forgotten?
Looking for a Ship by John McPhee - published in 1991 chronicles a voyage aboard one of America's few remaining merchant freighters at that time. There are also a couple sections about ships in his 2006 book Uncommon Carriers about freight transport.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:26 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: John Graves--Goodbye to a River
posted by mikecable at 12:43 PM on July 30, 2015

Path of the Paddle and Song of the Paddle by Bill Mason. Both are canoeing classics, that while seemingly 'how to' guides are really more about philosophical connection with nature.
posted by pappy at 1:18 PM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: Justin Scott's The Shipkiller is an immensely thrilling novel with a huge amount of blue water cruising lore.
posted by nicwolff at 1:32 PM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: A second-world war naval story, which Alistair Maclean described as the best war story he had ever read: A Flock of Ships by Brian Callison
posted by pines at 3:42 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is a lovely book: The Curve of Time by M Wylie Blachet. A single mother takes her three kids up the coast of BC in an old houseboat.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:07 PM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: Non-fiction: The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour by James Hornfischer. The naval conflict in Leyte Gulf in 1944 occurred in several phases, and, while ultimately a US victory, one of the phases, the Battle Off Samar, got very desperate for a group of under-armed ships and aircraft, Taffy 3, as they were encountering a hugely superior Japanese fleet. This book is a partial biography of the ship USS Samuel B. Roberts, which was among the smallest ocean-going ships in the fleet, which was one of the (1,350 to 2,000 ton) "tin cans" which acted aggressively against a substantial fleet lead by the largest battleship ever built, the Yamato (72,000 tons). "This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.” This book is absolutely riveting.

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea: The History and Discovery of the World's Richest Shipwreck by Gary Kinder is two parallel stories: the last voyage of the SS Central America, a ship bound from pre-canal Panama to New York loaded with a 400 passengers and a few tons of California gold, property of the US government treasury; and Tommy Thompson, a maverick genius engineer who went looking for the Central America and had to figure out not only how to find her, but how to overcome the technical challenge of bringing up items from 2 miles deep, and evade other treasure-hunters in the process.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:43 PM on July 30, 2015

Best answer: Blind Man's Bluff, not so much about life on the boats, but about the boats themselves and what they were used for.

Side note: easily confused is mostly right about the distinction between a ship and a boat, but it's more complicated than that. Submariners will often call the boat "ship" in certain contexts, usually more abstract, like "we maneuver our own ship this way to drive a measurable bearing rate to target..." The crew of a ship will often affectionately refer to it as "the boat," (alternately, the pig) but nobody else gets to call it that or it's an insult.

Also, the way you prounounce 'submariner' (submarine-er vs. sub-mariner) matters.
posted by ctmf at 6:41 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh gosh, I love boat books. So after you've powered through Patrick O'Brien here's some more I've loved

Blue latitudes by Tony Horowitz (about captain Cook's voyages, truly fascinating read, not so much on a boat but Captain Cook is amazing if you haven't become obsessed with him already)

Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick about the real story that inspired Moby Dick (way better than the novel it inspired if you ask me) (and by looking it up to remember how to spell the author's last name holy crap this is going to be a movie! Yesssss more awesome boat movies)

My old man and the sea by David Hays about a father and son on a small sailboat going around the horn

Tania Aebi's collection of short stories, I've Been Around, not nearly as good as Maiden Voyage but still great.

An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof about a couple that sells everything and buys a boat to sail around the Caribbean. Bonus points for super tasty recipes included.

That's off the top of my head without looking at my bookshelf. Might have more tomorrow...
posted by danapiper at 8:52 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I recently read Against the Flow: The First Woman to Sail Solo the 'Wrong Way' Around the World and found it exciting but with lots of lonely sailing times (and details about solo sailing - crumbs!).

Also Too Narrow to Swing a Cat: Going Nowhere in Particular on the English Waterways is hilarious, has a cat in it, and is part of a series about a family retiring on their canal boat in the UK. I haven't read the others, but it didn't hurt this one to read it first.
posted by symphonicknot at 11:46 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Holy crap, do you need to read A Voyage for Madmen, about the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, which culminated (among some crazy other things!) in the first solo nonstop circumnavigation. A great read with some stunning developments that I knew nothing about prior to reading. Read the book and avoid researching the race and be shocked at the various outcomes.

The great Bernard Moitessier (who participated, and would have won), wrote a book about his role in the race as well, The Long Way.

Seconding the recommendations of Adrift, Blue Latitudes, My Old Man and the Sea, Heart of the Sea, and let me add in Island of the Lost, about an 1864 shipwreck on a tiny island 300 miles south of New Zealand.

Love this question
posted by namewithoutwords at 12:18 AM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you liked Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, you really ought to read Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog. It's not especially boaty (though boats there are), but it's a marvelous book that plays beautifully off of Jerome's work. It won both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1999, and was nominated for the Nebula Award in 1998.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 4:40 PM on July 31, 2015

Novels by Jan de Hartog. Dutch ocean going tugboats.
posted by Bruce H. at 3:49 PM on March 11, 2016

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