The best books about ocean adventures and life at sea

Who am I?

I'm a man of the sea. From my early days as a boy growing up on the coast of southern California, I became a fisherman at age 5, when my dad took me fishing at the pier in Redondo Beach. In my teens, I bought my first boat that I used in and around King Harbor for fishing. After owning other small boats, I moved to Catalina Island where I worked for 32 years as Harbormaster, earning my 100-ton Masters License and broadening my ocean experiences. Eventually I wanted to share my stories and experiences through writing. My first book, Between Two Harbors, Reflections of a Catalina Island Harbormaster, tells my Catalina story.

I wrote...

Five Weeks to Jamaica

By Doug Oudin,

Book cover of Five Weeks to Jamaica

What is my book about?

Five Weeks to Jamaica is an action-packed adventure that follows four young friends on an exciting ocean voyage down the coast of Mexico, Central America, through the Panama Canal to Jamaica, and beyond. Their journey is filled with excitement, danger, romance, and the type of sexual interactions that one might expect on a 147' motor yacht carrying thirty passengers on an extended ocean cruise. From exotic ports to unexpected personal encounters and revelations, this seafaring odyssey will keep you raptly entertained.

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The books I picked & why

Hungry as the Sea

By Wilbur Smith,

Book cover of Hungry as the Sea

Why did I love this book?

Stepping away from his ‘normal’ genre of historical fiction, Wilbur Smith has created an ocean adventure novel that anyone with seafaring urges or experience would love to read. As a longtime seaman, with my own vast experience on the ocean, this book will take you to places and adventures far beyond any that most seamen have ever experienced. Based on the unique life of a marine engineer/adventurer, Hungry as the Sea takes the reader on an epic adventure into the treacherous realm of the Antarctic, aboard an ocean-going tugboat intent on trying to save a floundering cruise ship. I could feel nature’s elements and life’s dangers on every page.

As a 100-ton licensed United States Coast Guard Captain, I have seen and experienced many frightening and challenging moments at sea. This book, Hungry as the Sea, shares and captures the essence of what makes the oceans so frightful, and yet so enticing. I love Smith’s writing, his ability to ‘paint’ the complete scene on every page, and the honesty and graphic descriptions of each encounter his characters see and feel. While I have personally encountered many challenges on the ocean, Smith’s writing proves to me that I have ‘not seen it all’. This book reminds me that although they can be explored, the oceans will never be tamed.

While I cannot even pretend to compare my writing to that of Wilbur Smith, my book shares some of my own experiences at sea, along with some insight into what it might be like for others to hop aboard a boat bound for places most people only dream about. 

By Wilbur Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hungry as the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An action-packed, race-against-time thriller from global bestselling author, Wilbur Smith.

'A master storyteller' - Sunday Times

'Wilbur Smith is one of those benchmarks against whom others are compared' - The Times

'No one does adventure quite like Smith' - Daily Mirror

His toughest challenge. His final hope.

Once the envied and admired chairman of one of the world's most successful shipping consortiums, Nick Berg now finds himself completely alone. His long-time nemesis, Duncan Alexander, has schemed to take his job, alienated him from his wife and son, and stolen his fortune.

Nick's only hope now is the Warlock, a top-of-the-range…


By Herman Melville,

Book cover of Moby-Dick

Why did I love this book?

One of the true classics, Moby Dick, even though written approximately 150 years ago, still holds the fascination and similarities that men today hold for tales from the sea. In Melville’s tale, a former shipmate relates the story of why and how one man’s obsession with a Sperm Whale ultimately led to his and most of his shipmate’s demise. A fascinating tale that introduces the reader to Captain Ahab, Queequeg, and other unique and colorful characters, the story abounds with subtle inferences about the similarities and distinctions between man and the animal world. 

From my own experiences, the tale that Melville creates resonates strongly with some of my own obsessions in life and runs alongside many of the primal urges many men seek to overcome and conquer in their own lives. Even though long and sometimes a bit heavy, this American classic is one that all readers should enjoy.

I am recommending this book because Moby Dick, The Whale, is more than a tale of man vs. animal, but because it also conveys the struggle that some men have with themselves, and their need to be bigger, better, smarter, and stronger than anyone, or anything else. From my own fishing exploits, I can truly appreciate the passion that Captain Ahab has to conquer the mighty Sperm Whale, despite the potential consequences.

By Herman Melville,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked Moby-Dick as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Melville's tale of the whaling industry, and one captain's obsession with revenge against the Great White Whale that took his leg. Classics Illustrated tells this wonderful tale in colourful comic strip form, offering an excellent introduction for younger readers. This edition also includes a biography of Herman Melville and study questions, which can be used both in the classroom or at home to further engage the reader in the work at hand.

The Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst

By Nicholas Tomalin, Ron Hall,

Book cover of The Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst

Why did I love this book?

When a man sets sail on an extended ocean voyage, there is usually purpose, determination, and a goal to reach. Donald Crowhurst likely held these objectives when he embarked upon his round-the-world sailing adventure…but somewhere along the way, he lost sight of those goals, and seemingly with the basic truth of reality. Crowhurst’s story is a  sometimes dark and disturbing account of what the voyage was all about, and what may have actually taken place on this strange and bizarre odyssey. As a man who has felt the pangs, insecurities, and unknowns when on the ocean, miles from land, scared, and facing the challenges that both nature and humanity tossed our way, I can somewhat understand how a man at sea can become so lost, so confused, and so vulnerable.

The Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst helped me to understand some of the odd feelings and thoughts that I have felt on a cold and rough night on the ocean; alone, frightened, insecure. It also helped me to realize that under such circumstances, one’s outlook on life, drive, and purpose are the only things a man can draw upon, and put to the test when confronting a threat to our own courage and personal character. 

I recommend this book to all readers that can appreciate how far astray one can wander, even while trying to adhere to a specific plan or goal. Crowhurst embarks on the first around-the-world sailboat race, intent upon winning the race, and becoming the first to accomplish the feat. Inexplicably, a mere 2 weeks and only several hundred miles from winning the race, and reaching his goals, Crowhurst’s sailboat is found adrift with no sign of the seaman.

In re-creating his journey (based primarily on his ship’s log), the authors try and weave together the details of what happened along the way, where things went wrong, and ultimately what did actually take place aboard the ill-fated sailboat. While I cannot personally imagine attempting to sail around the world single-handed, I can appreciate how such an endeavor could lead one astray.

By Nicholas Tomalin, Ron Hall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A masterpiece.' New Yorker

'Wholly riveting, brilliantly researched.' Evening Standard

'A meticulous investigation into the seeds of disaster... fascinating, uncomfortable reading.' Sunday Times

In 1968, Donald Crowhurst was trying to market a nautical navigation device he had developed, and saw the Sunday Times Golden Globe round the world sailing race as the perfect opportunity to showcase his product.
Few people knew that he wasn't an experienced deep-water sailor. His progress was so slow that he decided to short-cut the journey, while falsifying his location through radio messages from his supposed course.

Everyone following the race thought that he was winning,…

Life of Pi

By Yann Martel,

Book cover of Life of Pi

Why did I love this book?

When a 16-year-old Indian boy finds himself shipwrecked on a small raft with only a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger on board, what could possibly go wrong? That question obviously seems ridiculously easy to answer; nearly everything! In this inspiring tale, Yann Martel has created a nearly unbelievable situation which seems extremely unlikely to happen, and yet his tale weaves the story into such a believable set of circumstances that the reader cannot help but get drawn into the chaos. Colorful, imaginative, and inspiring, the Life of Pi is an ocean adventure unlike any other. 

This book resonated with me on many levels; from the incongruity of how the young boy became stranded, to the interaction between the boy and the animals. As with my own ocean experiences, one never knows what might be encountered on any given voyage, and even though my own experiences with sea animals cannot match those of the 16 year-old Indian boy, my own encounters have made a lasting impression. I recommend this book for all who might wonder how things can happen, and how even the youngest of us can adapt and cope with the inexplicable.

By Yann Martel,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked Life of Pi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan—and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger.

Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi Patel, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with the tiger, Richard Parker, for 227 days while lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his…

The Old Man and the Sea

By Ernest Hemingway,

Book cover of The Old Man and the Sea

Why did I love this book?

Of all the books I’ve read throughout my life, this one is my absolute favorite. Written in simple, yet descriptive and colorful prose, this book helped shape my own life voyages. As an avid fisherman, I related completely with the Old Man and his battle with the ‘mighty fish’; a huge marlin that he hooked and did his best to conquer. Ultimately, he did overcome the battle with the great fish, subduing it and tying it alongside his little fishing skiff (it was too massive to drag aboard), only to have the great fish ravaged and torn to shreds by sharks. A young boy, who the Old Man took out fishing when times were good, feared deeply that the Old Man was lost at sea, but when he discovered that he had returned during the dark of night, with only the great fish’s carcass to show for his valiant effort, the young boy could feel, sense, and understand how even a heroic and epic challenge can lead to failure. 

I have read The Old Man and the Sea three times, and each time I learn new things, about myself, about life, and about the mysteries and vastness of the sea. The book is written simply and honestly, and I first read it at the age of six. When I re-read it at age 21, I found it even better, and the last time I read it, at age 62, I loved it even more. It has wonderful insight into the basic challenges that we all face in life, and even though it takes place primarily aboard a small fishing skiff off the east coast, its message and imagery resonate clearly with everyday life for all of humanity.

By Ernest Hemingway,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Old Man and the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This powerful and dignified story about a Cuban fisherman's struggle with a great fish has the universal appeal of a struggle between man and the elements, the hunter with the hunted. It earned Hemingway the Nobel prize and has been made into an acclaimed film. Age 13+

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