The best books on sea voyages gone badly

Linda Collison Author Of Water Ghosts
By Linda Collison

Who am I?

Linda Collison's composite career has included critical care and emergency nursing, freelance writing and novelist, and teaching skydiving. She has sailed many bluewater miles with her husband, Bob Russell, aboard their sloop Topaz, based in Hawaii. Their three-week sailing experience aboard the HM Bark Endeavour, a replica of Captain Cook's three-masted 18th century ship, inspired Linda to write Star-Crossed, an historical novel published by Knopf in 2006, and a New York Public Library pick in 2007 for Books for the Teen Age. Star-Crossed has been republished as the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series from Fireship Press. Her sailing experiences also inspired the novel Water Ghosts, a Foreword Reviews finalist for Independent Book of the Year, 2015.


I wrote...

Water Ghosts

By Linda Collison,

Book cover of Water Ghosts

What is my book about?

"I see things other people don't see; I hear things other people don't hear." Fifteen-year-old James McCafferty is an unwilling sailor aboard a traditional Chinese Junk operated as adventure therapy for troubled teens. Once at sea, James believes the ship is being taken over by the spirits of courtiers who fled the Imperial palace during the Ming Dynasty, more than 600 years earlier, and sailing to its doom. A psychological nautical adventure with strong historical and paranormal elements.

The books I picked & why

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The Shadow-Line

By Joseph Conrad,

Book cover of The Shadow-Line

Why this book?

Ships and boats are good settings for conflict; physical, sociological, and psychological.

No wind to drive the ship, a sick crew, and a mentally unstable first mate beleaguered by the ghost of the previous captain are trials the young captain must deal with. As in all of Conrad's fiction, there is plenty of insight into the human condition revealed through the characters and felt in the subtext. I classify it as a coming-of-age at sea story, drawn from Conrad's own experiences. "Coming-of-age" does not mean "young adult" in my life dictionary. It may continue well beyond the teen years.

The Shadow-Line

By Joseph Conrad,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Shadow-Line as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A new captain must lead his crew to safety and face his own internal struggles as he works to overcome disrespect, insanity, and coming-of-age all while sailing on an unforgiving sea.

There is an invisible line that divides life into a before and after-adolescence and adulthood. The unnamed narrator of The Shadow Line is painfully aware of this, but is unsure where the line lies in his life. He recalls a number of rash decisions he has made, some more recent than others. Soon after he impulsively quits his comfortable job as a shipmate, the narrator meets two men who…


Life of Pi

By Yann Martel,

Book cover of Life of Pi

Why this book?

This narrative starts out in the real world, and it feels like an actual narrative. It starts off slow and deliberate – but wait for it! I loved how the narrator caught me off guard and made me question his reliability. This book left me with questions, like, who is Richard Parker and what really happened out there on the lifeboat? Which version of the story is true? Are they both true? Thought-provoking fiction set at sea, with psychological, philosophical, and spiritual elements, told by a teenage boy. 

Life of Pi

By Yann Martel,

Why should I read it?

19 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…


A High Wind in Jamaica

By Richard Hughes,

Book cover of A High Wind in Jamaica

Why this book?

Five British children are sent to England by ship after a hurricane destroys their Jamaican home. On an ocean crossing without their parents, the ship is taken by pirates, who eventually pass the children to a steamship, bound for England. Emily, a ten-year-old, comes of age on the journey. Not physically or sexually, but she becomes conscious and self-aware. Much of the story is seen through her eyes, and the events she chooses to forget or adapt. Great psychological fiction, and a dark, coming-of-age set at sea.

A High Wind in Jamaica

By Richard Hughes,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A High Wind in Jamaica as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the high seas of the Caribbean, a family of English children is set loose - sent by their parents from their home in Jamaica to receive the civilising effects of England. When their ship is captured by pirates, the thrilling cruise continues as the children transfer their affections from one batch of sailors to another. Innocence is their protection, but as life in the care of pirates reveals its dangers, the events which unfold begin to take on a savagely detached quality.


In the Wake of Madness: The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon

By Joan Druett,

Book cover of In the Wake of Madness: The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon

Why this book?

Studying the journals of the surviving crew, the historian of this real-life nineteenth-century tragedy pieces together the situation aboard the ship that set sail out of Massachusetts for the whaling grounds of the North Pacific. What happens aboard makes the literary Captain Ahab's monomaniacal actions seem heroic in comparison. Druett's true-crime-at-sea story provides a brutal counterpoint to the American epic, Moby Dick, and calls to mind The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex, a true account that is said to have inspired Melville. I pick Druett's account because of its historical true-crime approach, and because it is a lesser-known account.

In the Wake of Madness: The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon

By Joan Druett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

After more than a century of silence, the true story of one of history's most notorious mutinies is revealed in Joan Druett's riveting "nautical murder mystery" (USA Today). On May 25, 1841, the Massachusetts whaleship Sharon set out for the whaling ground of the northwestern Pacific. A year later, while most of the crew was out hunting, Captain Howes Norris was brutally murdered. When the men in the whaleboats returned, they found four crew members on board, three of whom were covered in blood, the other screaming from atop the mast. Single-handedly, the third officer launched a surprise attack to…


Shackleton's Boat Journey

By Frank Arthur Worsley,

Book cover of Shackleton's Boat Journey

Why this book?

A real-life survival story written by Captain Frank Worsley, one of the participants. Six men, part of the 1908 Shackleton expedition that was shipwrecked in Antarctica pack ice for fourteen months, set off in an open boat across eight hundred miles of ocean to South Georgia Island for help, leaving the rest of the crew on Elephant Island awaiting rescue. There are a lot of books on sea adventures gone bad, but Shackleton's Boat Journey is my favorite because it is told by one of the survivors. Frank Worsley's account demonstrates how teamwork, fortitude, endurance, and luck work together to save them from disaster.

Shackleton's Boat Journey

By Frank Arthur Worsley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shackleton's Boat Journey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Frank A. Worsley was the captain of the H.M.S. Endurance, the ship used by the legendary explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton in his 1914-16 expedition to the Antarctic. On its way to the Antarctic continent the Endurance became trapped and then crushed by ice, and the ship's party of twenty-eight drifted on an ice floe for five months. Finally reaching an uninhabited island, Shackleton, Worsley, and four others sailed eight hundred miles in a small boat to the island of South Georgia, an astounding feat of navigation and courage. All hands survived this ill-fated expedition; as Worsley writes, "By self-sacrifice and…


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