The best books with stories of the sea

Dan E. Feltham Author Of Under the Southern Cross
By Dan E. Feltham

Who am I?

I learned to swim at age two; the oceans became my lifetime playpen, and sailboats my adult toys. I began to sail at age 14 and put away my soggy deck shoes at the age of 70. Now at age 88, I write about those adventures—stories of wartime Vietnam, aerial exploration in North Africa, the Persian Gulf, ports of Mexico, and racing or cruising sailboats to Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti, New Zealand, Bermuda, Mexico, Panama, the Caribbean and stops along the way. Life-long friends, romance, islands, and every kind of ocean weather fill my memories. Climb aboard my pages at my website and sail through a portion of my life.


I wrote...

Under the Southern Cross

By Dan E. Feltham,

Book cover of Under the Southern Cross

What is my book about?

What is it like to cast off your professional and social moorings, sail across an Ocean, and re-establish a new life in a place like Tahiti? Climb aboard the yacht Cherish and experience with loved ones and friends the awesomeness of sea and sky, calm and storm, memories and future dreams. This book is the third in the series about the Stockton family's sailing adventures. It is also a love story that is possible but not probable – you be the judge. The time frame is 2018, prior to our world pandemic, but at a time when all the world is in chaos and the Stocktons seek and hopefully find peace and fulfillment, doing what they love with the ones they love. Let this story awaken you to another kind of life.

The books I picked & why

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Voyage

By Sterling Hayden,

Book cover of Voyage

Why this book?

We know Sterling Hayden mostly as a Hollywood movie actor – at least 40 film roles. Hollywood was his income, sailing was his love. At 6 ‘4” he was bigger than most in his life’s accomplishments. I think of him first as a maverick adventurer and a proponent of personal freedom, then second as an actor, and finally as a terrific author, that being his true legacy and one I would be glad to emulate. He lived a more than a full life and in his final days settled in Sausalito, CA and in 1976 wrote Voyage. He lived much of his life on ships and sailed around the world twice and more, so he knew about what he wrote in Voyage.

The paperback version that I treasure in my library is 700 pages of fine print and each page a detailed education about a ship, her crew, the ocean, social injustices, and the hardships aboard most sailing ships that were normal in the years around 1896. I read this story over twenty years ago and am still fascinated by the content. It is a book to read slowly, full of the sailing terms of the day—to learn a whole new vocabulary, cuss, fight, walk the yardarms, set the square sails, and bleed red with the crew. The steel square-rigged ‘barkentine’ called Neptune’s Car is commissioned to carry coal from New York around Cape Horn to San Francisco – by unplanned way of Hawaii. The fact that she was built of steel is key to her successful voyage, the steel didn’t melt.

In a second book by Hayden named Wanderer, which I also heartily recommend, Sterling writes about taking (stealing away) four of his teenaged children from their Hollywood home on his 95’ schooner to Tahiti from San Francisco.

Voyage

By Sterling Hayden,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A magnificent epic of the sea and a dynamic portrait of turn-of-the-century America.—Publishers Weekly


We, the Navigators: The Ancient Art of Landfinding in the Pacific

By David Lewis, Derek Oulton,

Book cover of We, the Navigators: The Ancient Art of Landfinding in the Pacific

Why this book?

This is really a one-of-a-kind scientific textbook. Though technical, it reads like an adventure novel. Lewis was part scientist, part adventurer, part sailor, and an excellent author. The book is full of charts, sketches, and photographs that take you to the South Pacific atolls of Polynesia and Micronesia. This book is not for the day sailor. Written in 1972, Lewis learns and masters the art of ocean navigation from native-born seafarers, like Tevake, who in the middle of nothing knew exactly where he was. He and others learned the skills from their fathers, using only the stars, wind patterns, reflective waves, sea swells, currents, birds, and cloud formations. Lewis learned to sail from one island to another without the aid of modern navigation instruments. Lewis makes the skill of natural navigation into a true adventure.

On a personal note, in the 1970s, I paid many visits to Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands and became familiar with Marshallese stick charts or maps of the sea. The stick charts were a hand-made, hand-held, combination of palm ribs bound by coconut fibre showing predominant swell patterns with cowrie shells indicating islands. This is strictly a deepwater sailor’s book, a book for the curious, the historian, or true seafarer and it should be in every true sailor's on board library.

Lewis may be the only human that has attempted to sail single-handed around the ice-bound continent of Antarctica—described in his book appropriately titled Ice Bird.

We, the Navigators: The Ancient Art of Landfinding in the Pacific

By David Lewis, Derek Oulton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked We, the Navigators as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This new edition includes a discussion of theories about traditional methods of navigation developed during recent decades, the story of the renaissance of star navigation throughout the Pacific, and material about navigation systems in Indonesia, Siberia, and the Indian Ocean.


Daughter of the Reef

By Clare Coleman,

Book cover of Daughter of the Reef

Why this book?

I read this story while doing research for my own books about how life on islands like Tahiti used to be hundreds of years ago, prior to any contact with the Western World. The sea was master and anyone lucky enough to be cast ashore after a hurricane was blessed by the Gods—even a princess from a different coral island. Clare Coleman did years of research to write a series of three fascinating books that take you to the days before South Pacific discovery—of voyaging outrigger canoes, native taboos, pagan rituals, exotic dancing, and romance. The book is as good as any description of what Jacques Rousseau referred to as the culture of the ‘Noble Savage’.

This first of Coleman’s Ancient Tahiti series, continues with Sister of the Sun and Child of the Dawn, is perfect reading for anyone that loves island history, native lore, and adventure.

Daughter of the Reef

By Clare Coleman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A chief’s daughter is storm-tossed onto the strange land of Tahiti in a novel that “shows that the ancient South Pacific can be a dangerous paradise” (Publishers Weekly).

In the first volume of the Ancient Tahiti series, Tepua, the daughter of a chief sails from her coral atoll home toward her planned, and ritually mandated, marriage. But she never reaches her destination because a violent storm damages her vessel and leaves her stranded on the shores of Tahiti, a land previously unknown to her. She is made unwelcome because of her foreignness and is victimized because of her weakness and…


Adrift

By Tami Oldham Ashcraft,

Book cover of Adrift

Why this book?

A true story of love, loss, and survival at sea. The author’s book cover pretty much tells the true story. There you see two lovers, their heads bowed, and below their profiles the wreckage of a dismasted sailboat, a solitary female figure searching the now calm but empty horizon—the aftermath of pounding rain, gigantic seas, and 140-knot winds. One critic wrote, "this book is life-affirming, a saga of human survival, a tale of loss and victory, proof of the resilience of the human spirit." I totally agree. Be ready to shed a tear or two and maybe read all night. Hollywood made a movie of this book, so it must be a good read.

For the uninitiated sailor, the definition of terms at the back matter is excellent, and learn what happens to a 44’ sailboat in a hurricane. It ain’t pretty, but it is inspiring.

Adrift

By Tami Oldham Ashcraft,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE HEART-STOPPING MEMOIR, NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING SHAILENE WOODLEY AND SAM CLAFLIN, AND DIRECTED BY BALTASAR KORMAKUR (EVEREST)

A compelling, at times devastating, ultimately inspiring account of how much can go wrong on the ocean and how, miraculously, one woman conquered her own fears.

'An inspirational and empowering read' Shailene Woodley

Young and in love, their lives ahead of them, Tami Oldham and her fiance Richard Sharp set sail from Tahiti under brilliant blue skies, with Tami's hometown of San Diego as their ultimate destination. But the two free spirits and avid sailors couldn't anticipate that less than…


In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

By Nathaniel Philbrick,

Book cover of In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

Why this book?

Throughout the 19th century, whale oil made many ship owners wealthy. It was used as lamp oil, soap, lubricant, and candles. It sold as high as $35 a gallon. In 1820, the whaleship Essex, out of Nantucket sailed around the Horn to mid-Pacific. Once there, the brutal killing and processing of whales is described in detail. Essex was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale, leaving the desperate crew of twenty-one men to drift for more than ninety days in three tiny boats. I believe the true test of a good book is a reader’s memory retention – not the details, but wonderful and shocking scenes remaining clear as day over time. No glamore or romance, but rather gut wrenching horror for all, including any reader.

This true story has many such scenes—the attacking whale like Melville’s Moby Dick, hungry men in three rowboats, the fading hope of rescue or sight of land, hunger and thirst, misery, fewer men in two rowboats, victory for the eight men that survived by reaching Chile, some by the luck of the draw. Not a book for the timid, but a real page-turner for any one who wants to learn about the awful hardships of those whaling days. Nathaniel Philbrick did excellent research aided by the log kept by the 14-year old cabin boy. This book won a National Book Award and is a classic of American literature and history.

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

By Nathaniel Philbrick,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked In the Heart of the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The epic true-life story of one of the most notorious maritime disasters of the nineteenth century - and inspiration for `Moby-Dick' - reissued to accompany a major motion picture due for release in December 2015, directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker and Cillian Murphy.

When the whaleship Essex set sail from Nantucket in 1819, the unthinkable happened. A mere speck in the vast Pacific ocean - and powerless against the forces of nature - Essex was rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale, and her twenty crewmen were forced to take to the open sea…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in shipwrecks, the Pacific Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean?

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