The best sailing books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about sailing and why they recommend each book.

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The Riddle of the Sands

By Erskine Childers,

Book cover of The Riddle of the Sands

The first time I read this book I was sailing through the Frisian Islands, where it takes place—though unlike its two main characters, I didn’t have to worry about German patrols or being arrested as a spy. A classic thriller, the remote and shifting islands of the area help to drive the plot. It could, quite simply, take place nowhere else. Great sailing scenes as well!

Who am I?

As a sailor and 2004 Olympian I am happiest on salt water, so that’s where most of my characters live their best lives. I write coastal fiction; stories with a happy ending that could only take place on or near the water. Boat rides are a bonus! As both a reader and an author, my tastes span across several traditional genres: from young adult time travel to literary fiction, with stops along the way for a light touch of romance. This list reflects that range. If you want to learn more about all the books (and boats) I enjoy, please subscribe to my Thursday blog, Where Books Meet Boats. Meanwhile, enjoy these five fantastic examples of coastal fiction!

I wrote...

Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

Book cover of Ferry to Cooperation Island

What is my book about?

Loner James Malloy is a ferry captain—or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a girl named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island’s daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a private golf course staked out across the wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, a Narragansett Indian, James is determined to stop such “improvements.” But despite Brenton’s nickname as “Cooperation Island,” he’s used to working solo. To keep rocky bluffs, historic trees, and ocean shoreline open to all, he’ll have to learn to cooperate with other islanders—including Captain Courtney, who might just morph from irritant to irresistible once James learns a secret that’s been kept from him for years.

First You Have to Row a Little Boat

By Richard Bode,

Book cover of First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living

Richard Bode’s pocket-sized memoir was given to me by a college friend, shortly after our graduation (as I write this, that was about three decades ago, and I still have this little book on my shelf within reach). It’s got water and sailing (both of which I love), but more importantly, it’s also chock-full of life lessons—without being preachy or overbearing. In the end, you realize that you can plot your own course, adapt to the shifts of wind and waves (Bode’s metaphor for life), and become your own hero.

Who am I?

I remember devouring Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October. I loved the premise, the technology, the maritime aspect, and most of all, how Jack Ryan, a normal guy, managed to buck conventional wisdom and groupthink. Then, as the genre developed, it became more and more about the so-called “super spy.” While I enjoy the characters—the list is long: Jack Ryan Junior, Mitch Rapp, Scot Harvath, Hayley Chill… I can’t relate. I mean, they go on five-mile runs before breakfast, never break a sweat, and remain perfectly composed. That’s not me. That might not be you, either. Ben Porter is my answer to the unachievable perfection in the current crop of heroes.

I wrote...

Vital Deception

By Christopher Rosow,

Book cover of Vital Deception

What is my book about?

Vital Deception is the fourth book in my Ben Porter Series. It follows my relatable protagonist, Ben Porter, as he’s faced first with tragedy and then with a choice: does he do what he’s told, or does he follow his instincts? If you’ve read any of the three prequels (which, by the way, are not necessary to read; you can pick up the series at any point), you’ll guess that Ben does the latter. But all the same, you’ll learn, as does Ben, that his choices will have consequences.

The Real Book Spy advises emphatically, “If you haven’t yet met FBI Agent Ben Porter, you’re missing out on one of the genre’s best characters—period.”

Float Plan

By Trish Doller,

Book cover of Float Plan

Float Plan offers one of the most nuanced looks at grief and healing that I’ve read in a book. Anna, the heroine, is mourning the loss of her boyfriend, Ben, after he takes his life. This gorgeous novel follows Anna while she sails through the Caribbean, fulfilling a plan she and Ben had before he died. Along the way, she meets Keane, a heart on his sleeve, patient, and gentle man that reminds Anna that pain and mourning aren’t mutually exclusive with healing and love. Their love story is tender and wonderfully written, and is a raw and honest depiction of healing after a loss. 

Who am I?

I was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of twelve. Since then, I’ve also received diagnoses of ADHD and Autism, both of which are central facets to who I am and how my brain processes the world around me. I’ve always been vocal about my struggles and successes with my mental health, and seeing that representation in novels is crucial. The characters in the romance novels I’ve written have a neurodiversity or experience some sort of mental health challenge, reflecting what so many of us experience in our lives. The books listed here have brought me so much comfort, and I hope they do the same for you!

I wrote...

A Brush with Love

By Mazey Eddings,

Book cover of A Brush with Love

What is my book about?

Harper is anxiously awaiting placement into a top oral surgery residency program when she crashes (literally) into Dan. Harper would rather endure a Novocaine-free root canal than face any distractions, even one this adorable. A first-year dental student with a family legacy to contend with, Dan doesn’t have the same passion for pulling teeth that Harper does. Though he finds himself falling for her, he is willing to play by Harper’s rules. So with the greatest of intentions and the poorest of follow-throughs, the two set out to be “just friends.”

But as they get to know each other better, Harper fears that trading fillings for feelings may make her lose control and can't risk her carefully ordered life coming undone, no matter how drool-worthy Dan is.


By Robert M. Pirsig,

Book cover of Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals

I recommend the sequel to Pirsig’s more famous bestseller because I’ve never owned a motorcycle (and I find bicycle maintenance hard enough), but now I own a sailboat—where his second story is set—so when he describes hearing people walking on the cabin roof, or checking the knots on the mooring ropes, I know exactly what he means because I’ve experienced this. Some of his fans felt this sequel was a betrayal of the magical mysticism of undefined Quality he described in the first book. For me, although problematic, it was a necessary clarification and one I not only used for my academic work on a range of controversies from abortion to transgender but also in my life-coaching practice: to inspire holistic transformation on all levels of wellbeing. 

Who am I?

Scotland has a proud tradition of philosophical enquiry and I studied closely the work of most of these authors and benefited from almost all of them for my own Ph.D. work. Pirsig uses the old Scots word “gumption” for know-how and initiative and, in his honour, I use his related term “gumptionology” as my handle on social media. I also write my own mystery books series set in Scotland (the Bruno Benedetti mysteries) and they are often inspired by musing on philosophical and metaphysical matters but even my books on ethics contain some philosophical fiction. Our shared stories are fundamental to our humanity—and to our philosophy!

I wrote...

Alchemy at the Chalkface: Pirsig, Pedagogy and the Metaphysics of Quality

By Alan McManus,

Book cover of Alchemy at the Chalkface: Pirsig, Pedagogy and the Metaphysics of Quality

What is my book about?

“What the hell is Quality?” asked the author of my first book pick, halfway through his bestseller, prompted by a middle-aged colleague at Bozeman College (Montana) watering her office plants and asking him about his English teaching. He described that question as a seed crystal which grew into his two famous works of philosophical fiction then, mostly through misunderstanding, created a maze of educational and industrial regulations—provoking endless academic discussion over their justification and coherence.

50 years later, halfway through my doctorate in Scotland, suffering from painful RSI in my hands and wrists from typing obsessively in a damp ground-floor flat, trying to cram in every philosophical insight from Plato to Robert M. Pirsig, I decided, like these philosophers, to answer by telling a story.

All the Stars and Teeth

By Adalyn Grace,

Book cover of All the Stars and Teeth

All the Stars and Teeth, set in the Kingdom of Visida, a collection of islands, is a story with legends and history and dark truths that are uncovered along the way. It has mermaids, blood magic, sea monsters, and high-octane adventure that kept me turning the pages. It’s everything you would expect from an adventure set on the seas. The banter is actually funny, and the romance is a nice touch to the story. Amora, the protagonist, is sheltered and naive in the beginning but comes into her own and becomes a worthy leader. One of the most interesting aspects of All the Stars and Teeth was a mermaid straight out of scary legends, her fury a delight to read, and she certainly steals the scenes she is in.

Who am I?

I’m a South Asian writer who grew up in dry plains and the desert, so when I saw the ocean for the first time—it was an absolute shock to my senses. I was drawn to its vastness, its strangeness. Everything about our seas is fascinating, from the way they sustain life on the planet to the alien creatures that inhabit them. Since I’m a reader, I began to look for books featuring seas, and after nonfic ones, found fantasy books that were set in imaginative water-based worlds. This lifelong love has now led to my own debut being an oceanic fantasy. So I hope you enjoy this list. :)

I wrote...

Monsters Born and Made

By Tanvi Berwah,

Book cover of Monsters Born and Made

What is my book about?

In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, 16-year-old Koral is forced to capture maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others―if they're lucky―survive. When the last maristag of the year escapes and Koral has no new maristag to sell, her family's financial situation takes a turn for the worse and they can't afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral's only choice is to do what no one in the world has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race.

Perfect for fans of The Hunger Games, this South Asian-inspired fantasy is a gripping debut about the power of the elite, the price of glory, and one girl’s chance to change it all.

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