Sheila McCurdy has cruised and raced over 100,000 miles. She chairs the National Faculty of US SAILING and is a Passage Making Instructor Trainer. She is on the Safety at Sea Committee, as well, and has moderated Safety at Sea Seminars across the country. Her articles and stories on all aspects of sailing have been published widely. She has advised the sailing programs of the US Naval Academy and Outward Bound and is an offshore instructor for Orange Coast College. She serves as vice commodore of the Cruising Club of America. She holds a 100-ton USCG Master’s license and a master’s degree in Marine Affairs. She lives with her husband in Rhode Island.
Sheila’s recommendations: (revised July ’08)
Gifted writers can capture some of the magic, reverie, frustration and occasional drama of setting out on a boat. These authors spring to mind.
Me, the Boy and the Cat by Henry M. Plummer - The log of an eight-month cruise in 1912-1913 on a 25-foot catboat from New England to Florida and back with the eponymous characters of the title.
Spring Tides by Samuel Eliot Morison, (1965, out of print) - Six essays of lyrical prose capturing the pleasures of a day sail in Maine, cruising the Aegean in the 1930s, and exploring the natural world and human history from the vantage point of a sailor.
The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float by Farley Mowat (1969) - A delightful story of misadventure as the author is bedeviled by a cunning schooner and the contrary coasts of the Canadian Maritimes.
The Coast of Summer: Sailing New England Waters from Shelter Island to Cape Cod by Anthony Bailey (1994) - A graceful narrative of a modest cruise in familiar waters. The author describes the places he stops like favorite old friends full of depth, good humor and idiosyncracies.
My Old Man and the Sea: A Father and Son Sail around Cape Horn by David Hays & Daniel Hays (1995) - A father and son venture to Cape Horn on a ridiculously small sailboat. The story is a dialogue of two the experienced sailors told with an easy intimacy that a pocket cruiser necessitates. They demonstrated how enriching adventure can be even after the fact.
Books to read because you may be asked by other cruising sailors if you’ve read them.
Two Year Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana (originally published 1839) - Not a cruising book but an American classic. It is the account of a young educated man sailing as an ordinary seaman in the 1830’s on a trading ship from the east coast of the young United States around South America to the west coast. His description of the sea inspired other harsh treatment, led to unprecedented legal protections for sailors.
Sailing Around the World Alone by Joshua Slocum (originally published 1899) - Perhaps the most colorful sea story ever written. The author circumnavigated singlehanded at the close of the nineteenth century. During his three-year voyage he fended off Fuegians, entertained Samoans and met notable characters in every corner of the globe.
We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome (originally published 1937) - This is not as well known as some others but is wonderful novel for young readers about four siblings who accidently sail from England to Holland.
BOAT AND CREW PREPARATION
There is always more to learn for the skipper and the crew. These books have something for all experience levels. The more everyone knows, the more fun he or she will have.
US SAILING Keelboat Certification Series: Basic Cruising, Bareboat Cruising, Coastal Navigation, and Passage Making - This series of four books is a good way to fill in gaps in knowledge for an experienced sailor. They are excellent for helping family and regular crew expand their understanding and skills involving boat handling, living aboard and emergency response.
Cruising Handbook: A Compendium of Coastal and Offshore Sailors by Nigel Calder (2001) - A very good overview of the essentials for preparing a boat and undertaking a proper cruise with safety and comfort in mind.
Boat Owner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual by Nigel Calder (2005) - This manual enables partially knowledgeable sailors to understand boat systems and their components. It is full of good advice. Calder has a knack for clarifying complex concepts like refrigeration.
The Voyager’s Handbook by Beth Leonard (1998) - The book an excellent resource for the more ambitious cruiser. Written by one of the most experienced passage-making cruiser still plying the oceans, the author focuses more on the crew and the challenges of living aboard and traveling extensively in foreign locales.
METEROLOGY AND NATURAL HISTORY
Weather Predicting Simplified by Michael William Carr (1999) - This book does what its title says. Carr makes sense of weather systems and explains how professional weather charts and forecasts are made. He consistently brings the theories and practice “down to earth” and relates it to the sailor’s eye view.
General suggestion: Field guides to birds and sea life in your area.