The Blue View - Essential Ship's Library

top ten list of useful books blue view

When we began our cruising life, we had precious little experience. We had taken a few classes on sailing and had bare boat chartered several times in Florida and the Caribbean. We did, however, have a number of very experienced friends to rely upon as we gained experience. These good friends, the Dashews, the Pardeys, Nigel Calder, Don Casey, Brion Toss and Jimmy Cornell to mention a few, also helped us out of more than a few ticklish situations.

In reality, we have only met a few of these fine people, but we have read their books cover to cover. We started collecting their books when the cruising life was still a far off dream. Then, when it did become a reality, hardly a day went by that I didn't consult with Nigel to get his input on servicing a winch or bleeding the diesel engine, or with Don to improve my fiberglassing technique, or Jimmy to plan our next voyage.

I no longer check with my mentors quite as frequently as the early days, but they remain on-board as cherished old friends. And while I have begun to embrace e-books on my Kindle, I can't fathom ever parting with my hard copies.

I painfully reduced this list to my ten most used technical books – my essential ship's library. I'll be the first to admit that my list is very dated. I haven't been keeping track of the latest and greatest new generation of authors and books. If you have suggestions for books that should be added to the list, please let me know.

General Reference

Pocket Ref by Thomas Glover

The hands down winner of the most used book aboard Nine of Cups, this book is a compendium of a zillion useful pieces of information. Want to know the tap drill bit size for a 6mm bolt? How to convert from horsepower to kilowatts, or from hogsheads to gallons? The safe working load of wire rope? How about wire size vs amperage? It's all there.

General Cruising and Passage Planning

World Cruising Routes by Jimmy Cornell

This is a great book for planning passages – everything from a trip to the Bahamas to a circumnavigation. It provides winds and currents throughout the world, as well as the best times and routes for passages.

Maintenance and Repair

In addition to the specific repair manuals for the equipment aboard, we recommend the following:

Boatowners Mechanical and Electrical Manual and Marine Diesel Engines, both by Nigel Calder – or any other book by Nigel for that matter.

(Okay – so I cheated just a little and only counted these as one book). If you plan to leave the marina, you need to know the basics about repairing the mechanical and electrical systems aboard. After Pocket Ref above, these books are probably the two most used books aboard Nine of Cups. (You can tell by the greasy fingerprints all over them.) They not only describe how most of these systems work, but how to repair them.

This Old Boat by Don Casey

While it is basically intended as a book for restoring an older boat, it is also a great collection of tutorials on a variety of boat projects such as upgrading, repair and maintenance of fiberglass, paint, varnish, canvas, electrical, refrigeration and much more. In addition, his writing style makes it an enjoyable read.

Sail and Rig Tuning by Ivar Dedekam

A short concise book that does exactly what its title says.


The Annapolis Book of Seamanship by John Rousmaniere

This book, a classic, covers the basics of sailing, navigation, boat handling and seamanship.

Marlinspike Seamanship

While most of us probably won’t ever learn how to caulk the seams of a wooden boat or to tar a hemp lanyard, ropes still require knots, splices and hitches, and a sailmaker’s needle and palm are still necessary gear aboard a modern cruising sailboat. Beyond the basic essentials, however, it is quite satisfying to learn some of the traditional sailors’ arts. A fine canvas bucket or rope mat are far superior to the modern plastic or “astroturf” equivalents. We recommend and frequently refer to the following books:

The Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford Ashley

A compendium of almost 4,000 knots of every type imaginable, from occupational to decorative, along with a lot of interesting nautical lore and history. It is such a valuable book, I devoted a whole blog to it.

The Marlinspike Sailor by Hervey Garrett Smith

A great book on the traditional arts of the sailor, from basic knots to decorative ropework and canvaswork.

Riggers Apprentice by Brion Toss

A good source of information on repair and maintenance of your rigging, a good section on the basic knots and splices needed aboard and a chapter devoted to decorative knots.

Brightwork: The Art of Finishing Wood by Rebecca Wittman

Nine of Cups has a lot of teak brightwork, and I must have spent a few man-years in what often seems like a never-ending and futile attempt at trying to keep it beautiful. This book is my bible on the subject.

I've only covered technical reference books in this blog. I'll leave it up to Marcie to cover the books which she considers to be part of an Essential Ship's library on the non-technical side.