There are many sailing books on the market, but if you read them all you’d never have time to actually, you know, go sailing. This blog will give you the 411 on the books ASA offers so you can decide if they’re right for you. (Spoiler: If you want to go sailing for fun, they are.)
First, a little history. The grandfather of sailing textbooks is Nathaniel Bowditch’s massive 1802 doorstop The American Practical Navigator, whose comprehensive chapters cover not only piloting, dead reckoning, and seamanship, but also such obscure topics as “Geodesy and Datums in Navigation,” “Hydrography,” and “Ice Navigation.” Worthy subjects all, but perhaps not of the foremost importance to the average modern-day sailor.
If you discover that the subtleties of navigation and seamanship are your life’s passions, then you will certainly want to dig into Bowditch, along with Chapman Piloting & Seamanship and Dutton’s Nautical Navigation, spending many happy hours in the hammock with a rum and coke reading about azimuths and depth sounders. All kidding aside, most people who are trying to balance a love of sailing with family, friends, work, and the rest of life just don’t have time to read and absorb thousands of pages.
That’s where we come in. Those pioneering works laid the foundation for ASA’s sailing books, which distill the wisdom of the ages into a manageable format designed to get you on the water safely, confidently, and quickly. Our full color displays, diagrams, and photos portray the concepts visually, while the writing, by some of the top sailing writers in the business, is accessible and clear. We take the mystery and uncertainty out of sailing by showing you exactly how a sailboat works, how it interacts with wind and water, and how you, the captain, take charge of it all.
SAILING MADE EASY
WHO’S IT FOR?
Everyone. Beginners, those who need a refresher, or the grizzled salt who wants to have it handy as a reference. Sailing Made Easy is our keystone sailing textbook, covering all the basics you need to know to safely skipper a medium-sized keelboat (20-30 feet). It is the companion to ASA 101, our introductory course, which thousands of people take at our sailing schools around the world each year.
All the fundamentals of sailing. This includes the parts of a boat, what to bring with you when you sail, how you make the boat move, how you get it to and from the dock, and how to avoid hitting anything (including, but not limited to, other boats, underwater hazards, and the land). Beyond that, it also discusses the finer points of trimming your sails, slowing down and speeding up, and anchoring and mooring, among other things. Quite simply, this book sets the industry standard, which is why Sail Magazine named it “best in class.”
WHO’S IT FOR?
Those who are familiar with the material in Sailing Made Easy, and are ready to deepen their knowledge and expand their sailing horizons a bit. This book accompanies ASA 103 – Coastal Cruising, a crucial link in the ASA curriculum from basic daysailing to cruising and chartering in exotic locations.
This book builds on the skills you’ve learned in Sailing Made Easy, now heading a bit further out from shore. You’ll learn about tides and currents, weather forecasting, more advanced seamanship skills, among other things. The book is water-resistant and organized into two page “spreads,” with each spread covering a single topic, which makes it useful not just at home but out on the water, too.
Buy Coastal Cruising Made Easy here. CRUISING FUNDAMENTALS
WHO’S IT FOR?
Those who have gotten comfortable sailing coastally and want to serve as their own bareboat charter captains. In other words, if you want to go on a sailing vacation in the British Virgin Islands, the Mediterranean, the Pacific Northwest, or anywhere else, this is the book you need. It accompanies the extremely popular ASA 104 – Bareboat Cruising.
Not only are the sailing skills covered that you’ll need to cruise for a week or two through paradise, but also the practical knowledge of how a bareboat charter works. We offer instruction on how to prepare your charter boat before leaving, the “rules of the road” at sea, and operating vital equipment such as the VHF radio. Sail Magazine says, “Everything needed to make the first weeklong liveaboard cruise in safety and comfort is here.”
Mark Twain once said: “The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” And so it goes for sailors. In addition to hands-on training and practice, one of the best ways to prepare yourself for life on the water is to read and study great sailing books. So, as an alternative to the rest of the summer reading lists out there, we’ve compiled this one for sailors.
A great place for any aspiring sailor to start is with ASA’s top-of-the-line textbooks, which are expertly written, laid-out, and illustrated with world class photography and diagrams:
These books are included when you register for your sailing class with an ASA affiliated school, and the school will send them to you. Many of our members highly recommend reading the book before you take the class, as it will give you a solid foundation and help you get up to speed once you’re actually on the boat! Your instructor can provide more details.
For the more advanced sailor, classic manuals like Nathaniel Bowditch’s The American Practical Navigator and Chapman Piloting & Seamanship are time-tested and packed with useful information. However, these sailing books are so thorough that they can be a bit overwhelming to the novice.
Don’t forget–there’s more to the sailing lifestyle than practical manuals. There’s also a rich tapestry of lore, culture, and adventure to explore. We’ve compiled a list of some of the great nautical books of all time. These are guaranteed to expand your appreciation for sailing and the open ocean, especially when read under the bimini on a relaxing Caribbean afternoon!
Fiction Books: The Mutiny on the Bounty Trilogy by Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall (first volume 1932) The Aubrey/Maturin Novels by Patrick O’Brian (series of 20; first volume 1969) Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome (series of 12; first volume 1930) The Horatio Hornblower Novels by C.S. Forester (series of 11; first volume 1937) Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851) Middle Passage by Charles Johnson (1990) John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952) Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974) Sounding by Hank Searls (1982) Mutiny on the Bounty by John Boyne (2008) A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes (1929)
Nonfiction Books: Close to the Wind by Pete Goss (2000) Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz (2002) Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum (1900) The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby (1956) The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float by Farley Mowat (1969) Sea Change by Peter Nichols (1998) Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana (1840) Ten Degrees of Reckoning by Hester Rumberg (2007) Looking for a Ship by John McPhee (1990) Godforsaken Sea: Racing the World’s Most Dangerous Waters by Derek Lundy (1998)
A review of ASA’s Coastal Cruising Made Easy from the July/August 2012 issue of Sailing Magazine.
Many sports, like swimming or soccer, are relatively easy to learn because there are a few basic moves assembled in the right order. Sailing is like that, too. Learn to trim, steer, tack and jibe, and a fair-weather daysail is pure pleasure.
Sailing may be easy to learn, but it is difficult to master because unlike swimming and soccer the playing conditions change, often unexpectedly. Wind and waves increase or decrease, halyards fail, engines quit, but the sailor must keep sailing. There are no rain delays or timeouts on the water.
Mastery of sailing takes experience and that’s just what the American Sailing Association brings to its new training manual, Coastal Cruising Made Easy. ASA has certified more than 7,500 instructors and can draw on the organization’s vast experience, probably totaling over 75,000 years worth of water time, to educate students.
That much information could fill many volumes on cruising, but Coastal Cruising Made Easy’s three editors and five authors concentrate on common cruising scenarios while addressing questions and concerns daysailors ask on the gentle jump up to coastal cruising. The book is designed to fall between the ASA’s basic keelboat course and its bareboat chartering course.
The textbook progresses as naturally as the tide with chapter subjects laid out in the same sequence a sailor might follow on a cruise. The first chapter is a tour of the cruising boat, the second is motoring fundamentals, the third is safety and the cruising life, then line handling and sail trim, navigation, and so on, to the final chapter, achieving independence. Independence is planning a cruise: organizing provisions, timing around tides, what personal gear to bring. Independence is arriving safely to a new harbor and securing the boat.
Independence is the magic the authors bring to Coastal Cruising Made Easy. Throughout the book they cast those little tips and tricks that turn a successful sail into a superlative sail. For example, as you enter a new harbor look back occasionally, that way the exit looks familiar on the way out. Another example: If possible, sail on the windward side of a channel so the boat is easier to sail off a grounding. Those small but useful tips can be learned two ways, the hard way, or the Coastal Cruising Made Easy way.
Visual learners will thrive with this book. Outstanding color graphics demonstrate groundings, boat repair, sail trim, weather diagrams, charts, cockpit layout and everything else the editors could think of. Photographs by noted SAILING Magazine Contributing Photographer Billy Black cover nearly every page. His images of sailboats entering crowded anchorages or passing commercial vessels are sharp enough to make any sailor stop and read the accompanying text, learning from the master sailors and master instructors of the ASA, the people who know how to make coastal cruising easy. — Rich Evans
Originally published in Sailing Magazine July/August 2012. Reprinted in its entirety with permission.