For me, the winter is a great time to catch up on that pile of books by my bedside. Mine has been piled up with three Christmas presents: A World of My Own by Robin Knox-Johnston; The Last Man Across the Atlantic by Paul Heiney and Sailing For Home for Theo Dorgan. Three totally different takes on extended passage-making.
My extended family thinks I am a little obsessive as my Amazon wish list is 90% taken up with books on sailing, none of which they can understand anyone wanting to read let alone give as gifts. After one of my relatives picked off the nose hair trimmer and various UK comedy DVDs, the rest were left with nothing but these three books and others on Moitessier, heavy weather sailing and other fun nautical stuff.
Robin Knox-Johnston's personal account is a classic. I have read a lot about the Golden Globe race of 1968, the first non-stop single-handed round-the-world race and in my view, A World of My Own is second only to Voyage For Madmen, my all-time favorite book - period. It's a great factual telling of RKJ's amazing feat, his personal recollections, his personal challenges punctuated with notes from his logbooks. The detailed account of the trials and tribulations of getting to the start line let alone what he faced over 10 months of sailing the toughest seas alone, achieving a feat no one had ever accomplished, is absorbing and also very informative. If I ever I face a long and tough passage, I would read this again in a heartbeat just to learn from the man. Above all, the thing you take away from this book is the man himself: down-to-earth; incredibly pragmatic; unflappable with a great sense of humor. That's Robin Knox Johnston.
Last Man Across the Atlantic, is inspiring in a very different way. Paul Heiney is fairly well-known BBC broadcaster and of the three books, he is the best writer in my view. He is married to another sailor/broadcaster, Libby Purves. The thing that made this tale so compelling is Paul Heiney is like the rest of us. He is an extremely regular guy with a day job, a family, a mortgage and a passion for sailing. Somehow, he got it into his head to sail the Singlehnaded Transatlantic Race as a Corinthian - a novice. It includes a good history of single-handed sailing and the characters who paved the way. Francis Chichester does not come out too well. His account is painfully honest in how lonely, often boring, sometimes very fustrating and occasionally terrifying, sailing the Atlantic alone can be. Strangely though it makes sailing long passages more compelling. It actually got me thinking about whether I could do it. Hey, if he can do it, maybe I could.
Theo Dorgan's Sailing For Home is the more philosophical of the three. Theo Dorgan is an Irish poet and of the three the more lyrical writer. He takes some pretty wild tangents into the metpahyiscal in his account of sailing from Antigua to Kinsale via Horta in a crew of four on the 70' Spirit of Oysterhaven. It's a a good story about the day-to-day of a long passage, preparation and the relationship between the crew. It meanders a bit but it's strangely compelling.
If you want to escape the winter I would recommend any of these three.