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Best Modern Sailing & Cruising Memoirs


Last Updated on September 13, 2023 by Amy

What Qualifies as a Modern Sailing & Cruising Memoir?

Here’s how I am defining modern cruising memoirs for the purpose of this blog post:

  • Destinations – the crew must get out and explore the places they sail; no non-stop voyages
  • Time Frame – within the last forty years (ish!)
  • Untimed – these stories are not about races or breaking records
  • No disasters – these must be successful voyages in that the storyteller doesn’t survive a massive disaster which would put it in the survival memoir category

View my suggestions on Amazon.


Who: John Pennington and his now-wife, Kara Potter
The boat: Cape Dory 30
Where: Sailing around the world, starting from coastal California, down to Mexico, across the Pacific and the Coconut Milk Run, NZ, New Caledonia, around the bottom of Australia, across the Indian ocean and up the Atlantic. After a quick trip through the canal, they sail up to Hawaii (crossing their wake) and continue to Alaska.
When: 2010-2014
Available: Kindle, Kindle Unlimited or Paperback
Published: April 2014

This is an exceptional book. Aside from a few editing issues and several pages of extended dialogue about home-brewing and produce pesticide spray, the book is funny, adventurous, and beautifully written.

John and Kara are in their twenties, and despite disapproval – and nearly sabotage – from their parents, they set sail on a small boat with a limited budget. John’s writing is funny, I laughed aloud a lot and read passages to David. Some of his lines were just beautifully written: “Religious adherence to routine and strict avoidance of conscious thought keeps the spigot wide open, time rushing, pouring by and draining away, which is how I wanted it.”

Buy Orca on Amazon.

Escape Series

  • Who: Julie Bradley and her husband, Glen
  • The boat: a brand-new Amel
  • Where: Departing the factory in La Rochelle, across the Bay of Biscay and Atlantic, Caribbean/East Coast, Panama to New Zealand to Fiji.
  • When: 1997-2006
  • Available: Kindle, Kindle Unlimited or Paperback
  • Published: December 2018

Julie and Glen’s voyage is remarkably similar to ours in the first book, Escape From the Ordinary; new boat from La Rochelle, quick Atlantic transit, the Caribbean, and East Coast before transiting the canal and doing the Coconut Milk Run.

They had some more extreme stories than our adventure had: two Force 10 storms and visits to politically unstable countries. I always enjoy hearing about how technologically different cruising was back in the day – “weather fax?  when DID they make this trip?’. Some things have changed for the better since the Voyage of It’s Enough; we never skipped a Caribbean island for feeling unwelcome.

Julie’s writing is lovely, and the attitude she and Glen share – and the chapters less about the locations and more about the insight into the cruising life – make it a lovely read.

I had wondered why the first book ends in Fiji instead of New Zealand – a natural stopping point – but the last chapter documenting the cruising community’s response to 9/11 was heartwarming and made me tear up.

The second book, Crossing Pirate Waters, covers their trip from New Zealand to Australia, up through Southeast Asia and then across the Indian Ocean through the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.

This journey was much more arduous. The boat is alone in Phuket to survive the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, Glen nearly losses two fingers in New Zealand, and the Red Sea, particularly Egypt, bring soul-crushing challenges for the crew.

Here’s a few lines I particularly enjoyed:

“It was dangerous to let your guard down, which might also be said about the entirely of the 14 months since we departed the Pacific.”

“Measly progress of 20 or 30 miles a day [in the Red Sea] became cause to celebrate, but a more likely scenario was a backbreaking 10 to 15.”

I am even more glad we went the South Africa route after reading this memoir.

Read the Escape Series on Amazon.

An Embarrassment of Mangoes & The Spice Necklace

  • Who: Ann Vanderhoof and her husband, Steve
  • The boat: 1981 Tartan 42
  • Where: Canada to the Caribbean (An Embarrassment of Mangoes), Caribbean (The Spice Necklace)
  • When: 1995-1997, 2003-??
  • Available: Kindle or Paperback
  • Published: January 2004, June 2010

Vanderhoof has a leg-up on the other writers in this genre in that she was a professional writer and editor before setting off sailing.

Her two memoirs bring the Caribbean to life. Ann and Steve do an amazing job of sharing the history, culture, and the personalities of the local people they meet on their voyage. They integrated themselves with the locals, making friendships that carried over years of cruising and sentiments.

Vanderhoof interspersed her writing with relevant recipes for the boat galley. I love cooking her Boat-Friendly Pizza and the banana and mango muffins.

Basically, Ann makes the Caribbean – especially the parts we didn’t get to visit – even more alluring.

See Ann Vanderhoof’s books on Amazon.

Love with a Chance of Drowning

  • Who: Torre DeRoche and her partner Ivan
  • The boat: 1979 Valiant 32′
  • Where: California through the South Pacific to Australia
  • When: 2006
  • Available: Kindle or Paperback
  • Published: May 2013

Torre, an Australian visiting America, meet Ivan, a man who’s just consolidated his life and plans to set off on a circumnavigation. Torre is astounded – and terrified of the ocean. But her excitement over her new relationship motivates her to take off with him in their small sailboat.

Ivan is a tough captain to sail under – Torre struggles to curb his boundless enthusiasm and his inability to focus on safety. Ivan is a mess, forgetting to properly do things on the boat (like launching the boat without reinstalling the watermaker thru-hull so that the Pacific Ocean pours in) and often causing injuries (he accidentally shoots a Pacific Islander with a spear gun).

It’s hard to tell if Torre enjoyed the adventure or not, but it makes for an entertaining read. Her appreciation for the adventure certainly shows through and the writing is wonderful.

Read Love with a Chance of Drowning on Amazon.


  • Who: Liesbet Collaert and her partner and two dogs
  • The boat: 35-foot Fountaine Pajot Tabago
  • Where: After a false start on the west coast in a monohull, the second start is in Annapolis, where they sail
  • When: 2007 for the Annapolis start, down to the Caribbean, through Panama and French Polynesia
  • Available: Kindle or Paperback
  • Published: November 2020

Liesbet is the consummate vagabond: from camper vans to hitchhiking and backpacking to sailboats. Her approach is brutally honest. She’s seasick, doubts herself and her husband, and often times is frustrated by the reality of cruising or the nomadic lifestyle.

But Plunge is beyond a cruising memoir. It’s also about loss and love, about two people who live together 24/7 and struggle to feel satisfaction despite living their dreams. At times, the reader will be frustrated with Liesbet or Mark or crying in sorrow over Kali and Darwin.

I’ve read many cruising memoirs, and this is a top ten read for me. It’s realistic, thoughtful, and introspective, just as a memoir should be.

I received an advanced copy of the book, and this is an honest review.

Buy Plunge on Amazon.

The Box Wine Sailors

  • Who: Amy McCullough and her husband, Jimmie
  • The boat: 1972 Newport 27
  • Where: Sailing from Portland, Oregon to La Paz, Mexico
  • When: 2008-2009
  • Available: Kindle, Kindle Unlimited or Paperback
  • Published: November 2015

Amy McCullough is the former music editor of Willamette Week, so it should be no surprise that this sailing memoir is well written and interspersed with song mentions, enough to state the book could have its own soundtrack. McCullough’s backstory chapter on falling in love with Jimmie was warm and tender. This adventure, for these novice sailors, is not so much about the sailing, or even the adventure itself, but more about being with each other.

This voyage could not be more different from my own; a tiny boat, an even smaller budget, and devoid of luxuries most people consider necessities like bathing more than once a month. It’s often on the too-far side of austere, like when they resort to taking mass quantities of coffee creamer from a coffee bar and downright admit to stealing: “While I would never steal something that’s actually for sale, I have no problem lifting, say, a coffee mug from Denny’s or a neat glass ashtray from a hotel room…”

Often, McCullough must defend their choices to others. Taking off on a small sailboat is completely possible – after all, Lin and Larry Pardey, mentioned above, completed many circumnavigations on boats under 30 feet. That being said, I have no knowledge of the offshore design for the Newport 27, and McCullough and her partner often made poor choices – especially while excessively drunk.

But, they learned from their mistakes and completed their goal, which is more than most people can say. I found the read entertaining.

Read The Box Wine Sailors on Amazon.

A Drop in the Ocean & All the Colours of Polynesia

  • Who: Jasna Tuta and her husband, Rick Page
  • The boat: 1984 Union Polaris 36
  • Where: Sailing from Mexico to French Polynesia (A Drop in the Ocean) and spending three years in French Polynesia (All the Colours of Polynesia)
  • When: 2014-2017
  • Available: Kindle, Kindle Unlimited or Paperback
  • Published: December 2018, November 2019

Jasna is an Italian who’s never been far from the water. After meeting her husband in Australia and buying a boat in the Americas, Jasna and Rick take off to cross the Pacific after a few years of working on their boat.

Jasna’s first book is told as reflections while on passage across the Pacific. Over 32 days in the ocean, Jasna covers how they met, life aboard a boat on a passage, and reflections on life. While Jasna is not a native English speaker, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the book. Unlike other cruising memoirs I’ve read from non-native speakers, her writing is imaginative and colorful, painting pictures of what it’s like to be out at sea, in an ocean of aquamarine, for days on end.

Her second book covers three years sailing French Polynesia. This book took on a different tone for me. Perhaps I took the first barb too personally: “…catamarans and trimarans are usually owned by the very wealthy, who tend to look down on the rest of us.”

I loved the stories about French Polynesia, it being one of my favorite places we’ve been to, and reminiscing over some of the best places in the world was a lovely time.

Read Jasna’s books on Amazon.

Books on my to-read list

There are a few other cruising memoirs that I’ve read but I didn’t enjoy them. However, there are still TONS left for me to read. here are the books I hope to read soon:


  1. I will look forward to reading several of these books as inspiration.

    A few general comments if I may: Depending on the outcome, I am either dreaming or planning on living aboard in the next year or two. As this thought process began, I realized that sailing a boat is one thing, where, when and how are quite another. The former has been straight-forward and resources abound. Information on the latter has been more elusive. I came across “Out Chasing Stars” actually in researching FP Helias as one of my top candidates for a boat. It has proven to be a great discovery and a wealth of information on the practicalities of those wheres, whens, and hows of moving around the world. I want to thank you for providing this resource, your expertise, and a wide range of topics to explore.

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