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Great Boating Books

Some suggested reading to expand your boating literacy.

The Literate Boater

Tim Bower


I’m one-dimensional and have no life beyond boats. Unless you know what a keel pad is, you don’t want to sit next to me at a dinner party. I’m that much of a total bore. This revelation of my lack of depth came to me after looking at my bookshelf: boats, boats, boats, oceans, boats, ships, boats, boats, and another few hundred on boats.

Since you’ve bought this magazine, there’s a good chance that you understand my obsession. So I thought you’d like to know what’s in my library.

Blue Thunder: How the Mafia Owned and Finally Murdered Cigarette Boat King Donald Aronow by Thomas Burdick. The long subtitle says it all. It’s good gritty crime reporting.

Crunch & Des by Philip Wylie. Tales of a Miami charter-boat captain and his mate in the ’40s that are a lot saltier and more believable than Hemingway.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. If Monty Python went boating, this is what would have come of it. It’s from England in 1889, and it still works.

Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway. It has one of the best fistfight and fishing scenes, and then goes on to hunting Nazi subs off Cuba.

Song of the Sirens by Ernest K Gann. One of the great adventure writers tells of the boats (the “sirens”) that owned him.

Not up for whole books? Brush up on some nautical quotes. One of the best is “... there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” It’s from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Tell the clerk at the bookstore it’s for your kid, but don’t waste it on children.

If your navigational skills are like mine, you’ll appreciate these words from someone named Anonymous: “How can I get lost when I don’t know where I’m going?”

Or the equally Zen-like “We’re all here because we’re not there.”

From Dean Martin? “Any damn fool can navigate sober. It takes a good navigator to do it drunk.”

Which leads us to “I want a boat that drinks six, eats four and sleeps two” from Mr. Gann.

I’m very fond of this classic: “It looks like frozen snot” from old-time designer and curmudgeon L. Francis Herreshoff when he first saw fiberglass.

For even more casual reading, I prefer the classifieds. I noted that there’s a glut of old mega yachts in the Miami Herald. Looks like there’s a ghost fleet forming in South Florida’s back creeks. For the price of a well-equipped, new 58-foot Sea Ray Sundancer you can pick up a 10-year-old 80-footer. On eBay I found a rare Donzi Blackhawk. A blacked-out 22 Classic with the disastrous Merc Blackhawk surface drive. The owner will trade it for a Harley. In the National Fisherman’s back pages there was a 27-foot St. Pierre dory with a single-cylinder diesel. Salty as hell but so unstable that it rolls gunwale-to-gunwale if you cross your legs. Another source is Messing About in Boats, a dirt road off the information superhighway that leads to ads for such nuttiness as a folding trailerable houseboat.

So until the next time, I’ll see you outside the inlet, which is a much better place to be than sitting around with your nose in a book (and you can quote me on that).

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