What Are The Sailors Classics?
No one meets the ocean on quite such intimate terms as the sailor in a small boat. No one experiences a solitude more absolute than that encountered by long-distance single-handed sailors like Joshua Slocum or Bernard Moitessier. Since the early nineteenth century, when Byron and Shelley put to sea in their own boats in order to set themselves adrift in nature at its most turbulent and unruly, writing and sailing have gone hand in hand.
There have been writers who sailedWilkie Collins, Joseph Conrad, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hilaire Belloc, Jack London, E.B. White, William Golding, John Barth, Thomas McGuane, Geoffrey Wolffalong with a multitude of sailors who wrote, from Slocum and John Voss to Tristan Jones and the father-son team of Daniel and David Hays. After nearly two hundred years, the literature of small-boat voyaging under sail is enormous, and every publishing season sees more additions to the list.
It is the function of The Sailors Classics to recognize and celebrate the relatively small number of truly important books in this library. Some have been chosen because the voyages they describe are themselves of unignorable merit; some because the sheer brilliance of their writing demands their inclusion. Most combine in equal parts serious nautical interest with literary excellence.
As general editor of the series, I am always trying to keep in mind the bookshelves on my own 35-foot ketch. A proper ships library isnt restricted to books with boats in them, of course; I wouldnt happily set sail for more than a day or two without novels by Dickens, Trollope, Evelyn Waugh, and Saul Bellow, and poetry by Pope, Keats, Tennyson, Hardy, Philip Larkin, and Robert Lowell. The big question is which small-boat voyages can stand up in such exalted literary company? Not very many is the honest answer, and half the function of an editor is to know what he must reject. The books that wont figure in the series are as important as those that will.
We wont be publishing quaint curiosities. Period charm does not make a classic, and though I have a soft spot for, say, Nathaniel Bishops Four Months in a Sneak Box (1879), and an even softer one for Maurice Griffiths The Magic of the Swatchways (1932), they wont be found in The Sailors Classics. Nor will the many salty yarns full of the faded yo-ho-ho of generations past. Whimsical accounts of family vacations afloat (the obligatory adventure with the dog and the dinghy...) will be left to gather dust in peace. So will all those melancholy solo voyages in which the writers go to sea in order to discover themselves.
There remain the books whose vigor has not dimmed with the passage of time, whose voice is as alive and meaningful now as it was on their first publicationthe books that should be essential reading for every literate sailor. No. 2 in the series is Richard Maurys The Saga of Cimba, first published in 1939; No. 4 is The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall, first published in 1971. They are perfect examples of what I mean: one a loving close-up portrait of the sea in all its moods, written by a master mariner with an astonishing literary gift; the other a study, by two journalists, of a man who lost touch with reality during the course of the first singlehanded round-the-world yacht race. Eachin its very different wayis an indispensable book. Each contributes an important thread to the larger pattern in the carpet, which is the great, various, and intricate design of the literature of small-boat sailing.
The Sailors Classics will surprise our readers with its richness and complexity. Since Homers Odyssey, the voyage has supplied one of the classic forms in literatureboth as a grand metaphor for life itself in the long passage from birth to death, and as a sequence of tests and adventures. Equally, the boat (and especially the small boat) has long stood as a symbol of selfhooda fragile ark bearing the journeying soul to its destination. Hilaire Belloc put the matter beautifully in The Cruise of the Nona:
The cruising of a boat here and there is very much what happens to the soul of a man in a larger way... We are granted great visions, we suffer intolerable tediums, we come to no end of the business, we are lonely out of sight of England, we make astonishing landfallsand the whole rigmarole leads us along no whither, and yet is alive with discovery, emotion, adventure, peril and repose. Those five nouns should be emblazoned above The Sailors Classics: it is from the interweaving of discovery, emotion, adventure, peril, and repose that the pattern of sailing literature is made, and we shall do our best to honor each and every one in our selection of the best books ever written about life aboard small boats at sea. Jonathan Raban
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.