My Five Favorite Seafaring Novels

FishwifeWrites | | books | book recommendations | seafaring novels | books about pirates | what to read next


What better way to spend our offseason than by obsessing about all things nautical?

So, here are one fishwife’s five favorite seafaring novels:

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1. Captain Blood — Rafael Sabatini*

This book is one long, pirate-y romp full of heroism, daring, homesickness, and self-sacrifice. Every time I read it, it makes me laugh and cry by turns.

It’s the story of one Peter Blood, an Irish doctor with a habit of quoting Latin at people who annoy him. Unjustly arrested during Monmouth’s Rebellion, he is sent with his friends to serve out a sentence of slavery in the brutal sugar plantations of Barbados. When the opportunity presents itself, he turns pirate rather than stay a slave even if it means leaving Miss Arabella Bishop (the plantation owner’s lovely niece) behind, and thus embarks on a brilliant career of piracy and adventure that leads him through dangerous waters in search of what ‘home’ truly means.

Pirate adventures are great, but they are better when the pirate is a rakish, morally conflicted wit with doctoring skillz and a flair for clothes.

This is not just one of my Five Favorite Seafaring Novels, it is one of my Top Five Favorite Books of All Time.

2. The Sea-Hawk — Rafael Sabatini*

Not as smooth as Captain Blood, but equally gripping, The Sea Hawk is also full of pirates, though these are Barbary ones. Sir Oliver, our hero, is sold into slavery by his own half-brother, a man greedy for Oliver’s wealth and his beautiful fiancée. When corsairs capture the slave ship, Oliver proves his courage to them and wins his life. After rising through the ranks of pirates to become known as the ‘Sea-Hawk,’ he plans his most daring raid yet: to cross the sea to Cornwall and take his revenge on the brother and fiancee who wronged him.

This book takes you on a vivid adventure all the way from misty Cornwall to the heat of North African cities. While not your average “beach reading,” this book always struck me as something best read on the seashore on an extra hot day.

3. Highliners — William B. McCloskey*

This is the book that made me think I knew something about commercial fishing. As wild as any of the pirate stories, this book recounts the adventures of Hank Crawford as he works his way from Greenhorn to Highliner on the fishing boats of Kodiak Island during the heyday of commercial fishing. Written by a man who spent a lot of time on fishing boats around Alaska, the descriptions of the island are vivid and accurate enough that Nic will often recognize locations described–but not named–in the book.

If you want to understand what it’s like, this is the book you should read.

4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader — C.S. Lewis*

The fifth book in the Chronicles of Narnia, this one is a classic. Like Captain Blood, it’s a little reminiscent of the Odyssey. It is a journey of growth and discovery from island to island and adventure to adventure in search of the Seven Lost Lords of Narnia and Aslan’s Country in the “Utter East.” This book contains one of my personal favorite characters in all of literature: Reepicheep, the talking mouse.

To be perfectly honest, my mother read this book to us so often when I was a child that I haven’t managed to read it all the way through as an adult. Last time I tried, I realized I still had most of the first chapter happily memorized and put it down again.

5. The Odyssey — Homer*

The original seafaring tale. Clever Odysseus, on his way home after the end of the Trojan War, has an unfortunate run-in with a cyclops and earns himself a curse to wander the sea for ten years before being allowed to return home. He dates a few sea witches along the way.

Read this one in public for extra Smarty Pants points.


Those are my five favorite seafaring novels! I’m always looking for more, though, so please give me suggestions in the comments.

What nautical books do you love? Tell me! Tell me!

Also, feel free to wander over to my Resources page for more of my book recommendations!


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FishwifeWrites | | books | book recommendations | seafaring novels | books about pirates | what to read next

2 Replies to “My Five Favorite Seafaring Novels”

  1. I read and enjoyed some of C.S. Forster’s “Hornblower” books when I was in high school. Each one continues the story of Captain Hornblower’s life as he ages and moves to the next rank in the British Navy. I can’t remember if he and his true love, Barbara, ever married, though… The books were more interesting than reading bare facts about the Napoleonic Wars, esp as I have always been an Anglophile 🙂 I enjoyed “Scaramouche”, so your first two should also be good reads – Sabatini is certainly a page-turner. I’ll have to remember to find them in the library. “Dawn Treader” is simply magic – filled with so much light, even when they’re in the black fog…


    1. I’ve ready “Scaramouche” as well, but actually always liked “Captain Blood” and “The Sea Hawk” a bit better. You have a treat ahead of you 😉

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