Sailing Alone: A Surprising History of Isolation and Survival at Sea (Hardcover)

Sailing Alone: A Surprising History of Isolation and Survival at Sea By Richard J. King Cover Image
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“A masterfully curated collection...You don’t have to be a sailor to be blown away by this fascinating, bighearted book.”
—Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea, Travels with George, and Second Wind

A story as vast and exhilarating as the open ocean itself, SAILING ALONE chronicles the daring, disastrous, and often absurd history of those who chose to sail across the ocean, in very small boats, alone.


Sailing by yourself, out of sight of land, can be invigorating and terrifying, compelling and tedious - and sometimes all of the above in one morning. But it is also a wide expanse of time in which to think. Sailing Alone tells the story of some of the remarkable people who, over the last four centuries, have spent weeks and months, moving slowly over the world's largest laboratory: a capricious and startling place in which to observe oneself, the weather, the stars, and countless sea creatures, from the tiniest to the most massive and threatening.  

Richard J. King profiles characters famous, diverse, international, and obscure, from Joshua Slocum of 1898 to modern teenagers daring to take the challenge. They see strange hallucinations, lie to us (and themselves) on their travel logs, encounter sharks, befriend birds, and experience ESP, all part of the unnerving reality of extended isolation. And some disappear altogether. Sailing Alone also recounts the author's own nearly catastrophic solo crossing of the Atlantic, and the mystery of his inexplicable survival one sunny afternoon.  

An enormously engaging new book for skippers and armchair voyagers alike.

About the Author


Richard J. King is a Visiting Associate Professor in Maritime History and Literature with the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, MA. He has been sailing on ships throughout the Atlantic and Pacific for twenty-five years and in 2007 sailed across the Atlantic alone in a 28’ sailboat. He is the author of Ahab’s Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick (Chicago UP, 2019) which won an award with the North American Society of Oceanic History, was short-listed for the Connecticut Book Award, and was a New Statesman book of the year.

Praise For…


An Economist Best Culture/Ideas Book of 2023

"In an engaging, beautifully written history of single-handed sailing, Slocum's influence and example are never far from the horizon. Richard King, the author, is a solo trans-Atlantic sailor himself. He sets out to investigate what it is that possesses an ever-growing number of people to get into a small boat and sail on their own across the world's seas."—The Economist

“What makes Richard King’s Sailing Alone work so wonderfully well is how deftly he has interwoven his own transatlantic voyage into a masterfully curated collection of other singlehanded adventures—all told with great brio, wit, and charm. I couldn’t put this book down. Not only did I want to know what was going to happen to the author aboard his 28-foot cockleshell Fox, I wanted to know what fellow voyager was going to join him next on his perilous passage across the storm-tossed sea. You don’t have to be a sailor to be blown away by this fascinating, bighearted book.”
—Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea, Travels with George, and Second Wind

Sailing Alone is a beacon, a lighthouse of luminance for the experienced and inexperienced alike. Richard King’s  insightful reflections on the stories of lone voyagers make this required reading for all who dream fervently of such voyages. A nuanced study in aspiration, endurance, terror, and triumph, it’s a treasure.”—Jon Wilson, Founder, WoodenBoat

"Richard King is a superb and gifted writer, and Sailing Alone is an exceptional book. Into his account of his own singlehanded ocean crossing, he has woven a rare and compelling history of the real explorers, the extraordinary ‘ordinary’ people—men, women, and even children—who took off alone, in tiny, often crude boats, and found what we are all searching for. Here is the real story of what it’s like to be alone at sea. A real achievement that will provide inexhaustible re-reading, Sailing Alone belongs on the very small shelf of the true classics of the sea."—Peter Nichols, author of Sea Change and A Voyage for Madmen

"In a way, the book is as much a feat as the crossing. Less strenuous, you assume, and certainly less scarring for its author, but still something to be marvelled at. For King doesn't just tell his own story, but also those of other oceanic soloists, and he mixes together history, science, nature and even culture in order to do so. Yet somehow it all coheres into a singular exploration of a single question: why?"—Peter Hoskin, Prospect
 
"King reminds us of the unrecorded navigational and long-distance sailing feats of the Pacific islanders who settled New Zealand, Hawaii and Madagascar centuries ago. He also takes pains to recall that single-handed sailing has not been the preserve of white, western men such as Francis Chichester and Robin Knox-Johnston, even if their exploits tend to be better remembered by, well, white, western men. His subjects also include Ann Davison, the first woman to sail across the Atlantic single-handed, the Filipino Florentino Das, Japan's Kenichi Horie and black Americans Bill Pinkney and Teddy Seymour, who stressed the need for preparation ahead of a voyage and vigilance about the risks. "If you want guarantees," Seymour wrote, 'buy a toaster.' " "In an engaging, beautifully written history of single-handed sailing, Slocum's influence and example are never far from the horizon. Richard King, the author, is a solo trans-Atlantic sailor himself. He sets out to investigate what it is that possesses an ever-growing number of people to get into a small boat and sail on their own across the world's seas."Victor Mallet, Financial Times
 
"By examining the voyages of a diverse range of sailors, including Ann Davison, Florentino Das, Sharon Sites Adams and the more well-known Ellen MacArthur, Bernard Moitessier and Joshua Slocum, and examining what they saw, King, with an academic's skill, lays out the history and the philosophy of the men and women who broke the mould and set out to explore the seas to find what many of us crave: the meaning of existence...Brilliantly written, I have been drawn back to Sailing Alone again and again; each new reading brings a different perspective, and has also introduced me to remarkable sailors I really should have known about."Katy Stickland, Practical Boat Owner's "Best New Book Releases"
 
"King has an academic's research skills and a deep appreciation of the link between solo sailing and writing. He has also had the ocean-time to develop questions that could never have been formulated from a library. His choice of solo sailors is diverse: Ann Davison's achievement and perceptions run though the book, which also celebrates Florentino Das, Kenichi Hori, Sharon Sites Adams and Tevake of Pileni. An important, stimulating book."Julia Jones, Yachting Monthly
Product Details
ISBN: 9780593656044
ISBN-10: 0593656040
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: May 21st, 2024
Pages: 512
Language: English