Rod Heikell's very informal site on sailing around bits of the world and an eclectic collection of things nautical or nearly so.


Book! Book!


Lu’s shaggy …chicken joke.

Chicken goes into the library and up to the desk. Book-Book. The librarian is surprised that a chicken wants a couple of books, but obliges and chooses two books she thinks the chicken might like. The chicken tucks a book under each wing and crosses the road and runs across the field to the farm. (Why did the chicken cross the road? Because the road is between the farm and the library silly.) Next morning the chicken is back at the library, hands in the two books, and … Book-Book-Book. Surprised the librarian chooses three books and off the chicken goes with them. Next morning the chicken is back again, hands in the books and … Book-Book-Book-Book. The librarian is floored, but hands the chicken four books which, with a lot of trouble, she manages to clasp under both wings. The librarian wants to get to the bottom of this little conundrum and resolves to follow the chicken. Off the chicken goes, across the road, across the fields, into the farmyard, with the librarian close behind. (Why did the librarian cross the road?) Through the farmyard the chicken goes and down to the pond. On the edge of the pond she holds up the first book so the frog perched on a lily pad in the middle can see it. Readit-Readit.

Book-Book. Readit-Readit.


We read a lot on the boat. No TV. No annoying cold calls on the phone or at the front door. Brains decluttered from the minutiae of day-to-day living on the land. Time and space to free up the imagination instead of having it presented ready-made with moving images. Before we go out to the boat we buy books I really want to read, fiction, non-fiction, biography, anything recommended by literate friends and reviews in the Sunday papers. We hoard them and they are not for swaps, although deserving souls will be given good books. I can’t believe some liveaboards spend all this valuable time on board reading crap and then want to swap their thumbed  pulp (Jilly Cooper, Agatha Christie – OK read one or two, Dick Francis, et al) for fine books. I’m a bookaholic, an addict of the printed word, and in age where knowledge is demeaned by mediocrity from all sorts of media to a uniform known, when really it is a grey complicated place, time on the boat to read in depth is the best time in the world.


So this page is a brief, very brief, list of books we have just read or are reading and we love for all sorts of reasons. It is not a commercial site. You can’t buy the books here and for that you will have to go to Amazon or Abe books or down to your local bookshop.




Non fiction






Outerbridge Reach   Robert Stone   Picador

There has been a lot about poor old Donald Crowhurst and Teignmouth Electron in the press lately. A new book by Chris Eakin, A Race Too Far, follows on from A Race For Madmen and the film Deep Water that I have just watched. But years ago (1992) the American author Robert Stone published a novel, Outerbridge Reef, that is an account of a solo racer taking on a boat that is not ready for a race around the world and producing a fictionalised account of his progress while anchored off in the southern hemisphere. Well worth the read.


The Pesthouse   Jim Crace   Picador

Wonderful mesmerising prose for a bleak vision of America in the future. It envelopes you in a simple story of migration through a devastated landscape and the journey back, a sort of backwards vision of migration to America. A must read and probably my favourite book for 2007.


Salmon Fishing in the Yemen   Paul Torday  Phoenix

Thank you Don for giving me this, most enjoyable light read of 2007. The title tells you everything you need to know. 




The Dumas Club   Arturo Perez-Reverte   Vintage

Full of blind alleys and full of more obscure book titles than you could shake a library at, this is a wonderful literary mystery though the ending is a bit weak.





The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break   Steven Sherrill   Canongate

Surreal, yes, just as the title suggests. Trailer park life and work in a small-town diner is observed through the eyes of a Minotaur with humour and understanding. But more than that it’s a wry look at life through the eyes of someone who just doesn’t quite fit. But then, who does? LMM





The True History of the Kelly Gang   Peter Carey   Faber

One of my favourite fiction authors and I’ve read everything he’s written. This book is written without punctuation and while that sounds bizarre, you are soon transported into the harsh world of the outback and the personal world of Ned Kelly.







The People’s Act of Love   James Meek   Canongate

A novel covering the Russian Revolution with the same sort of scope as grand Russian novels like War & Peace, but brilliantly readable and one you won’t forget. A cannibalistic survivor, a religious sect that physically cuts off the organ of desire, Polish soldiers stranded in Russia, Bolshevik revolutionaries, a woman photographer, and so beautifully written you will cry.




The Shadow of the Wind     Carlos Ruiz Zafon   Phoenix

Set in Franco’s Spain, this is just such an entrancing fluid novel especially given it was translated from the Spanish. Another Spanish novel with lots of books, a forgotten library and it will also keep you on the edge of your seat until the finish.


Bulibasha    Witi Ihimaera    Penguin NZ

Growing up on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand, a rite of passage book that gets under the skin of maori life. And it’s only a few miles away from Tokomaru Bay where I grew up for part of my life and set in the same period on the lost but beautiful east coast of NZ.


Eucalyptus   Murray Bail   Harvill

He only seems to write one book every 10 years or so, but Murray Bail, yet another Australian author, weaves the most intriguing and mysterious tales of outback life, of love and the harsh realities of that harsh landscape.



Birds Without Wings   Louis de Berniere  Vintage

I know a fair bit about this period of Turkish history, of the end of the sultanate and the revolution Kemal Ataturk brought about in Turkey, of the population exchanges between Turkey and Greece, of the sadness and the confusion of forced migration. Well Louis has done his research and this novel tells the bittersweet story of this period. A wider canvas than Captain Corelli’s Mandolin but with the same dramatic flair.


Gould’s Book of Fish   Richard Flanagan   Picador

A fabulist tale of a convict (Gould) in Australia who survives the harsh life in a penal colony ruled by a madman… by painting a book of fish. Another Australian author who explores art and privation, genius and madness, survival and intelligence in this wonderful book.








The Discovery of Slowness             

I have  to thank Dick & Janice Taverne for sending me this gem describing the life of Franklin, through his childhood with what we would now call learning difficulties, to his final voyage looking for the Northwest Passage. The translation is superb and it sheds new light on the usual tepid accounts of figures like Franklin.






Quicksilver   Neal Stephenson   Arrow Books

A big (900 + pages) tome on the development of science in the 17th century, mostly in Britain with central players Hooke, Newton, Leibnitz, Boyle woven through with the momentous events happening in Europe and the states of North America. Readable and exciting and this is just the 1st of a trilogy.



Killing Mr Watson   Peter Mathieson   Harvill

You know what is going to happen, that Mr Watson will be brutally killed, in the first few pages, and yet I defy you to put it down. A dreamy drift through the harsh and brutal life in the thousand islands and cays off the Florida everglades in the late 19th and early 20th century.






Non Fiction


The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II   (two vol.s)   Fernand Braudel   Fontana

Written while he was a prisoner in WW II and the beginning of the Braudel school of history wherein you start with the geology, hydrology, weather and move onto transport, trade, technology and power bases of the Mediterranean up until Phillip ?? in the ?? century. In two volumes and despite the dusty title, an absolute mine of information. I have carried the two volumes on board since first venturing into the Med in 1977 and still find new nuggets of information and a wide-ranging history of just about everything.



Guide to Greece Vol.s I & II   Pausanias   Penguin Classics

The encyclopaedic travels of Pausanias around Greece in the 2nd century AD. A wonderful window into life nearly 2000 years ago.

The Weather Makers   Tim Flannery   Penguin

As if there was not enough evidence around for climate change and it's consequences for anyone with a neuron or two working to see. Well if there are give them this book. It details in a very readable way the extent and science of climate change, and it's consequences. Choc full of references and footnotes for the sceptics and cynics as well.





Evolution’s Captain    Peter Nichols   Profile

The sad story of the brilliant Captain Fitzroy who navigated Darwin around the dangerous and largely uncharted waters of South America and through the Pacific via Galapagos in the Beagle. Compulsive reading you will probably finish in a couple of days.




Flowers of the Mediterranean   Oleg Polunin & Anthony Huxley   Chatto & Windus

Another book I have carried on board since the early days. Not only does it clearly identify hundreds of species, but also brings history and anecdote into the purely botanical descriptions. Carob beans were used as cattle feed as well as to make vegetarian chocolate, mastic was believed to be an aphrodisiac, etc.


Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbooks (a range of titles)

Lu laughed at me when I bought a copy of ‘Quick Meals’ for the boat, but was soon won over. I reckon all those celebrity chefs have copies secreted away to look for new ideas – the recipes are wonderfully simple fusions of world cooking (Asian, Mediterranean, Middle East, traditional European) which can readily be adapted for cooking on board.


Seabirds of the World   Peter Harrison   Helm

Another book I have carried on board for years. Excellent photos for identification.



Wanderer    Sterling Hayden   Sheridan House

There are a lot of American classics that never make it across to Europe. Sterling Hayden's Wanderer is one of those books. He was a successful Hollywood actor who walked out on the studio and left with his four children on the schooner Wanderer. In one day he defied the movie moguls, walked out of his dead marriage, joined the communist party in defiance of the rampant McCarthyism of the time and bundled his children onto the schooner and left America. The prose sings, the experiences are gritty, he knows the sea backwards (he had sailed as mate and captain on sailing ships before his Hollywood career), his love of life and adventure shine through. I bought it for Lu to read but I'm devouring it again at the moment.

The Practical Mariner's Book of Knowledge   John Vigor   McGraw-Hill

Choc full of assorted information both practical and more arcane. Another American import that can be bowsed for hours.




The Ocean Almanac   Robert Hendrickson   Doubleday

And another American reference source. As the cover says: 'Being a copious compendium on sea creatures, Nautical lore and legend, Master Mariners, Naval disasters, and Myriad mysteries of the deep'. My copy is well thumbed and the cover worn to bits, but I still love digging into it for it's eccentric collection of maritime and marine arcania.



Adrift   Steven Callahan   Ballantine

Steve Callahan's account of 76 days adrift in a liferaft is one of those inspiring stories softly told. He was bound for the Caribbean in the mini-Transat when his small yacht, Napoleon Solo, is overcome in a gale. It's a survival story, survival manual and good read all in one.



A Single Wave   Webb Chiles   Sheridan

I met Webb Chiles in Malta many moons ago when he was on his circumnavigation in an open boat, a Drascombe Lugger called Chiddiock Tichbourne. He reckoned he was the only person to carry a typewriter in an open boat (yes - it was that long ago). We cooked him a birthday dinner and he left the next day for Gibraltar. He has sailed the oceans for yonks, has survived capsizing and sinking and his own meancholy self doubt. And he has written about it all here.


The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst   Nicholas Tomalin & Ron Hall   McGraw Hill

This was written by the two Observer journalists above just after the event. The struggles of Crowhurst to get a boat, find sponsors and then eventually set sail on his doomed voyage is as much a peek into the mindset of the driven sailor as the story of the Golden Globe Round the World Race.




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