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Sailing Alone

From the publisher: Sailing on a boat by yourself out at sea and out of sight of land can be exhilarating or terrifying, compelling or tedious - sometimes it can be all of these things just in one morning. It is an adventure at odds with our normal, sociable lives, carried out floating on a medium wholly inimical to our existence. But the deep ocean is also a remarkable place on which to think. Richard King's enormously engaging and curious new book is about the debt we owe to solo sailors: women and men, young and old, who have set out alone. Spending weeks and months alone, slowly, quietly and close to the ocean surface is to create the world's largest laboratory: an endlessly changing, capricious and startling place in which to observe oneself, the weather, the stars and myriad sea creatures, from the tiniest to the most massive and threatening. This is a book for anyone who is fascinated by sailing, solitude and the vast seas that cover so much of our planet.

 

 

Advanced praise:

 

"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

 

"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

 

"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

 

 

Awards/Lists/Translations:

 

--An Economist Best Culture/Ideas Book of 2023

--A Waterstones Best Sport Book of 2023

--A Wall Street Journal Best Summer Read 2024

--A Chicago Tribune Best Summer Read 2024

--German edition with special additional chapter (Mare, Spring 2025)

--French edition (Navicata, 2025)

 

 

Reviews:

 

"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

 

"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

 

"Fantastic...It's one of the most delightful aspects of Sailing Alone: it's an endlessly enthusiastic rambling book-chat." --Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Review  

 

"An unswervingly personable – often cautionary – history of solo passages across our beautiful but bracing seas … Richard King has conjured up grand vistas and extraordinary deeds with humanity and humour to produce a triumph of maritime non-fiction." --Simeon House, Mail on Sunday

 

"Mr. King proves a knowledgeable and engaging writer...King writes of Tevake, a master navigator from the Solomon Islands, who tried in the 1960s to teach a visiting scientist to recognize the three swell patterns. As an old man, Tevake, after making 'something in the nature of a formal farewell,' disappeared with his canoe on a passage he regularly sailed without difficulty. Among his people, such a death at sea is known as a 'sweet burial.' The other stories and characters in this book are just as gripping." --Bill Heavey, Wall Street Journal

 

"This book is full of epic voyages, but as well as being great adventures they are also about self-discovery. Ultimately, these sailors were exploring themselves as well as the ocean." --Derek Turner, The Lady

 

"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.' "  --Victor Mallet, Financial Times

 

"King's "what-they-saw" (and "what-I-saw") passages are some of the most enjoyable in a very enjoyable book – enjoyable despite its length, some repetition and, occasionally, some less than exact prose. These are small prices to pay for an abundance of drama, curiosity, information and insight, but who exactly will enjoy it? Active sailors may like to take it along on longer trips – the author is good, knowledgeable company, modest about his abilities as a sailor (though rightly proud of his solo achievement), relaxed and un-hectoring with his knowledge. Armchair ones will already have read some of the narratives that make up most of his material and, if they haven't, might prefer to go straight to the sources. Students of psychology? Only specialists in the extremes, in the loners, the great refusers, the obsessives, the monomaniacs. (Of parapsychology and the supranormal, such as King's near-death experience, though: definitely.)" --Alan Jenkins, Times Literary Supplement

(See also the TLS Podcast for Jenkins's discussion of the book, Jan 11, 2024.)

 

"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

 

"A sensational book about boats, the best work I have ever read on solo sailing, considered the most excellent way of sailing and the greatest adventure that can be lived (although, as in the joke of the castaway and the model, what good is a great adventure that has no witnesses?). This is the phenomenal Sailing Alone, A History, by Richard J. King (Particular Books, 2023), which covers the adventures and delves into the reasons and ways of sailing and telling it of all those who have ever gone to sea alone (including himself), which includes the stories of little-known characters along with big names such as Joshua Slocum , Alain Gerbault (fighter pilot in World War I and Roland Garros finalist, who gives more?), Vito Dumas, Alain Bombard, Francis Chichester, or Bernard Motessier, without forgetting the monk Brandán the Navigator, or Howard Blackburn, who completed the solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1899 without fingers!" -- Jacinto Anton, El País 

 

"In his insightful, elegant, and entertaining narrative [the solo sailors] had a variety of reasons—for some it was fame; others, activism; still others, escape. But the most powerful explanation for the question of motive—what King calls the Why go?—was Davison's. "I had a life going spare," she wrote years after her Atlantic voyage, "and wanted to use it."...Those who float through to the latter stages of the passage will be rewarded with ample adventure and inspiration, too. Doubtless, some readers of this book will nurture fantasies of their own solo adventure across a broad expanse of sea. I, a land lover, will not be one of them."   --Jonathan Darman, Air Mail