As I write this, it’s late March, and although we are expecting snow, those of us in the Northeast are counting down the days until the boat gets launched, and we can immerse ourselves in another great season of sailing. I don’t know about you, but I’ve just begun reviewing the racing rules (again), and reading through some of my favorite sailing books so I’ll feel prepared when I’m on the line for the season’s first race.

Those of you who know me, know that I can be a little obsessive when it comes to racing sailboats. I’m also a voracious reader (as the giant stack next to my bed will attest), and so, as you might imagine, I’ve read absolutely every sailboat racing book I could find. I’ve read some truly awful books, which did little more than make me even more confused than I was when I started, some rather good books, which made me realize how much I didn’t yet know, and a mere handful of really terrific books which catapulted my understanding of sailboat racing, and helped me to move up the fleet. These latter few are the books that have a special place on my shelf, easily accessed so that I can refer to them time and time again — which I do.

I’ve made a list of these gems to share with you, and have organized it with the most basic of the books appearing first, so if you’re just getting started in sailboat racing, I suggest you begin with the first two, and then read the rest (in no particular order) as you learn. I’ve also included the Speed and Smarts newsletter on this list, even though it’s technically not a book, because it’s incomparable in its extremely thorough and targeted coverage of a myriad of particular topics (tactics, rules, strategy, sportsmanship, etc.). I look forward getting mine in the mail every couple of months, as do many of the racers I know.

You’ll notice that I’ve written a brief review of each, just to whet your appetite, and so that you can figure out which ones you might like to have on your own bookshelf. Although it doesn’t appear on this list, it goes without saying that you should have the most current copy of the Racing Rules of Sailing, because any reading you do about tactics, especially, requires a very good working knowledge of them. Rules knowledge = power and safety on the race course.

  1. The Complete Sailor, David Seidman
    • I’ve read this book from cover to cover, several times. There are so many little nuggets in here for the new sailor, but it’s also a handy reference guide for the more experienced. I use this book when teaching sailing, as it’s easily readable, and has some of the best basic sailing explanations I’ve seen anywhere. 
  2. Getting Started in Sailboat Racing, Adam Cort & Richard Stearns
    • This book was my bible as I was first learning to race. I can’t tell you how many times I read it through, from cover to cover. I had started off with some other, more advanced books, but much of the information in those books was too complicated for a racing novice. This was the perfect introduction to sailboat racing for a newbie, with great graphics, and an easy-to-read format.
  3. Winning in One-Designs, Dave Perry
    • I think that this is one of the best guides to sailboat racing there is — it’s eminently readable, and organized so well that you can refer back to the appropriate sections when you’re trying to improve a particular weakness. You can use it like a “workbook”, as I did in my second season of racing, and I improved quite a lot by implementing the suggestions and techniques outlined in the book.
  4. Start to Win, Eric Twiname
    • This is a classic book, so well-regarded among sailboat racers that it was re-published 30 years after the author’s death. It is a clear, concise treatise on how to improve your racing. Easy to use, even for the more novice racer.
  5. Sailing Smart: Winning Techniques, Tactics & Strategy, Buddy Melges & Charles Mason
    • This book abounds with lessons on racing tactics and boat handling, sportsmanship, and is sprinkled liberally with the authors’ tales of races won (and lost). The book is clearly organized, and Melges’s personality shines through the pages. I’ve read this one again and again.
  6. Speed & Smarts: The Newsletter for Racing Sailors, Dave Dellenbaugh
    • I look forward to receiving this newsletter every couple of months; it’s always jam-packed with tips, and useful information, and features lots of diagrams and examples to illustrate the current topic. You can create your own book by gathering and organizing them in a binder. 
  7. Sail, Race & Win: How to Develop a Winning Attitude – Eric Twiname
    • This book is perhaps my favorite of all the books, in that Twiname teaches us how to self-coach, and explores the winning mindset – mirroring closely my own approach to improving my sailing, one learned from and adapted from many years of training as an opera singer. 

One last bit of advice: if you’re just getting started in sailboat racing, do make note that a few of these books are “old classics,” and so you will have to be careful to apply the current version of the racing rules, which are updated every four years.

I hope that you will enjoy these books as much as I did. They are my personal favorites, taken from a much larger list of sailing books I’ve read and often recommend (you can see that full list on Take the Tiller’s resources pages). If you have some personal favorites that I’ve not mentioned here, and you’d like to share them with me, please consider commenting below; I’d really like to hear about them. As you’ve likely gathered by now, I’m always on the look-out for good books – maybe especially ones about sailing boats. . .

Happy reading!

Deborah Bennett Elfers
I was practically born on a boat, though on a working lobster boat rather than a sailboat. In my early days, I sailed quite a lot on a Sunfish, but not very elegantly, as in our little neighborhood “fleet,” the boat was primarily used as a weapon in a wildly popular game of “kill the other guy!” Who could have imagined way back then, that one day I’d become so passionate about all things sailing?
Deborah Bennett Elfers
Deborah Bennett Elfers

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