Ok, I admit it: I’m a sucker for any books that deal with golden era of sailing–the three centuries leading up to steam-powered vessels–particularly if they have a good story behind them. If you haven’t delved, here are a couple of tips for getting started.
First, pick up C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series, which pretty much started anyone who loves sailing adventures on their journey. The Hornblower tales began with the 1937 novel The Happy Return (U.S. title Beat to Quarters) with the appearance of a junior Royal Navy captain on independent duty on a secret mission to Central America, though later stories would fill out his earlier years, starting with an unpromising beginning as a seasick midshipman.
Second–or first if you are in the mood for a slightly more modern perspective–start Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series. It’s a sequence of nautical historical novels—20 completed and one unfinished—by Patrick O’Brian, set during the Napoleonic Wars and centring on the friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and his ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturin, who is also a physician, natural philosopher, and secret agent. The first novel, Master and Commander, was published in 1969 and made into a movie starring Russell Crowe in 2003. (Summaries courtesy of Wikipedia.)
But if you find the idea of a series daunting, I highly recommend Richard Zacks’s recent The Pirate Hunter : The True Story of Captain Kidd. Zacks’s 2003 nonfiction work sets the record straight on one of the most flamboyant and misunderstood characters of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. And it reads much like a novel, thanks to the author’s extraordinary writing talent and obvious love of tales of the sea.