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Northeast boating environs book list

We’ve been collecting books about sailing, paddling, and cruising New England from Long Island Sound and the environs right on up through the islands and Cape Cod and down into New York City and New Jersey for the past few years.  Many of the books are out of print which makes it difficult to find copies except from used book dealers and auction houses.  It’s been quite surprising that there is so little available in print about one of the most densely populated and exciting areas of the world.  If you know of any not listed here, please send along the citation so we can add it to the list.  Thank you!

General Books

See also book reviews for works not included on this list.
Wallace Stroby, The Barbed-Wire Kiss.

Although his books aren't about boating, they are crime novels set in the environs of New Jersey shore towns after the summer crowds have gone, and the back streets come alive with the life Bruce Springsteen immortalized. Wallace Stroby is a New Jersey native (Long Branch, Ocean Grove) and crime novelist whose debut novel, The Barbed-Wire Kiss, included quite a bit of history about the Jersey Shore. His current novel, The Heartbreak Lounge, takes off where the first left off, with ex-state trooper Harry Rane winding his way through the back alleys and beach bars of the Jersey Shore.

A graduate of Rutgers University, Wallace is an editor at the Star-Ledger, Tony Soprano's hometown paper. His website, features some non-fiction pieces he has written about the shore.

Bernie Bookbinder, Long Island (Hardcover) Updated edition 1998

There is, as Bernie Bookbinder reports, much more to this storied dart of land piercing the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New York than ducks, potatoes, the Great Gatsby estates, and the Hampton resort communities in season. They're all here, of course, but so is the island's startling (and beautifully photographed) geology and topography, its Indian past, its early colonization by the Dutch and the English, its occupation during the American Revolution, its vibrant seafaring tradition, its famed--and at times, infamous--railroad, its parkways and expressways, its golf courses and beaches, its laboratories and factories, its suburban sprawl, and its cultural contributions from Walt Whitman to Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Joel. Lavishly illustrated with current and archival photos, drawings and paintings, this eminently readable and appealing volume serves as both a history and tribute to a physicality wracked by identity crisis; while Long Island may make up half of New York City, in many senses, it couldn't be farther removed. It's that continuing dichotomy that makes the place so interesting. --Jeff Silverman

Monica Randall, The Mansions of Long Island's Gold Coast : Revised and Expanded (Paperback) 2004

This book features the magnificent estates built in the early part of the twentieth century by the wealthy residents of Long Island's North Shore. Many of the mansions are no longer standing, making this book a critical archive and monument to their glory. In their heyday, they were inhabited by the aristocracy of America's gilded age, among them Vanderbilts, Phipps, and Pratts. The author's evocative photographs capture the splendor of these once luxurious homes, from the houses' turrets, porticos, columns, and courtyards to their vaulted entry halls, spacious ballrooms, and vast libraries. Accompanied by histories of the estates and the families that built them, this book is a classic and evocative reminder of a bygone era and lifestyle.

This expanded reprint includes previously unpublished photographs, and fifteen estates have been added to those included in the original edition. Note , the prior edition was apparently of a much higher quality print production.
The author is a historical preservationist, film location scout, and author. She lives in Oyster Bay, New York.

Wilensky's "Long Island Sound - Where to go -- What to Do -- How to do it"

The book was published in the early 1970s, and the restaurants and marinas are hopelessly out of date, but it's far and wide absolutely the FINEST cruising Guide to the Sound ever written. Wilensky became the mayor of Stamford . He personally cruised the Sound in his 16 foot sailboat, and describes in great detail the harbors, gunkholes and larger anchorages. If you get very, very lucky, you may find a copy. Wilensky passed away last year, BTW. (From the BoatUS weblogs)

American Yacht Club Centennial Book Editorial Board:  The first hundred years of American Yacht Club.  The Land, The People, The Boats.  1883-1983.   Rye , NY .

This hardcover book is occasionally available through or e-bay.  It contains wonderful reproductions of photos and illustrations of historical relevance, a complete perspective on the club’s history and traditions, and copies of documents and memorabilia that may otherwise have been lost.  Well worth finding a copy of if you don’t already own one.

Andersen, Tom and Kennedy, Robert F., Jr.: This Fine Piece of Water: An Environmental History of Long Island Sound, 2004, Yale University Press, New Haven

The most current report on the environmental health of Long Island Sound is a strong wake up call to everyone who loves the Sound. A detailed account of the die-off in 1987 caused by severe hypoxia and the struggle that ensued to save the sound. “And I thought how far the Long Island Sound region had come, how it had taken 400 years of continual exploitation to push the Sound to the point where knowledgeable people thought it might die. And of how it had taken just over a decade to reach the point where saving the Sound now seemed like it might actually become a reality.”  A must read. Great bibliography.

Bailey, Anthony : The Thousand Dollar Yacht

His first nautical book about building/sailing a small boat. Funny and very readable.

Thanks to a reader from CT, Rick Perret, for this recommendation. Thanks!

Bailey, Anthony:  The Coast of Summer .  1994, Sheridan House. Dobbs Ferry , NY

An absolute favorite account of sailing New England waters from Shelter Island to Cape Cod .  Lochinvar, a Tartan 27, begins its voyage from Dodson’s Boatyard in Stonington CT.   The stories are told with humor and insight, under glorious as well as trying circumstances.  The account of surviving hurricane Bob in Pandanarum is both frightening and enlightening.

Beston, Henry:  The Outermost House.  1992.  Owl Books.

This reissue of a story first published in 1928 is every bit as beautiful today.  It’s a chronicle of a year spent on Cape Cod alone, when no one stayed beyond the summer season.  The author originally intended to spend only two weeks but was so haunted by the mysterious beauty that he could not find a way to leave.  The rhythms he describes in nature so simply, so sympathetically resonate in your heart forever.

Blanchard, Fessenden:  Long Island Sound. 1958, D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.,NY

This member of American Yacht Club undertook the task of writing the story – past and present – of “the world’s most popular yachting area.” In two parts, Part I covers Boating while Part II delves into Parts, Ports, and Places. “ Rye has one of the worst harbors ( Milton Harbor ), one of the best yacht clubs (The American Y. C.) and one of the best recreation and amusement parks on Long Island Sound (Playland).” 

He also wrote numerous cruising guides to northeast waters and a book about sailboat designs.

Thomas Froncek: A Splendid Madness

Middle age guy gets his mid-life crisis and buys a sailboat.  A nice book about someone whom discovers sailing and how it becomes an important part of his life.  I also enjoyed this because a) I own an aging Tanzer 22 like Froncek; b) I'm also a middle aged guy rediscovering sailing after 20 years...

Thanks to a reader from CT, Rick Perret, for this recommendation.

Boyle, Doe: Guide to the Connecticut Shore . 1999. Globe Pequot Press. Guilford CT

Things to do when you get ashore.  Team it up with Connecticut Coastal Access Guide (2001) to find waterfront facilities; it’s available from the CT DEP free of charge by calling 860-424-3000. There are also numerous naturalists’ guides to the Connecticut River .

Buckles, Mary Parker: Margins: a Naturalist Meets Long Island Sound 1997, North Point Press, NY (out of print)

“What passes between the gates and overlooks the Sound from her shores is as varied as anything on earth.” This is a beautifully written and eternally hopeful treatise on the Sound’s varied life, from the marshes to the docks to the islands.

Carroll, Michael C. : Lab 257 : The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory, February 17, 2004 , William Morrow

This is the book that takes the lid off the biological research facility on Plum Island .  Connects the outbreaks of Lyme disease and others to breaches of security in the facility.  Unfortunately, within the first few pages, it becomes clearly sensational and never recovers.  It is woefully repetitive and really pushes the limits of sensibility.  Similarly, Carroll loses scientific credibility from the first mention of “Canadian geese.”  Any scientist or any person who does a good job of research will uncover that the species is called “Canada goose.”  It has nothing to do with nationality. 

Dunbaugh Edwin L.:  The Era of the Joy Line: A Saga of Steamboating on Long Island Sound (Contributions in Economics and Economic History), Greenwood Publishing Group; (June 29, 1982) Printed on demand.

Edwin Dunbaugh was professor of humanities at Webb Institute of Naval Architecture. This is a well-researched and comprehensive history of the overnight steamboat on Long Island Sound in the pre-WWI era of the twentieth century. Picks up where his prior edition “Night Boat” leaves off.  

Dunbaugh, Edwin L: Night Boat to New England 1815-1900.  Marine Museum at Fall River .

A history of the illustrious days of travel on Long Island Sound via the overnight steamship.  These boats were the major means of transportation from New York to ports in Southern New England and Long Island , as well as from Boston north to Maine .  During this time, numerous overnight lines sprang up to deliver passengers and cargo by waterways to areas inaccessible by land, and the competition was cutthroat. Covers operations of the steamers, disasters, and evolution of ports. Contains 50 pages of plates.

Gann, Ernest K: Song of the Sirens

Best knows for writing about flying, his lone book on sailing (he has owned several boats) is a wonderful read, and one of the best written books I've read.

Thanks to a reader from CT, Rick Perret, for this recommendation. Thanks!

Goodsell, Daniel:  Nature & Character at Granite Bay , 1941, Eaton & Mains , NY (out of print)

A charming book written by a Christian minister who was so struck by the natural beauty of this Bay at the northern end of the Sound that he was compelled to relive it by writing down his observations in this lovingly crafted book.  Includes interesting period photographs.

Hunt, Morton M:  The Inland Sea, 1965, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, NY (out of print)

Hunt delivers a sailor’s affectionate perspective about circumnavigating the Sound aboard the Merrywend. “…almost every man sailing across Long Island Sound feels himself to be another Joshua Slocum, capable of sailing around the world singlehanded.” Occasionally available online.

Kornblum, William:  At Sea in the City.   New York from the Water’s Edge.  2002, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill , New York .

This book will make you see New York City through the eyes of a sailor visiting all five boroughs in a catboat. Delightfully written, this book includes a bit of history, a bit of challenge (in Hell Gate ), and a great deal of awe.  

McAdam, Roger Williams:  Salts of the Sound. 1957.  Stephen Daye Press, NY

An informal history of steamships and the gallant skippers who sailed Long Island Sound in the glorious time when travel along the shores of the Sound was principally via steamship..  “Experienced mariners…assert that Long Island Sound and its connecting waters form one of the toughest marine highways in the world.”

Merrick, Elliott: Cruising at last. Sailing the East Coast. 2004, The Lyons Press, Guilford CT.

One of the most lovely books written about the sheer joy of coastal sailing. Elliott Merrick tells about building the boat of his dreams, a twenty foot sailboat, and setting off on a cruise from Georgia to Maine with his cherished wife, Kay. You won't want to miss this one. Perceptive and beautifully written.

Mowatt, Farley : The Boat Who Wouldn't Float

Very hilarious book about resurrecting an old Newfoundland workboat.

Thanks to a reader from CT, Rick Perret, for this recommendation. Thanks!

Praeger, HC:  The Urban Sea, Long Island Sound.  1976.  Praeger Publishers , New York .

Very rare edition. Out of print and hard to find.  We have not acquired it, yet!

Sterling , Dorothy:  The Outer Lands.  1978. WW Norton & Co, Inc. New York .

A lovely illustrated guide to the islands off our coast, including Long Island , Block Island , Martha’s Vineyard , Nantucket , and Cape Cod .  Simple enough to be useful to show exploring young minds what to search for on our shores.

Weigold, Marilyn E.: The American Mediterranean: An Environmental, Economic and Social History of Long Island Sound  1974, Kennikat Press, Port Washington, NY (out of print)

Weigold gives a fascinating historical perspective of how the Sound flourished through initial settlement, to the whaling era, through the roaring twenties and splendor of the Gold Coast, and finally endured the inevitable pollution that follows population density. 

Weigold, Marilyn: The Long Island Sound: A History of Its People, Places, and Environment, August 2004, New York University Press.

The extensively updated edition of her first book on “The American Mediterranean.”

Zacks,  Richard: The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd, 2003,  Hyperion (paperback ed).

We all know Captain Kidd was a bloodthirsty pirate who murdered and plundered his way to treasure that he would one day bury somewhere in the environs of Long Island Sound, don’t we? Well, it turns out that much of what we thought we knew about Kidd is wrong. He wasn't a pirate; he was a privateer, commissioned by the British government and several private financeers to hunt pirates. He was a family man, with a wife and daughter waiting back home in a well-appointed house on Wall Street. This surprising, eye-opening book completely changes our perception of Captain William Kidd and introduces us to his nemesis, a ruthless pirate, Robert Culliford.  What a great introduction to life in the 17th century and a fascinating and well researched account of Kidd’s life.

Hamilton, Harlon: Lights & Legends: A Historical Guide to Lighthouses of Long Island Sound, Fishers Island Sound and Block Island Sound, 1987.

A good description of the lighthouses in this region, as well as fresnel lenses and modern optics. A chapter is devoted to each lighthouse and provides details of the station and it's history.

Novels set in environs of LIS:

Plum Island
by Nelson Demille January 2002

This is a fun detective thriller with a search for buried treasure amid the secrecy of the Plum Island biological research facility. It’s one of a three-book series:  The Lion's Game, Plum Island , and The Charm School.

Cruising Guides:

Duncan, Robert C. (Editor):  The Cruising Guide to the New England Coast: Including the Hudson River, Long Island Sound, and the Coast of New Brunswick, Twelfth Edition , August 1995
Childress, Lynda Morris, et al: A Cruising Guide to Narragansett Bay and the South Coast of Massachusetts: Including Buzzard's Bay, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and Block Island
Elizabeth Adams Smith, Richard Y. Smith (Editor) Atlantic Cruising Club's Guide to New England Marinas (Book & CD-ROM)
Ray Jones: New England Lighthouses: Bay of Fundy to Long Island Sound
Harlon Hamilton: Lights & Legends: A Historical Guide to Lighthouses of Long Island Sound, Fishers Island Sound and Block Island Sound

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