literary sailing quotes

naut_puthertobed naut_onyardcuttyhunk


I kicked off a thread on YBW about people's favourite sailing quoutes. I picked up quite a few extras for my own secret collection. So here they are - any more gratefully received, considered and ruminated upon


"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

 Mark Twain,

Why are you sighing?
'For all the voyages I did not make
Because the boat was small, might leak, might take
The wrong course, and the compass might be broken,
And I might have awoken
In some strange sea and heard
Strange birds crying'.

A.S.J. Tessimond (1902-1962)


"I am a citizen of the most beautiful nation on earth. A nation whose laws are harsh yet simple, a nation that never cheats, which is immense and without borders, where life is lived in the present. In this limitless nation, this nation of wind, light, and peace, there is no other ruler besides the sea."

 humber stills0032

'Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not, nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not, unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education alone will not, the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.'



"To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea... 'cruising' it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about."

-Sterling Hayden

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"For your answer, you must hear a minimalist composition performed by the wind, watch the dolphins play in moonlight, and listen to the whales singing as you are rocked to sleep by the sea. If this happens to you once, you are still fit material for human company. If it happens to you every night for several years, you can visit the people who live on land, but you will not belong to them ever again." -- February 5, 1991, Paul Lutus, Confessions of a Long Distance Sailor

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"Our Hansen Sea-Cow was not only a living thing but a mean, irritable, contemptible, vengeful, mischievous, hateful living thing.... We determined one thing to our satisfaction. When and if these ghoulish little motors learn to reproduce themselves the human species is doomed. For their hate for us is so great that they will wait and plan and organize and one night, in a roar of little exhausts, they will wipe us out.... It is more than a species. It is a whole new redefinition of life. We observed the following traits in it and we were able to check them again and again:
1. Incredibly lazy, the Sea Cow loved to ride on the back of the boat, trailing its
propeller daintily in the water while we rowed.
2. It required the same amount of gasoline whether it ran or not, apparently being able to absorb this fluid through its body walls without recourse to explosion. It always had to be filled at the beginning of every trip.
3. It had apparently some clairvoyant powers and was able to read our minds, particularly when they were inflamed with emotion. Thus on every occasion when we were driven to the point of destroying it, it started and ran with a great noise and excitement. This served the double purpose of saving its life and resurrecting false confidence in it.
4. It had many cleavage points, and when attacked by a screwdriver, fell apart in simulated death, a trait it had in common with opossums, armadillos and several members of the sloth family, which also fall apart in simulated death when attacked with a screwdriver.
5. It hated Tex, sensing perhaps that his knowledge of mechanics was capable of diagnosing its shortcomings.
6. It completely refused to run (a) when the waves were high, (b)when the wind blew, (c)at night, early morning, and evening, (d)in rain, dew, or fog, (e) when the distance to be covered was more than two hundred yards. But on warm sunny days when the weather was calm and the beach was closeby - in a word, on days when it would be pleasant to row - the SeaCow started at a touch and would not stop.
7. It loved no one, trusted no one. It had no friends."

Steinbeck – Log from the Sea of Cortez

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passage from Geoffrey Wolfe's "The Hard Way Around - The Passages of Joshua Slocum." Wolfe is writing about Slocum's circumstances before Slocum made history by (re-)building the Spray and making the first solo circumnavigation. I figure if Slocum could rise above these circumstances, maybe there is hope for some of my dreams too.

"The tally thus far for Joshua Slocum at the age of forty-five: He had lost to death three infant children and his first wife. He had lost to shipwreck two clippers, been charged with the cruel imprisonment of one crew member and the murder of another. His second wife, Hettie, in sympathy with that seasick sailor of the Odyssey, wished to flee so far inland that local citizens would recognize the purpose of an oar. He was broke. The age of sail had ended. The captain was, that is, entirely at sea."

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If a man must be obsessed by something, I suppose a boat is as good as anything, perhaps a bit better than most. A small sailing craft is not only beautiful, it is seductive and full of strange promise and the hint of trouble. If it happens to be an auxiliary cruising boat, it is without question the most compact and ingenious arrangement for living ever devised by the restless mind of man--a home that is stable without being stationary, shaped less like a box than like a fish or a girl, and in which the homeowner can remove his daily affairs as far from shore as he has the nerve to take them, close hauled or running free--parlor, bedroom, and bath, suspended and alive.

E. B. White

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North Sea off Carnoustie

You know it by the northern look of the shore,
by salt worried faces,
an absence of trees, an abundance of lighthouses.
It’s a serious ocean.

Along marram-scarred, sand-bitten margins
wired roofs straggle out to where
a cold little holiday fair
has floated in and pitched itself
safely near the prairie of a golf course.
Coloured lights have sunk deep into the solid wind,
but all they’ve caught is a pair of lovers
and three silly boys.
everyone else has a dog,
Or a room to get to.

The smells are of fish and of sewage and cut grass.
Oystercatchers, doubtful of habitation,
clamour weep, weep, weep, as they fuss over
scummy black rocks the tide leaves for them.

The sea is as near as we come to another world.

But there in your stony and windswept garden
a blackbird is confirming the grip of the land.
You, you, he murmurs, dark purple in his voice.

And now in far quarters of the horizon
lighthouses are awake, sending messages –
invitations to the landlocked,
warnings to the experienced,
but to anyone returning from the planet ocean,
candles in the windows of a safe earth.

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"The sail, the play of its pulse so like our own lives: so thin and yet so full of life, so noiseless when it labors hardest, so noisy and impatient when least effective."

  Henry David Thoreau

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23 Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
32 Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders.

Psalm 107:23-32 (New International Version)

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"When a man comes to like a sea life, he is not fit to live on land."

- Dr. Samuel Johnson

"It is as hard to describe the fascination of the sea as to explain the beauty of a woman, for, to each man, either it is self-evident, or no argument can help him see it."

Claude Worth 1926

"The Unknown Shore"
by Elizabeth Clark Hardy

Sometime at Eve when the tide is low
I shall slip my moorings and sail away
With no response to a friendly hail
In the silent hush of the twilight pale
When the night stoops down to embrace the day
And the voices call in the water's flow

Sometime at Eve When the water is low
I shall slip my moorings and sail away.
Through purple shadows
That darkly trail o'er the ebbing tide
And the Unknown Sea,
And a ripple of waters' to tell the tale
Of a lonely voyager sailing away
To mystic isles
Where at anchor lay
The craft of those who had sailed before
O'er the Unknown Sea
To the Unknown Shore

A few who watched me sail away
Will miss my craft from the busy bay
Some friendly barques were anchored near
Some loving souls my heart held dear
In silent sorrow will drop a tear
But I shall have peacefully furled my sail
In mooring sheltered from the storm and gale
And greeted friends who had sailed before
O'er the Unknown Sea
To the Unknown Shore

- Elizabeth Clark Hardy

"Wherever we want to go, we go. That's what a ship is, you know. It's not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails; that's what a ship needs. But what a ship is...what the Black Pearl really freedom."

Captain Jack Sparrow

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One ship sails East,one ship sails West
By the self-same wind that blows.
But it isn't the gales but the set of the sails
Which determine the way she goes.

He that would go to sea for pleasure, would go to hell for a pastime


"The sea does not judge a man by his wallet"

- Roger Taylor

"It [British Weather] provides sailing aplenty for those who want it and a ready excuse for those boat owners who would rather stay in the marina."

 AC Stock

"wind will change when you ask it, if you ask for long enough"

- Slocum

"You do not ask a tame seagull why it needs to disappear from time to time toward the open sea. It goes, that's all."

"Damn the solar system; bad light; planets too distant, pestered with comets, feeble contrivance; could make a better with ease" –

 Lord Jeffery


"There is nothing so distressing as running ashore - unless there is also some doubt as to whcih continent the shore belongs."

 Lecky's "Wrinkles in Practical Navigation"


"A man ought to rate his achievements only by the satisfaction they give him, for they will soon be outdone, outshone, and speedily forgotten by everyone but himself"

- Tilman


I must go down to the sea again
To the lonely sea and the sky
I left my vest and socks down there
I wonder if they're dry

(Spike Milligan)

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Let go your lines and come with me
To the cathedral of the sea
There to ride on vaulted waves
And fear the gaze of gargoyle rocks

We shall leave the world behind us
Catch the ebb to take us northwards
And lie at anchor to the flood
While ocean’s blood flows past our hull

The organ of the wind shall play
Its power speeds us on our way
From the source we’ll drink the tonic
Nature’s gothic architecture

Shape our course among the islands
See clouds form on distant mountains
Sailing through the weather’s birthplace
Where angels chase through every wave

When at last we make our landfall
Come to rest along buttressed walls
Tied by warps to cares and troubles
Within our souls the seas shall roar

 humber stills1289

A Wanderer's Song
John Masefield

A wind's in the heart of me, a fire's in my heels,
I am tired of brick and stone and rumbling wagon-wheels;
I hunger for the sea’s edge, the limit of the land,
Where the wild old Atlantic is shouting on the sand.

Oh I’ll be going, leaving the noises of the street,
To where a lifting foresail-foot is yanking at the sheet;
To a windy, tossing anchorage where yawls and ketches ride,
Oh I’l be going, going, until I meet the tide.

And first I’ll hear the sea-wind, the mewing of the gulls,
The clucking, sucking of the sea about the rusty hulls,
The songs at the capstan at the hooker warping out,
And then the heart of me’ll know I’m there or thereabout.

Oh I am sick of brick and stone, the heart of me is sick,
For windy green, unquiet sea, the realm of Moby Dick;
And I’ll be going, going, from the roaring of the wheels,
For a wind’s in the heart of me, a fire’s in my heels.

The West Wind

IT'S a warm wind, the west wind, full of birds' cries;
I never hear the west wind but tears are in my eyes.
For it comes from the west lands, the old brown hills.
And April's in the west wind, and daffodils.

It's a fine land, the west land, for hearts as tired as mine,
Apple orchards blossom there, and the air's like wine.
There is cool green grass there, where men may lie at rest,
And the thrushes are in song there, fluting from the nest.

"Will ye not come home brother? ye have been long away,
It's April, and blossom time, and white is the may;
And bright is the sun brother, and warm is the rain,--
Will ye not come home, brother, home to us again?

"The young corn is green, brother, where the rabbits run.
It's blue sky, and white clouds, and warm rain and sun.
It's song to a man's soul, brother, fire to a man's brain,
To hear the wild bees and see the merry spring again.

"Larks are singing in the west, brother, above the green wheat,
So will ye not come home, brother, and rest your tired feet?
I've a balm for bruised hearts, brother, sleep for aching eyes,"
Says the warm wind, the west wind, full of birds' cries.

It's the white road westwards is the road I must tread
To the green grass, the cool grass, and rest for heart and head,
To the violets, and the warm hearts, and the thrushes' song,
In the fine land, the west land, the land where I belong.

John Masefield

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I tasted once again the greatest joy which small boat cruising can offer : the satisfying contentment of an anxious passage successfully achieved.”.....…
Eric Hiscock
Wandering Under Sail

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"The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage.
The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place.”

― Arthur Ransome


"For the truth is that I already know as much about my fate as I need to know. The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze".
Richard Bode.



"I'd rather be in here wishing I was out there than out there wishing I was in here!"

Sailor in harbour on a very stormy night. Anon

If I were a bird and lived on high,
I'd lean on the wind when the wind came by,
and I'd say to teh wind as it blew me away,
"That's where I wanted to go today"

AA Milne, who was a gentleman, and therefore didn't sail to windward.

'There sailing the sea, we find control, direction, effort, fate....there we may know ourselves and know our state'

(H. Belloc)

'And what I want from you, Mr Mate, is silence. And not a lot of that'.



'For whatever we lose (like a you and a me), it's always ourselves we find in the sea'

e.e cummings

And a French one: 'Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage'

duck punt 02_101159

WHAT is a woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre.
To go with the old grey Widow-maker?

She has no house to lay a guest in
But one chill bed for all to rest in,
That the pale suns and the stray bergs nest in.

She has no strong white arms to fold you,
But the ten-times-fingering weed to hold you
Out on the rocks where the tide has rolled you.

Yet, when the signs of summer thicken,
And the ice breaks, and the birch-buds quicken,
Yearly you turn from our side, and sicken—

Sicken again for the shouts and the slaughters.
You steal away to the lapping waters,
And look at your ship in her winter-quarters.

You forget our mirth, and talk at the tables,
The kine in the shed and the horse in the stables
To pitch her sides and go over her cables.

Then you drive out where the storm-clouds swallow,
And the sound of your oar-blades, falling hollow,
Is all we have left through the months to follow.

Ah, what is Woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker?



Everything can be found at sea,
According to the spirit of your quest.

Joseph Conrad

I start from the premise that no object created by man is as satisfying to his body and soul as a proper sailing yacht."

Arthur Beiser 1978
The Proper Yacht

'A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned, for he'll be
going out on a day when he shouldn't. But we do be afraid of the sea, and
we do only be drownded now and again.

from 'The Arran Islands' by J M Synge.

There are good ships and there are wood ships,
The ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships,
and may they always be!


The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.
St John 3:8

“I am told there are people who do not care for maps, and I find it hard to believe.”

Robert Louis Stevenson


“An incorrectly identified mark is a hazard, not an aid, to navigation.”

Alton B. Moody


“Even with the best charts, we are cautious about fixing our position, for it is so easy to goof. And the easiest way of all is by taking a mark, assuming it is the right one, and ignoring any others that may be in sight.

Patrick Ellam (who crossed the Atlantic with Colin Mudie in the 20ft Sopranino)


“The sound navigator never trusts entirely to the obvious. The price of good navigation is constant vigilance. The unusual is always to be guarded against and when the expected has not eventualised, a doubtful situation always arises which must be guarded against by every precaution known to navigators….It is always the captain who is sure in his own mind, without the tangible evidence of safety in his possession, who loses his ship.”

Report of Court of Inquiry investigating the Point Honda disaster in 1923. (7 US Navy warships lost by running aground in poor visibility)


“Sight is a faculty, but seeing is an art.”


“The consequences of poor cartography could be dire. During the Napoleonic Wars, British losses by shipwreck, caused by bad charts as well as bad weather, were eight times as great as those inflicted by the enemy.



"Hazily there floated through my mind my last embarkation on a yacht; my faultless attire, the trim gig and obsequious sailors, the accommodation ladder flashing with varnish and brass in the August sun; the orderly, snowy decks and basket chairs under the awning aft. What a contrast with this sordid midnight scramble, over damp meat and littered packing-cases! The bitterest touch of all was a growing sense of inferiority and ignorance which I had never before been allowed to feel in my experience of yachts."


I think Carruthers' nocturnal arrival aboard the Dulcibella probably reflects many people's disappointment with sailing trips...

max20950fine selection of paddles


"Only two sailors, in my experience, never ran aground.
One never left port and the other was an atrocious liar."

- Don Bamford

He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.

The Hunting of the Snark - Lewis Carroll


- "Never trust any man unless he has gone round Portland Bill in something under ten tons .... " Hilaire Belloc


". . .the Nona has spent her years , . . threading her way out of harbours, taking the mud, trying to make further harbours, failing to do so, getting in the way of more important vessels, giving way to them, taking the mud again, waiting to be floated off by the tide, anchoring in the fairway, getting cursed out of it, dragging anchor on shingle and slime, mistaking one light for another, rounding the wrong buoy, crashing into other people, and capsizing in dry harbours."

from The Cruise of the Nona by Hilaire Belloc

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"Harbours rot ships and rot the men in them"

“Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it’s the only one you have.”

(French philosopher Emile Chartier)

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"No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned."



Towards evening a breeze sprang up, the still waters began to heave and the ship began to lift to the long fetch of the Atlantic swell. At once the courses were sheeted home and in the gathering dusk the ship began to move out of the North Channel, leaving Rathlin Island behind. That night the wind freshened from the south-west. By midnight Moshulu was running thirteen knots and flinging a sixty-foot bow wave on either side of her. On deck it was a hard climb to windward and a wild slippery descent to the lee scuppers. At supper time we all banged our plates and sang with sheer joy, and at the change of the watch we took the upper topgallants off her as she was running heavily.
All through the night the south-west wind hurled us out into the Atlantic. From aloft came the great roaring sound that I heard for the first time and will perhaps never hear again, of strong winds in the rigging of a good ship.

Eric Newby
The Last Grain Race

 rainsbowsspinnaker sunsetrig and rigmud sculpture

No stir in the air, no stir in the sea,
The Ship was still as she could be;
Her sails from heaven received no motion,
Her keel was steady in the ocean.

Without either sign or sound of their shock,
The waves flow’d over the Inchcape Rock;
So little they rose, so little they fell,
They did not move the Inchcape Bell.

The worthy Abbot of Aberbrothok
Had placed that bell on the Inchcape Rock;
On a buoy in the storm it floated and swung,
And over the waves its warning rung.

When the Rock was hid by the surge’s swell,
The Mariners heard the warning Bell;
And then they knew the perilous Rock,
And blest the Abbot of Aberbrothok

The Sun in the heaven was shining gay,
All things were joyful on that day;
The sea-birds scream’d as they wheel’d round,
And there was joyaunce in their sound.

The buoy of the Inchcpe Bell was seen
A darker speck on the ocean green;
Sir Ralph the Rover walk’d his deck,
And fix’d his eye on the darker speck.

He felt the cheering power of spring,
It made him whistle, it made him sing;
His heart was mirthful to excess,
But the Rover’s mirth was wickedness.

His eye was on the Inchcape Float;
Quoth he, “My men, put out the boat,
And row me to the Inchcape Rock,
And I’ll plague the Abbot of Aberbrothok.”

The boat is lower’d, the boatmen row,
And to the Inchcape Rock they go;
Sir Ralph bent over from the boat,
And he cut the bell from the Inchcape Float.

Down sank the Bell with a gurgling sound,
The bubbles rose and burst around;
Quoth Sir Ralph, “The next who comes to the Rock,
Won’t bless the Abbot of Aberbrothok.”

Sir Ralph the Rover sail’d away,
He scour’d the seas for many a day;
And now grown rich with plunder’d store,
He steers his course for Scotland’s shore.

So thick a haze o’erspreads the sky,
They cannot see the sun on high;
The wind hath blown a gale all day,
At evening it hath died away.

On the deck the Rover takes his stand,
So dark it is they see no land.
Quoth Sir Ralph, “It will be lighter soon,
For there is the dawn of the rising Moon.”

“Canst hear,” said one, “the breakers roar?
For methinks we should be near the shore.”
“Now, where we are I cannot tell,
But I wish we could hear the Inchcape Bell.”

They hear no sound, the swell is strong,
Though the wind hath fallen they drift along;
Till the vessel strikes with a shivering shock,
“Oh Christ! It is the Inchcape Rock!”

Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair,
He curst himself in his despair;
The waves rush in on every side,
The ship is sinking beneath the tide.

But even is his dying fear,
One dreadful sound could the Rover hear;
A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell,
The Devil below was ringing his knell.

Inchcape Rock by Robert Southey

 Robert Southey was born on August 12, 1774. His father was a linen draper in Bristol, who disliked his trade and eventually went bankrupt. As a result of the family's financial struggles, Southey was sent to live in Bath with his mother's older half-sister, Elizabeth Tyler, at the age of two.

 mystery ship

"now, bring me that horizon"

Jack Sparrow

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"The sea is the last free place on earth"


"And the Sea will Grant Each Man New Hope, As Sleep Brings Dreams of Home"


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There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune, omitted, all the voyage of our lives is bound in shallows and in miseries.

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Imagination is my absent curse
And so it is that time of year again
To go to sea, for better or for worse
Where silver sails break sun in golden shards
And I can work at being pure again.

Nicholas Heiney

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"He was a good judge of a boat, but the old clay farm which some calamity made his was an anchor to him."

Slocum, on his father:


Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.


Herman Melville – Moby Dick


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

John Masefield


Set your heart at rest.
The fairyland buys not the child from me.
His mother was a votress of my order and
In the spiced Indian air by night
Full often hath she gossiped by my side,
and sat with me on Neptune's yellow sand,
Marking the embarked traders on the flood.
When we have laughed to see the sails conceive
And grow big bellied with the wanton wind
which she, with pretty and with swinging gait
Would imitate and sail upon the land
To fetch me trifles and return again
As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.
But she, being mortal, of that boy did die.
And for her sake do I rear up her boy.
And for her sake I will not part with him.

Shakespeare  Titania, arguing with Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream



By the storm-torn shoreline, a woman is standing
The spray strung like jewels in her hair
And the sea tore the rocks near that desolate landing
As though it had known she stood there


For she has come down to condemn that wild ocean
For the murderous loss of her man
His ship sailed out on Wednesday morning
And it's feared she's gone down with all hands

And it's white were the wave-caps and wild was their parting
So fierce is the warring of love
But she prayed to the gods, both of men and of sailors
Not to cast their cruel nets o'er her love

And she has come down to condemn that wild ocean
For the murderous loss of her man
His ship sailed out on Wednesday morning
And it's feared she's gone down with all hands

There's a school on the hill where the sons of dead fathers
Are led toward tempests and gales
Where their God-given wings are clipped close to their bodies
And their eyes are bound round with ships' sails

And she has come down to condemn that wild ocean
For the murderous loss of her man
His ship sailed out on Wednesday morning
And it's feared she's gone down with all hands

What force leads a man to a life filled with danger
High on seas or a mile underground
It's when need is his master and poverty's no stranger
And there's no other work to be found

And she has come down to condemn that wild ocean
For the murderous loss of her man
His ship sailed out on Wednesday morning
And it's feared she's gone down with all hands

The Fisherman's Song
Andy M. Stewart



A Sailor’s Dream

There is only one creature that lives between sea and sky. She is a creature of mass, displacing tons of water, yet sensitive to the very breath of the wind. She rides the currents of oceans, shoulders their massive billows, and nods in respect to each passing ripple. Treading an unmarked path, leaving no trace, governed by the immutable laws of physics, yet promising untold freedom, a sailboat fulfills a sailor’s dream.

A sailboat is created by the hands of craftsmen from the stuff of earth. On land she is a dead weight to be moved only by powerful machines and propped up lest she fall over like a helpless infant. Conceived in the mind of a wizard, she comes alive only at the interface between sea and sky. That restless surface gives her life and energy, her soul comes from magic.

On those occasions when air and water move as one, she helplessly drifts or moves only with mechanical effort. She finds her true self in the struggle between the inexorable sea and the irresistible wind. She taps a small portion of their boundless energy to propel her purposeful strides, yielding to their power yet using it to achieve her goals. When they threaten she slips through their grasps, resisting their courses to lay her own.

She is guided and cared for by her skipper and crew who love and serve her, feel pride in her presence, and struggle with her imperfections. They possess her only temporarily for she is a creature of the sea and sky. Sailors, for all their love of the sea, are creatures of the land. Only together, caring for each other and testing each other, are sailor and boat set free to wander the oceans and visit distant shores.

A sailboat’s connection to the land is tenuous yet inevitable. She seeks its shelter while carefully avoiding its searing touch. Perhaps she knows that someday, when she is tired or her skipper has grown old or careless, she will give up her life and return to the land, no longer feeling the tug of an anchor rode or the heel of a gust. No longer will she feel the sun hot on her skin while she patiently waits for her crew to set her free again.

One day her bones will lie rotting in a field or on a reef, or ground up in a pile of refuse, forgotten except, perhaps, by the one or two who shared her moments of glory. They will relive the delight of glistening spray, rolling swells, and her eager response to a freshening breeze. They will remember when the world was simplified to one boat, one crew, and one limitless horizon. And they will remember with humility how she carried them safely through the storm.

They will smile, with a catch in their throats, and she will sleep, lost to all except in their memories. Until they, too, are gone and her glimmer, like her wake on the sea, disappears. But her magic will linger and be reborn… in the mind of a wizard, the hands of a craftsman, and the dreams of a sailor.

Garry Prater, Jan. 2003

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13 Responses to “literary sailing quotes”

  1. 30 January, 2013 at 3:47 pmChris Potter says:

    Quote from Bernard Hayman (a former editor of Yachting World)

    “A man can pretend to be a lot of things in this world; but he can only pretend to be a sailor for as long as it takes to clear the harbour mouth!”

  2. 30 January, 2013 at 6:33 pmdylan winter says:



  3. 30 January, 2013 at 9:02 pmchapman says:

    I have heard that there is a Portuguese Proverb: If you want to learn how to pray, go to sea

  4. 30 January, 2013 at 10:17 pmPaul Mullings says:

    “The boat you can afford and sail now is the best boat of all” Dylan Winter I believe?

  5. 30 January, 2013 at 10:24 pmdylan winter says:

    bless you


  6. 31 January, 2013 at 4:56 pmrichard bullock says:

    My offering would come courtesy of my friend Robin who served in the merchant navy for many years finishing as ship’s master. In his youth he served under an an “old school” captain running the west coast of the Americas. A storm had pushed them off their usual course into unfamiliar waters off the Galapagos Islands and so the captain posted crew on the bridge wings as look outs. Soon the cry came from one startled rating “Sir, I can see the seabed!!!” The captain’s calm response was “don’t worry lad, that’s what holds the water up! HARD TO PORT!” So for us East Coast Sailors perhaps the quotation could be “Fear not the seabed for it’s what holds the water up”

  7. 2 February, 2013 at 12:00 amJulian Fisk says:

    very true words Dylan, they have inspired me.

  8. 2 February, 2013 at 9:28 pmjohnny seagull says:

    The bloke in the club bar was adamant. “What do I want with a Depth sounder? I have a boat, I can find all the shallow water I need with that!”

  9. 5 April, 2013 at 6:43 pmPaul Mullings says:

    I am very fond of this extract from T S Eliot’s “The Wasteland”, highly evocative of a scene long past.

    The river sweats
    Oil and tar
    The barges drift
    With the turning tide
    Red sails 270
    To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
    The barges wash
    Drifting logs
    Down Greenwich reach 275
    Past the Isle of Dogs.
    Weialala leia
    Wallala leialala

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  11. 7 July, 2015 at 9:40 pmSarah Chambers says:

    Hello. This is a lovely collection of poems and I thoroughly enjoyed them. There is one in particular I’m wondering about, and I don’t see a name attached to it. I did a google search and came up empty. Could you please tell me who wrote the following:
    “Let go your lines and come with me,
    To the Cathedral of the sea.
    There to ride on vaulted waves,
    And fear the gaze of gargoyle rocks.”
    Thank you. :)

  12. 7 July, 2015 at 10:37 pmdylan winter says:


    it came from this thread

    you could ask Jonas who posted it

  13. 15 September, 2015 at 8:50 amruc says:

    I always loved the following by Arthur Hugh Clough:

    Beyond the clouds, beyond the waves that roar,
    There may indeed, or may not be, a shore

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