“To reach a port we must set sail – sail, not tie at anchor. Sail, not drift.” Franklin D Roosevelt

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Nic Compton - writer, photographer, sailor


Hello. I'm a writer/photographer who writes about and photographs all things nautical. As well as contributing articles to a range of magazines, I write books about boats, sailors and the sea (plus the occasional foray into economics). I have an archive of about 30,000 photos, mainly of sailing boats, and I'm regularly out on new assignments. There's more info in About Me, and details of my latest book(s) below. Photo above by Sam Compton.

Latest releases

Getting to the heart of the matter...

It was a slightly mad idea: to document in words and pictures all the beautiful elements that sailing boats are made, and to explain why they are the way they are. Simple stuff like: Why are tillers the shape they are? Why do some boats have bowsprits and some not? How do spreaders work? Where are a boat's whiskers? What piece of kit was considered so important by the Royal Navy that they set up the world's first production line to make them? Etc, etc. We used plenty of pictures both to illustrate many variations of each subject, and to make the pages easy on the eye. So it's both an encyclopedia dressed up as a picture book, and vice versa. Something you can flick through an enjoy as a visual feast, or dive into and delve a little deeper...


Did Nelson really say 'Kiss me Hardy'?

Ever wondered why boats are always referred to as 'she'? Or why a rope on a ship is rarely called a rope? Or where the highest tides and fastest currents in the world are? And did Britain's greatest naval hero really ask another man to kiss him before he died? Why Sailors Can't Swim is awash with maritime folklore, trivia and anecdotes for sailors and non-sailors alike. As the blurb says, it's "full of entertaining, surprising and insightful titbits about the history, science and culture of the sea. [...] Learn the origins of the myriad of nautical expressions that have crept into everyday English speech, and impress with your knowledge of bizarre and obscure nautical facts!" Published by Adlard Coles, May 2013.

One for the Titanoraks

I can't pretend I had any interest in the Titanic before I was asked to write this book. But I soon got interested, trawling through thousands of pages of first-hand testimonies about the disaster. I think what makes it so compelling as a story are the hundreds of interlocking stories of human suffering, courage and fallibility – as well as plain cowardice and selfishness. And there are bigger themes of man vs nature, corporate greed, institutional failure, etc. It really is all there! My book tells the story in 'real time' from the perspective of various passengers and crew – from the firestokers standing in the engine room when the first gush of water bursts through the hull, to the first class passengers who may or may not have paid their way to safety – all told in their own words (lightly edited). It was certainly one of the most engrossing assignments I've ever had, and I now count myself among the millions of Titanoraks out there. Published by Bloomsbury, April 2012.


Now you know why it's called 'tortured ply'...

This was my first attempt at writing a biography and, while I would probably do things differently now, I think it's a good attempt to capture one of the most enigmatic characters in the boating scene. It's certainly had good reviews, with 7 out of 8 reviewers on Amazon giving it five stars. Here are some of the things they said: 

"This is a wonderfully presented book that draws out not only what Iain's life's work has been devoted to, but also, the story of the man himself and how his boats are grounded in his search for and insistence on beauty."

"Fascinating and comprehensive biog of the man who has been a key figure in the wooden boat revival, and master designer."

"I was surprised how well the author covered sensitively both Iain's private and boatbuilding life. A very good read about a very real person."

Published by Adlard Coles, 2009.

And here's one I made earlier...

This is my first venture into self-publishing: a book of 60-plus pictures of the Irish Raid in September 2012, for which I was the 'embedded' photographer (see www.sailing-raids.com). Despite smashing one of my lenses on the second day and having to leave halfway through the event, I managed to get some good shots which have been published in more than a dozen magazines around the world – from Brazil to Japan. I've put a selection of my favourites in this book, along with some simple captions. Inevitably, it works out quite expensive (£41.46 plus p&p for the softback version), but I was genuinely impressed by the quality of the printing in the copy I ordered. If they can get the cost down a little more, this is definitely the way to go. Available from www.photoboxgallery.com/saltydog.


Au cœur de la matiére...

And it's available in French too! As the jacket says: A la fois encyclopédique et facile à consulter, Anatomie du voilier concentre une grande richesse d'information à destination aussi bien du passionné que du néophyte. Grâce à son exploration minutieuse de toutes les parties d'un voilier, il entre dans les profondeurs d'un savoir à la fois traditionnel et très contemporain...

Thames war hero

The Thames fireboat Massey Shaw helped save St Paul's during the Blitz, as well as rescuing 600 soldiers at Dunkirk and providing the venue for secret meetings about the creation of the NHS. You can read all about this historic craft in my article in the latest issue of Classic Boat magazine.

Too close to home?

My article about my old home town of Spetses, Greece, published in this month's issue of Classic Boat should have been the easiest thing in the world to write. In fact, it was one of the hardest. Something about being too close to the subject? Hopefully I've done it justice –you'll just have to read it to find out...

Return of the giant-slayer

My first cover of the year: the gorgeous 1902 schooner Coral Of-Cowes, which I snapped during last year's Round the Island race. Find out how her owner Richard Oswald stumbled across her, brought her back to life, and now charters her to pay the bills. Nothing swanky about this story: just an ordinary, very likeable guy who happens to own an extraordinary boat.

In Nelson's vague

Chasse Marée have done me proud this month by giving my article about Will Stirling a generous 14 pages – a record for me, I think – including two full pages of plans. Will, you'll recall, was the brains & brawn behind the cutter Integrity, winner of last year's Classic Boat new-build award. There's also a great article about log driving, which I wish I'd written.