“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 recent books below. Photo above by Sam Compton.


Latest releases

A notable Christmas present!

It's exactly what it says on the tin: a collection of 40 stories of 40 interesting or 'notable' boats. It took some ingenuity to think of interesting stories for some of the boats suggested by the publisher, eg a gondola (Casanova's escape from the Doge prison), a Hinckley sloop (John Lennon's trip to Bermuda shortly before he died), etc. Lots of the usual suspects are there (Spray, Suhaili, Dorade, Gypsy Moth IV, etc) as well as a few surprises (who's heard of Evgeny Gvozdev, Amyr Klink and Kawika Kapahulehua?). I even managed to squeeze in Huck's raft and the Kon-Tiki. Anyway, I'm very pleased with the end result: one of those books that it's a pleasure to hold (regardless of what's inside!).

What the reviewers are saying:

'Visually impactful, historically relevant, the book offers an intimate exploration of the boats – both real and fictional – that have shaped the iconography of the subject throughout history. Adventure, disaster and heroism: it's all here.' Vanity Fair

Becoming cyclonic later...

Like most sailors who have navigated through UK waters, I've often been at the receiving end of the Shipping Forecast and been grateful for its reliable predictions. I've also sat at home and been entranced by its strangely poetic rhythms, as it circles around the 31 sea areas, from Viking down to FitzRoy and back up to Southeast Iceland. So I was delighted when BBC Books asked me to write a miscellany based around this most unlikely of national institutions.

The result is this book, which starts off with a description of how the Shipping Forecast came to be adored by seafarers and landlubbers alike, before dipping into each of the sea areas themselves to explore some of the rich maritime culture to be found around the British Isles. Featured on: the Today Programme (BBC Radio 4), the Steve Wright Show (BBC Radio 2), the Breakfast Show (BBC 1), BBC Radio Devon, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Express, The Times and Radio Times.

What the reviewers are saying:

'Fantastic book – we're loving it!" Steve Wright, BBC Radio 2

'...a touching tribute.' Roger Lewis, Daily Mail

20 classic boats, 20 amazing stories

It’s been 20 years since I went ‘pro’ and did my first shoot for Classic Boat magazine. This book features 20 boats from the past 20 years of photographing and writing about classic yachts: starting with the inimitable 1885 cutter Partridge and covering a range of yachts, from the 1930s Fastnet winner Stormy Weather to modern replicas such as the Herreshoff schooner Eleonora, and ‘modern classics’ such as the Fife ‘mash-up’ Savannah. There’s also a rare Greek working boat restoration, a 24ft double-ender built by hand on a beach in Tasmania, a royal yacht (featuring the ‘royal heads’!), and a cruising boat built from wood salvaged from the Argentine warship General Belgrano. Available from Amazon or direct from Bloomsbury.

What the reviewers are saying:

"A masterpiece of photography and words. [...] Compton clearly loves these boats and relishes sailing on them and photographing them." Sailing magazine

"Packed with fascinating facts, history, amusing anecdotes and full colour photography that will make sailors drool, it’s a book you’ll return to again and again." Press & Journal

"A masterpiece of nautical history, splendor, enterprise and charm" Australian Independent Bookseller

"Nic Compton's book will have yacht owners seasick with envy" The Telegraph

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... Published by Adlard Coles, September 2014.

What the reviewers are saying:
"Classic Boat's former editor delivers a seven-chapter 192-page opus on all the aspects of a boat, from types and materials to rigs and fittings, even nav instruments...Gorgeously illustrated." Classic Boat

"Will sit attractively on the fussiest coffee table, but will also provide inspiration for anyone looking for ideas while restoring a boat." The Marine Quarterly

"With its heavyweight feel, high quality production and beautiful photography this large format book evokes an immediate connection with the classic vessels, which are its main subject. Beautifully produced and packed with clear, well composed and informative photographs it reflects the author's background in boat building and as a former editor of Classic Boat magazine...his book would certainly find a place in the collection of anyone who values lovely photographs of beautiful objects, not just yachts." Cruising Association

"Nic Compton's knowledge of the subject and skill as a writer turns a good idea into a great book."
 Nigel Irens, Yacht Designer

The making of a Titanorak

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.

What the reviewers are saying:

"Many many books have been published [about the Titanic], some better than others but Titanic on Trial by Nic Compton is one of my favourites out of this genre. [...] Difficult to review such a moving and tragic account but I do urge you to buy and read. Not ashamed to say it made me cry." Elaine Simpson-Long, Random Jottings

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. One of the first designers to see the potential of epoxy/ply construction, Iain made his name with elegant boats designed for amateur construction, never patronising his customers, and proving that amateurs could build beautiful boats too. Designs such as the Acorn Skiff, the Caledonian Yawl, the Ness Yawl and, more recently, the St Ayles Skiff have helped establish a worldwide following for the reclusive designer.

Published by Adlard Coles, 2009.

What the reviewers are saying:

‘This sensitively written book is about an artist with a belief in beauty and simplicity, who lives his dreams, mostly by himself, while giving far more to the world than he takes from it.’ Maynard Bray, Technical Editor of WoodenBoat magazine

'Biographies are often slow going, even a bit moribund, but for me this one reads more like a thriller, pulling you forward, wanting to find out what happens next. […] Mr. Compton has knit all this together into a flowing narrative that stays out of the way and allows the story unfold like a satisfying afternoon sail. Highly recommended.’ Thomas Armstrong, 70.8% Blogspot

‘This book is to be devoured in a couple of sittings and then dipped into whenever life becomes too jaded, a source of inspiration for many years to come... This is a must-have volume.’ Water Craft 

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.

Learning on the job

After years of teaching 'problem children', Mike Newmeyer has opened the Skol ar Mor ('school of the sea') and is applying his theories of 'experiential education' to his favourite subject: boatbuilding. I visited him in Brittany and spoke to some of his (French) students.

The artist and his muse

I joined artist Stephen Dews and his wife Louise for the sail trials of their brand new modern classic Wolfhound, just before they set off home halfway round the world in New Zealand. So why were there paw marks all over the table and elsewhere..?

Greek tragedy unfolds

The fate of Greece's indigenous working boats hangs in the balance, as more and more boats are chopped up for EU grants. You can find out all about the caique's fascinating history and the extraordinary variety of craft that used to ply Homer's 'wine-dark sea' in the current issue of Chasse Marée - providing you can read French of course!

Wags on the Shannon

The Water Wags are the oldest one-design in the world, dating back to 1886. I joined a fleet of them racing on the Shannon River in Ireland and met one of the class's foremost builders: 89-year-old Jimmy Furey.

The mountain to Moses

On my first day at a Water Wag regatta in Ireland, I was handed a scythe and told to cut a path through rushes while standing on a balance board. On the second day, I was handed a tiller and told to helm a race. Find out how I fared in the latest issue of Sailing. (The article is also available on their website, here.)

Rescuing the rescuer

The definitive account of how the Colin Archer rescue boat Christiania was rescued after sinking in the North Sea and sitting on the sea bed for over a year. En français, bien sur.

Graham Greene's yacht

After my first article about Graham Greene's yacht Nausikaa was published, I did some more research and found more about how the author of Brighton Rock had acquired the boat and why. I also uncovered an unlikely love triangle between Greene, his sailing companion Father Thomas Gilby, and their shared lover... It's all in the May issue of Yachting World.

De start van de zaak...

One of my pictures of Graham Greene's yacht Nausikaa also made it to the cover of Dutch magazine Spiegel der Zeilvaart. I'm told the translation is good too, though of course I wouldn't know as I don't speak Dutch...