“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...

What the reviews 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

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.

A Greek tragedy?

The Dutch magazine Spiegel der Zeilvaart has done a nice (and speedy!) job with my article about traditional Greek working boats (aka caiques). This article has been more than 2 years in the making, so it's good to see it making its first appearance. It's in two parts: pre-WWII this month, post WWII next month.

The truth revealed

Two years after I sailed on board the 1945 Greek perama caique Faneromeni, my article is finally out in Classic Boat. This was a visionary restoration from the 1980s, well ahead of the current trend for old boats in Greece. Not my pic on the cover, sadly, but what a stunning shot...

For those in peril...

Delighted to see one of my pictures was chosen by readers of Spiegel der Zeilvaart to launch their new cover design. The pic is of the Colin Archer rescue boat Christiania, which sank to the bottom of the North Sea in 1997 and was craned up from 500m and restored. I joined her on a family cruise through the Caledonian Canal on her way to Morocco a couple of years ago..

125-year-old antique sails around Britain

Built in 1888 to race on Morecambe Bay, Bonita wasn't the obvious choice to sail around Britain. But that's what Mike Beckett chose to do to celebrate the boat's 125th birthday - and 75 years in the Beckett family. Chasse Marée have done a lovely job with this one, digging up some great old pics of the yard where she was built – and they even managed to squeeze in my moody shot of Beachy Head. Out now, en français, bien sur.

Classics with a twist

You can read all about Nikos Daroukakis, the Greek boatbuilder rooted in tradition but with an eye to to the future, in the March/April issue of WoodenBoat. And it's in English this time...