“I must be a mermaid, Rango. 

I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”    Anaïs Nin

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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 a large archive of 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. 

Time to get knotting!

Yes, you read it right: it's A Knot a Day, ie 365 knots, one for each day of the year. And, unlike most knot books, it's not just knots for knots' sake. I was determined to make these knots as practical and relevant as possible. Which is why there are knots for outdoor activities (such as swings, ladders, tightropes, zip wires, etc), as well as craft knots (bracelets, necklaces, key rings and even a rather intricate wall hanging), sewing knots (including the invisible Russian join!), indoor knots (hanging shelves, clothes lines and even for making bouquet garni!), and fashion knots (creative ways to tie your shoelaces, scarves and ties). But my favourite category is the magic knots: knots that magically appear or disappear, escapology knots and several spectacular 'thrown' knots, including the über cool 'thrown bowline'. That's alongside about 200 standard knots, starting with real beginner knots to more advanced challenges. Available direct from Bloomsbury or from Amazon (UK) from 10 December. US knotters will have to wait until 9 February, I'm afraid - from Amazon (USA).

You can read about how the local community contributed to the making of this book on the Adlard Coles blog.

What the reviewers are saying:
'This is a fun, well-photographed collection of knots for any and every occasion. Sure to delight scouts, sailors, amateur magicians, and shoelace mavens alike.' Booklist (US)

'What better time to further your skills? Nic Compton has set the tempting task of 365 different knot challenges for all ages and abilities, so you can hitch, bend, whip and splice your way through 2021.' Yachting World

'A beautifully designed guide... For readers looking to beef up their knot knowledge, this is a handy resource.' Publishers Weekly

'Every sailor probably has a book of knots gathering dust on a shelf but you'd be hard pressed to find one as comprehensive as [this].' Sailing Magazine

'This charming book is full of innovative ways to turn a length of rope, a tie or even a scarf into something much more interesting and useful.. this book promises hours of enjoyment.' RNLI magazine

'An iron fist in a velvet glove ... Fun accessible and informative.' Classic Boat

'Brings together a year's worth of ways to work with rope, from traditional hitches to magic tricks. Suitable for both adults and children...increasing in complexity across the year, it's designed to encourage you to master the basics before attempting more advanced knots. There is a good variety of classic hitches, bends, coils and splices, but there are many more unusual and obscure knots that will have you testing your skills.' Waterways World

A history of madness at sea

They say the sea always finds the inner you. Slowly, relentlessly, it washes away the veneer of politeness and reveals people’s true nature. And it’s not always pretty. Take Paul Terman, an experienced German sailor who set off on a transatlantic cruise in 1981 and felt so antagonised he ended up killing the yacht’s skipper and his girlfriend. Or Donald Crowhurst, who spent months drifting around the Atlantic pretending to be sailing around the world in the 1968 Golden Globe race before giving up and committing suicide. Even during the Age of Discovery, there were several mutinies and mass murders caused by spending too long at sea. And mental illness was so widespread during the Age of Sail that the Royal Navy was forced to build several ‘asylums’ to house its mad sailors.

It’s a rich area for psychologists too, and several case studies have been made of long-distance yacht races as well as more general studies of the ‘outlaw sea’, where national laws don’t apply. The philosopher Foulcault describes ships as “not only the greatest instrument of economic development […] but the greatest reservoir of imagination.” And it’s a thin line between the imagination and the fantastical; reason and madness.

This book looks at the sea’s physical character, how it confuses our senses and makes rational thought difficult. It looks at the long history of madness at sea and how that is played out in many of today’s singlehanded and crewed races. It looks at the often marginal behaviour of sailors living in a liminal space which is both figuratively and literally outside society’s usual rules. And it looks at the sea’s power to heal, as well as cause, madness. Published by Adlard Coles, September 2017. Available here. It's also available as an audiobook, narrated by Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, at Audible.

What the reviewers are saying: 

'This horrifying and engrossing book could scarcely be improved upon. [...] a lightly-worn but gripping contribution to the field, well researched and full of anecdote and comparison.' The Spectator

'A fascinating and engrossing nose dive into the underreported depths of nautical insanity.' Kerkus Reviews

'Must-reading for nautical enthusiasts with a strong stomach and readers intrigued by the body-mind connection and other psychiatric matters.' Booklist

'Nic Compton’s brilliant new non-fiction release proves a powerful and fascinating exploration of the long and unusual history of madness at sea.' The Arts Desk

"This marvellous, engrossing and horrifying book charts the story of lunacy at sea, its causes, manifestation, treatment and implications. At a crucial moment in the history of human mental health, Off the Deep End is immensely informative and readable, and hugely provocative." The Big Issue, Best Books of the Year

'A fun, amusing and engaging history of men and women who went mad at sea.' Blue Water Sailing

'Compton's collection of questionable-sanity stories covers centuries of sailing in a way that is part history, part horror and part hypothesis. Whichever part appeals to you, this book is a fascinating and cautionary tale.' Sailing

'Highly recommended.' Yachting Monthly

'Off the Deep End is well written, Nic Compton’s prose embracing the reader’s attention and clipping along at a pace.' Ocean Cruising Club

'A fascinating book.' Sailing Today

'Your subject is under-explored - despite near universal interest - and your treatment of it is very well judged: highly readable without resort to sensationalism, well researched but not dryly academic, and relevant without becoming a campaign pamphlet. I hope it gets the readership it deserves.'  Dr Stephen, Consultant Psychiatrist, Edinburgh

Some notable boatables

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

'Of all the books that my girl has given to me, as christmas presents, over the (considerable long) years, this rates equal best with "The Devil's Dictionary" as one I least expected to get and have enjoyed sumthin considrble.' Shannon O'Hara, reader

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.

Extraordinary Vertue

The 'original Vertue' Andrillot features as the Extraordinary Boat in the May issue of Yachting World, written by yours truly. Can't disagree with that description! [And please note that is the correct spelling of the type, which was named after the Vertue Cup.] 

Welcome to Gaffling 4.1

The new 13ft 6in kit boat now available through the Old Gaffers Association is intended to get younger people into sailing gaffers. The boat was created by Andrew Wolstenholme, one of the most prolific yet understated designers on the boating scene, as featured in my articles in the May/June issue of WoodenBoat.

How to recycle 

old boats

What to do with the increasing number of GRP boats reaching the end of their lives is a growing problem. Luckily, some solutions are beginning to emerge – and new boats are being built from eco-friendly materials (such as flax and soluble epoxy!) which are easier to recycle. It's all in the April issue of Yachting Monthly.

Wolf Rock, with Grace

One of my more memorable assignments was sailing around Wolf Rock, off the tip of Cornwall, in an open dinghy called Grace. I'm pleased to see that the seal I encountered while paddling around taking photos still says 'Aaaaaarrrfff!  Aaaaaarrrfff!' in the French translation of my article, published in the April issue of Chasse Marée.

The original Vertue

I managed to snap some photos of Adrillot, the original Vertue, sailing off Dartmouth the day before she headed to Germany – possibly forever. Six months later one of those shots made it to the cover of Dutch magazine Spiegel der Zeilvaart, with the full story inside (in Dutch of course!).

Top 10 Trailer Sailers

I had a tough time choosing my favourite trailer-sailers, starting with the grandfather of them all, the Drascombe lugger, and then the ubiquitous but excellent Shrimper, the adventuresome Stir Ven and, my long-time favourite, Iain Oughtred's Caledonia Yawl. And the others? You'll just have to buy the January issue of Classic Boat to find out!

An OSTAR classic

Golden Vanity was built in 1908 as a floating studio for artist Arthur Briscoe. More than 60 years later, she set a new record in the 1972 OSTAR – for the slowest Atlantic crossing in history of the race, some 88 days. Read the full story in the February issue of Yachting World.

Iain Oughtred special

Twelve years after writing my biography of small boat designer Iain Oughtred, I finally got to see one of his beloved sharpie designs in action. Meet the lovely Luely and catch up with what Iain's been up to in the Jan/Feb issue of WoodenBoat magazine.

The long goodbye

New owner Uli Killer and his son Moritz had plenty of adventures on the 380-mile trip from Dartmouth to Holland on the legendary Andrillot. Read all about Laurent Giles's 'original Vertue' in the Jan/Feb issue of Sailing magazine.

A Vertuous voyage

Vertue No1 Andrillot now has a German owner, so it's only natural she should feature in Germany's top classic boat magazine - Yacht Classic.