Out now: The first ever 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.
'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
'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
'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
'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
'A fascinating book.' Sailing Today
Off the Deep End
Published by Adlard Coles, September 2017
Published by Ivy Press, October 2016
The Shipping Forecast
Published by BBC Books, September 2016
Ultimate Classic Yachts
Published by Adlard Coles, October 2015
Madness at Sea (Part 1)
Self-published, March 2016
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
Why Sailors Can't Swim
Published by Adlard Coles, May 2013
Titanic on Trial
Published by Bloomsbury, April 2012
Published by Adlard Coles, 2011
Iain Oughtred - A Life in Wooden Boats
Published by Adlard Coles, 2009
The Anatomy of Sail
Published by Adlard Coles, September 2014
Here's one for the Titanoraks
I can't pretend I had any interest in the Titanic before I was asked to write this book. 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 interlocked 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 next to the hull when the first gush of water burst through to the first class passengers who may or may not have paid their way to safety – all told in theior 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
‘This is a fine book, both biography and design catalogue, it is a fitting tribute to a remarkable character.’ Christian Brook, Boat Books Australia
‘Iain has a cult following around the world as a result of
his exceptionally appealing, yet easy to build small boat designs, and this compelling
book shows just why.’ All at Sea
‘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
‘This book is a must for any builder or enthusiast of small boat design and build.’ Classic Boat
'An unusual man very well described in this very high quality book.' Ausmarine
‘Late at night, out in the workshop, builder's of Iain's
boats have often admitted to feelings of invisible company, of being part of
something much bigger; a strong sense that in the act of working with such
beauty they too have become part of that great pantheon of boatbuilders.’
Robert Ayliffe, Duck Flat Wooden Boats
'Nice present for a sailor.' The Little Ship
Published by Barnes & Noble, 2010 (co-authored)
Published by Apple Press, 2010 (co-authored)
Indispensable Book of Practical Life Skills
Published by Hammond, 2009 (co-authorted)
Published by Ivy Press, 2011
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.