Nautical or Sea Novels

These novels are set at sea or aboard ship for a significant part of the story.

Novels Set at Sea

Benito Cereno | Herman Melville

Amasa Delano captains the Bachelor’s Delight, which is anchored of the Chilean coast. A strange ship is coming near, flying no flag, but Delano trusts they don’t have bad intentions. He goes over on a small boat–the ship is in some disrepair and carrying slaves. There are more black people than white on the ship, and Captain Cereno, a Spaniard, gives orders thru his servant. Everyone says that many of the crew died of scurvy and they were nearly shipwrecked. Delano isn’t sure what to make of the situation, but he offers his help.

Read “Benito Cereno”

The Cruel Sea | Nicholas Monsarrat

With the outbreak of World War II, George Ericson is called out of retirement to command the corvette Compass Rose of the British navy. The ship and the inexperienced crew are prepared for sea. They are assigned to convoy duty, accompanying supply ships across the Atlantic. Each of the seven parts of the narrative relate important events during one year from 1939-1945. They face danger from the Germans as well as the sea.

The Sea-Wolf | Jack London

Humphrey Weyden gets pressed into service aboard the Ghost, a schooner captained by Wolf Larsen, a brutish fighter who also reads philosophy and poetry. Humphrey is a gentleman, not used to physical work. He adjusts to the rough environment, and has some thought provoking conversations with Larsen. The ship’s mission is to hunt seals for their skins.

Moby-Dick | Herman Melville

Ishmael signs on to a whaling ship, the Pequod, run by the vengeful Captain Ahab. After they set sail, Ahab stays in his cabin for a few days before showing himself to the crew. He tells them the sole purpose of their mission is to find the whale that cost him his leg on his last trip, Moby-Dick. He offers a reward to the first man who spots the whale. Ahab’s actions become increasingly unsettling.

Read “Moby-Dick”

The Country of the Pointed Firs | Sarah Orne Jewett

A writer rents a home from Mrs. Todd in a small town on the coast of Maine. Mrs. Todd is an important member of the community, preparing and selling herbal remedies. The writer is told a story by Captain Littlepage, and old seaman, of a shipwreck he experienced. She meets other elderly residents who tell her stories of the past–theirs and the town’s.

Lord Jim | Joseph Conrad

Jim is standing trial for his dishonourable actions aboard the Patna, an endangered ship with eight hundred passengers. He eventually ends up on Patusan, an island. Jim gets involved in the local hostilities, and becomes important to the natives.

Read “Lord Jim”

Heart of Darkness | Joseph Conrad

Marlow is a riverboat captain working for a company that trades in the Congo. On his journey to meet with Kurtz, a chief in the company’s Inner Station, he finds the company’s practices are inefficient and brutal. Kurtz is a successful ivory dealer, and feelings about him are mixed.

Read “Heart of Darkness”

Billy Budd | Herman Melville

Billy is pressed into service aboard the HMS Bellipotent. He is popular with the crew, except for the Master-at-arms, John Claggart. His dislike of Billy escalates.

Read “Billy Budd”

The Old Man and the Sea | Ernest Hemingway

An old fisherman, Santiago, has gone eighty-four days in a row without a catch. His assistant, Manolin, had to leave him after forty days. He still helps Santiago carry his gear and they talk every day. He is sure his unlucky streak is going to end soon.

Read “The Old Man and the Sea”