Fine-tuned art of ocean racing; The Big Book of Sailing, edited by Frank Grube and Gerhard Richter. Woodbury, N.Y.: Barron's. $49.95.

If you have a wife, husband, or cousin determined to sail around the world -- particulary if you're signed aboard as crew for a no-holds-barred 27,000-mile race -- take a look at this Germanic compendium of pros and cons first.

"The Big Book of Sailing" deals with the fine-tuned art of ocean racing, including such events as the 1934 America's Cup race when British aircraft magnate Thomas Sopwith's Endeavor nearly became the first challenger ever to beat the Americans.

The book also deals in criticism, lamenting the professionalism that is overtaking ocean racing. We read of a new breed of international competitors who change boats and friends faster than gentlemen once changed sails.

And listen to Joshua Slocum, who in 1898 became the first to sail singlehanded around the world, describing how he weathered a Cape Horn gale in 1896. Forced to sail through the treacherous Strait of Magellan a second time, he wrote: "There the Spray rode, now like a bird on the crest of a wave, and now like a waif deep down in the hollow between seas; and so she drove on.While days passed, counted as other days, but with always a thrill -- yes, of delight."

Come spring, I'll probably still be hunting for the full texts of the many fascinating excerpts reprinted here.

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