If you've done any sailing outside your home waters, you already know how invaluable a cruising guide can be. I suppose it's possible to tough it out with just the chart and the chart checkout, but at the very least this means you'd be reinventing the wheel when it comes to choosing an anchorage, figuring out what time you should arrive there, finding groceries, and much more.
Chris Doyle, who writes the biennial Cruising Guide to the Leeward Islands and Cruising Guide to the Windward Islands, among others, sailed to the Caribbean from the U.K. in 1969 and now spends nearly seven months in the islands each year; he regards the Caribbean as his home. The first edition of the Windwards guides was published in 1980; the Leewards guides started in 1989. The guides, he says, became more and more detailed over time, in part reflecting the growth of yacht services, marinas, restaurants, and related businesses that followed the growth of chartering, cruising, and land-based tourism in the islands. Fortunately for guide writers, topography almost always stays the same, though from time to time someone finds an uncharted hazard.
Chris spends a lot of his island time listening to other people and updating his books. Much of his information—and occasional reorganizations and additions—comes from conversations with cruisers and charterers who use the guides and from those who have new businesses they want him (and his readers) to know about. It's not always a simple process; for example, presenting a new marina in one of the guides involves aerial photography and some surveying in addition to the written material.
Like many cruising-guide writers, Chris maintains an ongoing e-mail conversation with people who are cruising or chartering in the islands and posts their comments on his Web site, doyleguides.com.
Also on doyleguides.com is a discussion of how Chris makes his sketch charts (choose Our Guides, then Sketch Charts) and a link to the GPS mapping software he uses. You can download a shareware version and start charting.
Florida Yacht Charters recently opened a new base in the St. Petersburg, Florida, area (Regatta Pointe Marina in Palmetto) and will be adding to the fleet there. According to Susan Everhard, the company is looking into the possibility of opening a base on Amelia Island, near Jacksonville. You'll get the news here.<
The Moorings was named one of the Top 15 Tour Operators in Travel + Leisure magazine's 2007 readers' survey. Let's go, sailing!