Cruising Guides in the age of Google. Still Relevant?

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Over the last 12 months or so, numerous sailors, planning a Caribbean charter, have called or emailed us to ask if a Cruising Guide is still necessary considering there would be a chart plotter aboard the boat. This in turn got us to thinking about the role that cruising guides play in the current environment of the Web, cruising blogs, chart plotters, GPS and electronic charting. There are three distinct phases to consider in this regard:

Planning the Cruise

Customer research tells us that the typical Caribbean charter party, consider the planning and preparation of the cruise to be 50% of the overall enjoyment. Getting the crew together to research and discuss potential charter / cruising destinations, boat selection, sailing itinerary and general familiarization with the cruising area, not to mention the seasonal variations in weather and the inherent flavor of the location is a major part of the planning process. Many of them purchase several cruising guides and send them to their various crew members in anticipation of some social research and cruise planning sessions. Although some of this information can be researched on-line from cruising blogs etc. it should be considered that the perspective of a writer of any established cruising guide is usually honed over many years verses the perspective of a cruiser/blogger who likely is visiting the area for the first time and may or may not be lucky with weather, access to local facilities and supplies, all of which may influence the experience.

Island Navigation and Harbor approaches:

Electronic chart plotters are wonderful, but they should never be relied upon as the sole instrument of navigation and although convenient for plotting a course,  developing waypoints and routing, once close to shore, the prudent sailor will start using additional tools to confirm his/her location and routing. On many occasions, when entering a narrow passage or approaching an anchorage, I have seen skippers zoom the plotter in for larger scale viewing of the area, a practice that can be fraught with gremlins! Given the fact that in many instances, electronic charts are digitized versions of standard DMA and NOAA paper charts, some of which were surveyed many years ago, it is easy to get lured into a false sense of security. In addition, we have observed that among several boats located in the same anchorage but utilizing different charting software, the boats appear on the respective plotter screens in different locations relative to their actual proximity within the anchorage. So although the actual GPS position is known, the charting software used can be inconsistent even with the WGS84 datum correction.

Bottom line, it is always prudent to use several different methods and tools to locate and update your position and always keep a sharp lookout ahead. Electronics can fail, yacht electrical systems can go down. Keep your position updated, preferably on a paper chart. Your cruising guide is your local expert, a necessary part of your navigation equipment and can help you interpret the chart, cross reference any discrepancies and, most important, recommend safe routing to your destination.

Now you are safely anchored; what’s going on ashore?

After the long sail you’re ready for a hike, a snorkel or want to take a taxi to visit an island destination or simply find a local bar or restaurant. Turn the page of your cruising guide and the information will be there, referenced, often with commentary and recommendations. Today,  Cruising Guides remain as relevant as ever and add to the planning enjoyment and general safety of the cruise. Do your research, plan the cruise, take along updated charts, but don’t forget to take your cruising guide along.

On the road less traveled, go with the people who know the way!