Cruising Guides for the Caribbean (Now that we have been there)

In a post last week, I revisited our pre-sabbatical thinking on charts for the Caribbean and Bahamas in light of our experiences sailing there. This week, I take a look at the guidebooks.

We ended up buying all the guides, including all the Doyle guides for the Eastern Caribbean, that we had mentioned in the original post. And we enjoyed making use of all of them. However, it would be hard to say that any one of these resources were essential. That being said, we certainly could have used a guide to Puerto Rico, and, because we borrowed our friends on Pegasus’s, we know just the one we would purchase. We also found another guide that we had aboard, Les Weatherill’s Caribbean Passagemaking, which did not even make the original post, far more helpful than we imagined.

Even though I mentioned Bruce Van Sant’s classic in my original post, Passages South was another book that proved to be more useful than we originally thought. Before we left, Van Sant seemed overly focused on – not to forget, opinionated about – getting east against the trades. Since we were heading in the opposite direction, I imagined most of his weather advice would be of only limited utility. It turned out that the weather-related parts of Van Sant’s Passages South were spot on, helping us to understand the weather in simpler form than Chris Parker’s in-depth weather handbook. And while he seems to revel a bit too much in stories of folks who suffered because they failed to take his advice, these tales often provided a little peak into what cruising the waters from the Bahamas through Puerto Rico was like decades ago.

The four Doyle cruising guides – to the Virgin Islands, to the Northern Leeward and Southern Leeward Islands, and to the Windward Islands – were of marginal value for us. We consulted the Virgins cruising guide frequently enough, but Hurricane Irma put so much of the bar and restaurant and marine services information out of date (surely an updated version is in the works?). Moreover, while it is hard for us to imagine cruising without a guide to the area we are in, the Doyle guide to the Virgins was not indispensable. On the whole, most of the information could be easily attained through other sources: free mariners guides that are put out by the tourist bureaus, Active Captain, or other cruisers.

In the Bahamas, we found The Waterway Guide to the Bahamas to be the single most useful text. It covered the entirety of the country and the Turks and Caicos. So, when we cruised through T&C, checked into Mayaguana, hopped over to Eleuthera, and then stopped in New Providence and the Berrys on the way to Florida, it was almost the only information we had for those areas. I say almost, because the Explorer chartbooks – Near Bahamas, Exumas and Raggeds, and Far Bahamas – have some limited, but useful information on anchorages and services at settlements. And, in the Bahamas, we used Active Captain quite a bit, though the coverage, as always with Active Captain, is spotty and the advice uneven.

In the Exumas, where we spent the bulk of our time in the country, we also had the Pavlidis Exuma Guide. Pavlidis served as one more source of information and often provided more in-depth insight than anything else we had on board. Another thing that we found in the Bahamas is that there is no shortage of cruisers willing to give advice. Further, as friends we met in the Turks and Caicos told us, part of the fun of these islands is searching for good snorkeling, trails, secluded beaches, caves, blue holes, and other interesting things on your own. As they pointed out and we found to be true, if you just follow the guidebooks and advice from others, you miss some of the adventure in the Bahamas.

One place where we could have used some more guidance was in Puerto Rico. For some reason, we had not thought about buying a guide for there or the Dominican Republic, though we should have. Without a guide, we pulled information from Active Captain and the free cruising guide to Puerto Rico. Neither were ideal. I applaud Frank Virgintino’s – the author of the free guide series – work, but the guide was far from comprehensive. Fortunately, the good folks on Pegasus loaned us Stephen Pavlidis’s Cruising Guide to Puerto Rico. Pavlidis’s book was not a panacea, but it was better than any other source that we had. When we go back – and we will go back, we loved Puerto Rico, especially Culebra – we will have Pavlidis’s guide on hand ourselves.

Les Weatheritt’s Caribbean Passagemaking proved to be better than any other book at giving us an overview of cruising the Caribbean and helping us to understand the weather and current in the region. We already had it on hand, bought a few years back when we were just dreaming of spending time in the islands. But I had failed to mention it in my earlier post on guidebooks, overlooking its utility. I reread it on our passage south, and found myself using the knowledge I gained over and over as we hopped from island to island and considered heading further south. I highly recommend Weatheritt’s book.

Next week, we will highlight some other non-cruising guides and books that we found improved our experience in the areas we cruised.

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