Decided Cruising Destination, Now What Charts?

With our recent health issues, we’ve tentatively decided we’re heading toward the southern Bahamas, Exumas for our next “major” cruising adventure.  The Exumas meets a couple of criteria, first it’s close in the unlikely event we need medical care in the U.S., second there’s clear water for snorkeling and the possibility of lonely anchorages.  Unfortunately, we won’t be leaving Florida until spring partly to allow time for David’s “tune up” since we’re still unsure exactly what that will entail and also because the weekly northers don’t stop training through the Bahamas until spring.  And if we get the “tune up” completed with months to spare, we may start heading south slowly, savoring West Florida anchorages, the 10,000 Islands and hopping through the Keys.  But we already have everything we need for that.  But back to the Bahamas…

After tentatively deciding upon our next destination, we need more information.  In deciding our next cruising locale, we’ve already investigated the area, seasonal hurricane damage, the best months weatherwise to cruise the area, etc.

Now we need charts (and other stuff as well, but we’ll start with charts).

Passage from Isla to SW FL, electronic charts, cruise log, weather printout, SSB, radar

Passage from Isla to SW FL, electronic charts, cruise log, weather printout, SSB, radar

Charts requires research.  We want the very best charts, i.e. most detailed and most recent charts available.  Finding the charts that fit that criteria from the myriad of charts available requires more research.  We already have Nobeltec Passport electronic charts for my laptop downstairs on the nav desk and Garmin Bluecharts electronic charts for the Garmin GPSMap at the helm, but now we need “real” charts.

So why since we already have two different types of electronic charts that run independently would we want to spend money on more charts?  For a couple of reasons … first, because having “real charts” is always a good idea just in case something happens to our electrical system and the computer and GPS don’t get juice.  The laptop would run for about 3 hours and the GPS maybe 24 on a set of batteries, if we’re lucky.  David was a US Coast Guard Quartermaster 1st Class in the l960’s he won’t go to sea without paper charts … and in our opinion everyone should have paper charts aboard and know how to use them for navigation.  David already knew courtesy of being in charge of navigation for his SAR Coast Guard years and I know because I took the U.S. Power Squadron classes Seamanship, Piloting and Advanced Piloting which included currents and tides.  Plus the past ten years aboard Winterlude has refreshed our navigation skills.

If you’re unsure of your chart reading skills and want an onboard reference, we carry Nigel Calder’s “How to Read a Nautical Chart“.  Even David who pretty much knows everything about charts, learned some things from this book!  And it’s an easy reference tool to keep in your bookshelf aboard.

Paper Charts & Cruising Guides for 10,000 Islands and Keys Last Year

Paper Charts & Cruising Guides for 10,000 Islands and Keys Last Year

The other reason for paper charts is we just LIKE looking at them.  For us, it’s much easier to conceptualize a cruise by leaning over a paper chart and discussing it than it is to look at an electronic screen, even the 15″ laptop screen is far too small.  Our eyesight just isn’t that good anymore!  🙂  And if we have everything on the laptop screen big enough to see, the area covered isn’t sufficient!   So paper charts it is.

Now the question is WHICH charts!  There are over 20 chart cartographers listed on the Bluewater Web site and almost as many on the Landfall Navigation website.  I used to use Bluewater Web almost extensively for cruise planning, but they changed their website and it’s not nearly as user friendly.  Landfall Navigation’s website remains the same as ever and they have the most used cartographers including NOAA, NGA, Canadian and British Admiralty charts as well as some specialty cartographers.

We researched the “which charts are best” question primarily among our cruising friends that have been to the Exumas and also online asking questions on sailing forums such as the Seven Seas Cruising Association, Cruising Sailors Bulletin Board and the Cruisers Forum.  Unanimously the vote was for specialty charts called “Explorer Charts” which apparently combine great charts with some typically cruising guide type information such as recommended crossing routes.

Exumas Explorer Chartbook

Exumas Explorer Chartbook

Once we pick the type of charts that are best for the cruising area, we ask cruising friends to see if anyone wants to sell their Bahamas charts, but no.  So now it’s time to shop online to see what pricing is available, but first, we check to see what YEAR the latest edition is.  We might choose to buy an edition that’s one out of date because of pricing, but we want to know what we’re buying and so we go look for the latest editions.  In Explorer’s case, there are three chartbooks,  The Exumas and Ragged Cayes is 6th edition, published in 2010; the Far Bahamas including the Turks and Caicos 5th edition, published January 2011 and the Near Bahamas 6th edition, published June 2011.   Good thing we didn’t decide to order charts earlier in the summer!   🙂

Now that we know the latest editions, we’ll shop E-Bay.  Currently the only Explorer Chartbook available on E-Bay is the Far Edition and it’s the 1999 version.  We’d save $20 but it’s not worth the tradeoff, at least to us.  Now we’ll check Amazon … so many times we’re surprised at what Amazon has that it’s always worth checking.  Not today though.  Amazon has Explorer Charts, but they’re through Landfall Navigation and priced the same.  Why would we buy through Amazon when we can support the chart authors and not lose money?  Actually we could gain $10 by buying the Explorer Charts and an Exumas cruising guide together, but we’re not sure that’s the best cruising guide yet.

Exumas Land & Sea Park ... Here We Come!!!

Exumas Land & Sea Park ... Here We Come!!!

Each chartbook is $59.95 both at Landfall Navigation and also at the Explorer Chart website.  Since we’re assured of getting the very latest version if we buy at the author’s website, plus we like supporting authors when it makes financial sense, we’ll order our charts from the Explorer Charts website.  That’s different than usual, we usually order charts at Landfall Navigation which we also like alot.

Decision made.  So do you use paper charts?  Leave a comment at share your thoughts!   THX!  J

 

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