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During the last Saturday of our recent passage  we both transferred to our preferred tablets (iPad for the first mate, Samsung for the skipper) an electronic copy ie an ok scanned version of Alan Lucas’ Cruising the Coral Coast. It proved wonderful reading rather like Tom Cunliffe’s Shell Channel Guide useful harbour descriptions interspersed with little asides and odd titbits of history or other interesting information. Cruising guides are our go to reference for where to anchor, how to enter harbours and more. 

Temptress has a locker full of European ones from when we were both working and a few trans ocean guides bought as presents to each other when we were planning our trip but few others. The reason being that sadly the majority of guides are now way beyond our budget at some £30-40 each or in some cases out of print. Most cruisers find themselves in the same straits. However doing the rounds in the cruising communities that gather in places like Panama are scanned copies of old editions, pirate edition basically; not perfect but serviceable.

There is an argument that says if cruisers forked out for the newer editions instead of sharing pirated copies it would fund the expeditions and research needed to do the updating but I don’t subscribe to this. If the price was lower we’d buy; bearing in mind that the cost of these guides is higher than most cruisers would budget for a meal for two with some beers and we can’t even afford that more than every couple of months on our limited income. 

Cruising guides for the most part are highly glossy hardbacks of the coffee table style with many expensive aerial shots which along with the small print runs (and publishers profits) serve to push the price much higher than it need be. They look good at a boat show or on the bookshelf after a charter holiday but are far more than is needed by the average cruising boat.

The exception in terms of cost and glossiness is the wonderful Charlie’s Charts’ Guide to Polynesia which is black and white, spiral bound so it lays flat, with every bit of information you really need on a first or even second visit to an island, down to where to buy veggies or get your laundry done or source water or fuel. It is beautifully illustrated with little line drawings of Polynesian art and shells dotted through the pages while the hand drawn sketch charts and directions are exactly what is needed for approaching a strange anchorage. It is regularly updated even though Charlie himself has long since stopped cruising and it doesn’t cost the earth; I have never come across a pirated version, everyone can afford to buy their own copy of this practical book.

And having said all that once safely at anchor in Cairns we paid a visit to the local chart agent; a shop where ships large and small can purchase sea charts produced by the local authority and usually Her Majesty’s Hydrographic Office as well. There we forked out $165Aus (about £100)  for the latest edition of Alan Lucas’ Cruising the Coral Coast, a set of Queensland tide tables essential for this art of the world and a copy of the 2008 edition South East Asia Cruising a Guide Volume II which covers Indonesia to Thailand. Expensive but sometimes having a proper book we can pour over together and annotate the margins is more practical than a slightly blurry, unidexed, out of date electronic version. We then both spent the evening with our noses stuck in real books for once!