I write guides, and have been since 1980. I was running a charter yacht at the time and at a party when it all started. I was complaining to my host, who was, incidentally, wearing nothing but a plastic apron as he tended bar on his boat, about how current cruising guides were not doing their job, resulting in a string of pestiferous questions from the newly arrived visitors who had just begun to charter bareboats. “Well” he said, “write your own”. So I did.
I could not get a publisher interested and thought about publishing it myself, but being impecunious I had no money to pay for the printing. Someone else suggested I sell some advertising in the book. Well, it was summer and there were no charters, so I gave it a go. My friend Sally Erdle (now editor of Caribbean Compass), was happy to make cartoon illustrations for the early editions, which in those day were just black and white. Having no idea about business, I sold the ads far too cheaply and was thus successful at obtaining the ads, not realizing that the quote the printer had given me was merely for the printing and did not include the typesetting and art department, which left me with a sizeable bill to pay off.
The printer, who was in Barbados, realized that unless he gave me the books to sell, I was clearly not going to be able to pay him, so we packed them all in boxes (only a few thousand in those days) and I accompanied them on a freighter to St. Vincent.
In those days windsurfing was all the craze and I could manage one of those big old stable boards without falling in, so I would put a bunch in a backpack and windsurf boat to boat selling them. The first edition of a few thousand took three years to sell. My business acumen was about as well-honed as the edge of a banana, and I probably would have failed if charter managers had not realized that I was happy to listen to their problems and could help keep their clients off the reefs. So after about six years of supporting my “hobby” guides, they began to support me.
I am happy to say most people like my guides, both users and advertisers, and the reason seems to be I am only too happy to listen to other people’s suggestions; “You need waypoints in your guide” – so I put them in, and was one of the first to do so. So it went on with color sketch charts, color aerial photos, star charts, and other features of the guide. My writing style needed a lot of work, too. I have been lucky with editors and learned a lot and, though tempted, don’t always accept their suggestions. One of my favorites was a passage I had been struggling with back in the 80s about some hotel. Vincent Cleary, my editor at the time, crossed out what I had written and wrote “This hotel has the ambience of a subway station on the beach”.
I have tried my hand at tourist guides, published a nature guide (I hope to do a new edition soon), and made a few video guides, with mixed success. The cruising guides are what works and I write two main guides; The Windwards and The Leewards, which are updated every two years. My other guides, Trinidad and Venezuela, are much smaller markets so they get updated when we sell enough of the previous edition. Cruising Guide Publications publishes The Leewards guide, I publish the others in conjunction with them. They also publish the main Virgin Island guide, with which I have no connection. We also do some larger and prettier “anchorage” books, which are mainly blow-up aerial shots with charts. For more information on these visit Cruising Guide Publications where you can open some our books and see what they are like. You can also buy them there.