January 2003
- by Carol Standish

Book Cover Here we are again—in the seed catalog and cruising guide season. (Sounds so much better than bleak mid-winter, doesn’t it?) Happily, there are new products available in both categories to distract us. Many northeastern cruising boaters may have recieved the twelfth edition of The Cruising Guide to the New England Coast (W.W. Norton, 827pp, $49.95) by Duncan, Duncan, Fenn and Fenn as a holiday gift since the book was strategically released in September. Others are still debating the investment. This is the scoop.

If you found the eleventh edition (published in 1995) enjoyable and useful, you’ll feel the same about the twelfth. A major reason is the literate personal commentary. Over its 50 year evolvement the book has become both a literary classic and a family saga. (The Fenns and the Duncans are by now all cousins.)

Many segments from many previous editions written by predecessors of the the authorscontemporary authors have been wisely retained. In decorous post-Victorian prose—spiced with wry twists of (usually) self-deprecating humor—personal experiences, observations and advice from three generations of Yankee academics provide a thoroughly enjoyable prospective on the enterprise of cruising. To wit: “The era of the ‘gentleman’s yacht’ is almost over. One sees along-shore now very few 50-foot schooners, yawls, or ketches shining with brass and varnish, flying proper flags at the proper time, and having a paid skipper and deckhand to row the owner ashore in a varnished cedar skiff.” The reading enjoyment of today’s cruiser may be laced with a twinge of envy, of course, for those bygone days of high style and summers of pure leisure.

Practically speaking, the Guide continues to fulfill its purpose (as stated in the third, 1952 edition), Point Judith“to put into convenient form information of value to the captain of a small sailboat or motorboat cruising the New England coast...including the following points about each harbor: suitability of refuge; appearance of entrance from sea; information on entering; anchorages and mooring facilities; attractiveness and general interest; and useful information such as location of yacht clubs and boat yards (with depths at docks) availability of supplies, hotels, railroad, restaurants, post office, bathing, and amusement facilities and sources of accurate information.”

The new edition covers the same dauntingly large and various cruising grounds as the 1995 edition—Hudson Eastern BayRiver to New Brunswick, Canada—with all same the harbors previously included. The table of contents has been somewhat reorganized into different groups of passage transits than those of the previous edition and the design of the page has been changed in minor ways—chapters numbered in arabic instead of roman numerals, san-seraph sub-headings, a reluctance to use bold print—presumably in an attempt to modernize “the look” which actually makes the text harder on older eyes though not significantly.

A close comparison of the practical details included in Woods Holethe eleventh and the twelfth editions by this reviewer resulted in the discovery of minimal informational changes but it would be foolhardy to suggest that the older book would suffice for this summer’s cruise. The specific piece of information that you might need in a dilemma or a crunch might be just the new inclusion overlooked by a whole spate of reviewers.

Another cautionary note is also warranted, however. Inherent in the process of compilation of such a volume is the significant lag time between the research and publication. Research for this edition seems to have been accomplished during 1999. Some findings are already out of date by the time the book hits the stores. Not much happened in Wells Harbor between 1992 and 1999, for instance, although a battle over dredging had raged for more than a decade. Between the research and the Guide’s publication, the harbor was smartly dredged. Today it is an adequate hidey-hole for shallow draft cruisers, home to almost 200 recreational boats. As the authors themselves say in this edition (and all the previous ones), “the information contained herein cannot be guaranteed and must be used with due caution.”

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