May 1998
- by Carol Standish

For the few and very fortunate among this website's audience who will be cruising the coast of Maine this summer, as well as the many who will cruise vicariously or virtually, we offer the following pre-season guide review.

Book Cover It is a fair assumption that every cruising boater in the Northeast owns the Duncan, Ware and Fenn Cruising Guide to the New England Coast (W.W.Norton; 780pp; $40.00). The book is the product of several lifetimes of cruising. The first edition was published in 1936 by Robert F. Duncan. Roger Duncan collected a lot of information for his father for that edition and has piloted the invaluable volume since 1960. Recently, Roger Duncan gave the responsibility for the Guide to his son, Robert C. Duncan, along with his Friendship sloop, Eastward but he fully expects to contribute to his son's first edition which is expected to be published in 2000. "It was not a solo job at all," says Roger, "we pulled it together from a lot of sources. A lot of people wrote letters and we wrote a lot of letters." Duncan visited coastal areas by boat and car, talking to harbor masters, mariners and shop keepers. Both he and his father also had official contributors. Fessenden Blanchard helped in the early additions. John Ware, a relative of Blanchard was on board for years. Wally Fenn who was a big help in the 1995 edition is Roger F. Duncan's cousin (F stands for Fenn). When school closes this spring, Robert C., a teacher and school administrator will also have help from his college student son, Alec.

Full of anecdotes, wry wit and wisdom, one appreciative user comments that the book is so masterfully written it should be read aloud. The current version was updated in 1995 with many new photos. It is more articulate, informative and humorous than ever. The territory covered includes the Hudson River, Long Island Sound and the coast of New Brunswick. The Cruising Guide to the New England Coast is an institution, so well known and trusted by generations of sailors that it leaves little room for comment�except don't leave home without it.

Book Cover It is also a safe to assume that just about all the same cruising folk are also familiar with A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast (Diamond Pass Publishing; 472pp; $39.95pb) by Taft, Taft and Rindlaub. A well-designed, easy to navigate single volume now in its third edition (1996) the guide was originally published in 1988. Hank and Jan Taft spent nearly five years researching the first edition. Curtis Rindlaub brings a lot of salty experience to the latest edition, having grown up sailing the Stockholm archipelago. Rindlaub acquired the guide from Jan Taft after her husband died suddenly. Taft insisted on meeting with both Rindlaub and his wife before selling because, "taking on the guide will change your life," she said. "It certainly changed that first summer of research," says Rindlaub. He covered the entire coast from New Brunswick to Kittery between June and September, sometimes checking out three or four harbors in one day. "I would have been delayed a whole year if the weather hadn't been so good," he says. Rindlaub and his wife, Carol Cartier, and their two young children also sail the Gulf of Maine recreationally aboard their 35 foot ketch Indigo.

Rindlaub is currently working on a new series of guides for smaller boats that cover new territory, "as far up river as tidal influence." The Cruising Guide presumes that one can sleep on one's boat. The new series places much more emphasis on waterfront access, dinghy exploration and local history. Called Maine Coast Guides for Small Boats, the series is organized by region. Rindlaub's priority is the Casco Bay guide; Penobscot Bay will be covered next. "They will make a nice companion to the Cruising Guide," says Rindlaub, "they have certainly fulfilled my personal need for poking around."

The current edition of A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast has been expanded to cover New Bruswick to St. John and the St. John River. More than 90 sketch charts of harbors and approaches are all attractive, clear, and well indexed. Of course, the inclusion of Canadian waters is a big help for those who have reached Eastport and still have some vacation left. The several appendices at the back of the book are extremely useful. They include emergency numbers, pump-out stations, boat charters, island ferry service companies � local and international, public transportation, saltwater fishing season dates and regs.

Rindlaub expects that he'll have a new edition ready for publication in 2001. He has tried to address the problem of becoming outdated between editions by publishing an annual newsletter called "Notice to Maine Cruisers" which he also posts on the net at Comments are invited by e-mail at

Book Cover There is a third guide to the same glorious cruising ground, however, which is less well known and certainly deserves consideration - Don Johnson's Cruising Guide to Maine (Westcott Cove Publishing Co.; Vol I: 204pp; $29.95; Vol II: 224pp; $34.95). Volume I covers Isles of Shoals to Rockland. Volume II covers Rockport to Eastport. This is a convenient arrangement as a single volume may be chosen according to cruise itinerary.

Johnson's forte, as noted in a previous review of another work, is research. Not only is he clearly familiar with the vagaries of navigating every little gunkhole, he is painstakingly thorough in his descriptions. He provides charts, sketch charts, maps and diagrams, which include all manner of variant conditions from "Summertime Wind and Drift Directions" to sketches of flora and fauna, photographs, and street maps of both cities and villages. All of the illustrations are his own, except the chunks of modified NOAA charts he includes for orientation. Johnson is a keen observer and a deft illustrator.

Flora & Fauna
No doubt driven by his penchant for thorough research as well as his appreciation of the region, Johnson has also included mini-essays on a large number of harbor towns which are surprisingly rich in detail given the territory covered. Like his navigational observations, these entertaining asides are extremely accurate.

Johnson's advice to cruisers is also very reliable�solidly based on common sense spiced with a little humor. Schooner NakomisIn his introductory remarks, he begins a section on navigating in fog with a description of a system called "potato navigation" in which "someone is stationed on the bow with a sack of potatoes and periodically throws one ahead of the bow. If there is no splash, then it is time to tack." His advice on fog navigation, however, is as solid as the fog is ethereal.

After describing the attractiveness of Ogunquit and dangers and difficulties of even turning around in Perkins Cove, he concludes with a succinct, "Visit Ogunquit by land." Describing nearby Wells, he minces no words. "Although this estuarian complex, with its salt-marsh, pine-lands, and sand dunes is rich in material for the nature lover and bird watcher, it a a near total disaster for the cruising boatman." Johnson proceeds to explain, in his characteristacally thorough manner, both the physical limitations and the political controversy over dredging Wells Harbor.

No amount of thorough research, however, can prevent Johnson's guide suffering from the same pitfalls as any other in terms of currency. Although both volumes have fairly recently been released in second editions, (Volume I in 1994 and Volume II in 1995) all manner of businesses up and down the coast have come and gone. Its simply a tough place to make a living. No guide can be current even for the year its published if the research was completed the previous season. A partial solution to this problem is to update your hardcopy guide with your own research on the web before�just before�you embark on your next cruise.

Book Cover There are several other guides to the Gulf of Maine available�including two which were reviewed in January on this site. Maine - Cruising the Coast by Car (Country Roads Press; 182pp; $10.95) is helpful in orienting the cruiser to stuff on land and how to get there. Hot Showers! Maine Coast Lodging for Kayakers and Sailors (Audenreed Press; 238pp; $17.95) is especially handy for the really small boater�with more emphasis on comfy overnight land acommodations than actually getting around on the water. It is also very current, written in 1997.

If you can afford to, take all of the above guides with you on your cruise�and any others you can find. None of them is quite perfect�what one misses the other catches. Absorbing different points of view enriches individual experience and minimizes misunderstanding. Belts and suspenders are a must on the water and although several of these titles are weighty, they won't sink the boat. And if you're hanging out on your own back porch this summer, they'll get you dreaming about next year.

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