#44 - An Admiral’s Reference Shelf

For the aspiring Admiral – that is the cruising woman who wants to be as informed and involved as possible in her cruising experience – the onboard reference shelf is an ideal resource.

Every cruising boat out there has one: at minimum a volume of general seamanship and the manual for the boat’s engine, at maximum a mini library.

The ability to reach for a relevant reference to answer a particular question at hand is helpful, but there’s no reason we can’t, at our leisure, read the whole book to expand our overall knowledge base.

How important do these references become? Marcie of Nine of Cups, who sailed this year from Chile to New Zealand, puts it well. “When we started our cruising life, we had precious little experience. We did, however, have a number of very experienced “friends” to rely on.

These good friends – the Dashews, Pardeys, Calders and Cornells, to mention a few – helped us out of more than a few ticklish situations. In reality we’ve never met them, but we’ve read their books cover to cover and hardly a day goes by we don’t refer to at least one of them!”

Based on input from my Admirals, here’s how a typical cruiser’s library today sorts itself out. In some categories, you may just have one title; in others you may have dozens!

Chapman Piloting and SeamanshipGeneral seamanship

The most popular general seamanship books among the Admirals are either Chapman Piloting & Seamanship or The Annapolis Book of Seamanship. These big books give you the fundamentals – from the correct terminology of the parts of the boat to the basics of boat handling and sail trim, navigation, understanding weather, handling lines and sails, engine mechanics, and even overviews of today’s modern equipment. Frequently used as texts in boating education, these books are perfect for filling in the blanks. Also, be sure you have a copy of the International Rules of the Road.

Nigel Calder's Cruising Handbook Voyaging handbooks

Several of the big names in cruising have produced voyaging handbooks that many of the Admirals rely on. The crews of Nine of Cups and Ursa Minor recommend Nigel Calder’s Cruising Handbook. “It’s a great reference book covering everything from selecting the right boat to detailed descriptions of most of the systems aboard a modern cruising boat.”

Marcie also recommends Steve and Linda Dashew’s Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia, “a compendium of information on boats and how to live aboard.” Jane of Lionheart relied on Beth Leonard’s The Voyager’s Handbook. “For the newbie I was, it gave a good base to build my own reference material and to think about all the things I needed to prepare myself for, like my home canning. Well worth it, and fun, too!”

Weather Predicting Simplified Guides to weather analysis

Weather is a tricky category because, of course, it depends on where you cruise. Basics are introduced in general seamanship books, but, for more details, recommendations are Weather Predicting Simplified by Michael Carr or Meteorology Today by C. Donald Ahrens. Crossing into the South Pacific? It’s worth ordering a copy of New Zealand weatherman Bob McDavitt’s Mariners Met Pack before you set out.

Adlard Coles' Heavy Weather Sailing Storm management

The classic book for storm management is Adlard Coles’ Heavy Weather Sailing. Largely based on the experiences of high latitude ocean, this was one of the most discomfiting books I ever read!

Much more reassuring and relevant for today’s typical cruiser is Lin and Larry Pardey’s Storm Tactics Handbook.

Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual Maintenance references for the boat

For boat maintenance the one most revered bible is Nigel Calder’s Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual. Nearly every Admiral listed it. Calder has a knack for explaining things coupled with a rigorously thorough mind. His stand-alone books on refrigeration and diesel engines are very accessible as well.

For the rig, Marcie recommends Sail and Rig Tuning by Ivar Dedekam as “a short and concise book that does exactly what it says.”

Equipment manuals

Of course, the most important materials for your boat’s maintenance will be a well-organized, accessible collection of manuals for every piece of equipment onboard. We kept ours in notebooks by category with pocket pages to hold smaller manuals. For some equipment (e.g. engines, outboard motors) you may want to purchase detailed shop manuals.

Catalogs for ordering parts

Right next to all the manuals, most cruisers also carry catalogues from the major marine suppliers, including a Sailrite catalogue for sail and canvas supplies. It greatly simplifies the ordering of parts to be shipped in.

Ashley Book of Knots Marlinspike seamanship

You can get the basics of everyday marlinspike seamanship from general seamanship books, but books specializing in all the knots, splices, hitches and rope work we sailors use as well as the energy-saving mysteries of blocks and tackles are very handy to have. Marcie’s thorough list includes Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford Ashley, The Marlinspike Sailor by Hervey Garret Smith, and The Complete Rigger’s Apprentice by Brion Toss. You might even turn decorative ropework into a hobby!

World Cruising Routes Guide books

Guidebooks of several types help us plan our trips. Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes and World Cruising Handbook are where most planning starts. Next are wide-area overviews such as Pacific Crossing Guide. Detail you won’t want to be without comes in individual island cruising guides. Some areas like the Virgin Islands will have more than one, each with a different angle. If you stay long enough you might want them all! For land touring most of the Admirals choose Lonely Planet guides, which Kathy of Hale Kai says you can download from the Internet by chapter. In addition to travel info, LP Guides distill a lot of history for every stop,and list recommended reading in local history and literature.

Reef Fish Identification Nature guides for reef fish, birds, marine animals, shells, trees, flowers, the night sky, geology, oceanography!

Because we become so immersed in the natural world, we find ourselves wanting resources to learn more about it. Some references are easy to find as you go, but others are scarce or expensive. If you are snorkeling or diving in the Caribbean, for example, don’t leave without Paul Humann’s Reef Fish, Reef Creature and Reef Coral. He also has books for other ecosystems like Baja, Galapagos and the tropical Pacific.

Cruiser's Handbook of Fishing Fishing guides (not to be confused with fish ID books!)

Today’s cruising fisherman’s bible is Scott and Wendy Bannerot’s The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing, best supplemented by plastic fish ID cards (so you can decide quickly if it’s a fish you want to keep!)

Medical references

Mary of Camryka, who spends all her time in remote Panama recommends The Merck Manual and Where There Is No Doctor. Marcie adds The Onboard Medical Guide by Paul Gill, MD.

Hoyle's Rules of Games General references

A current atlas and a flag ID book satisfy a lot of curiosity about unfamiliar ensigns, Hoyle’s Rules of Games satisfies a lot of disputes, and an English dictionary is essential for Scrabble players! I personally like to have an encyclopedia, but it’s the one reference I opt for digital.

Which raises the big question as the waterline sinks: must these be virtual books or will digital do? Until the Internet beams to every anchorage from the sky, I don’t think we cruisers will want to be without our references onboard.

Carolyn O'Briean with her Kindle e-book reader Cruisers are adapting, and, as use of the Kindle expands among cruisers, waterlines may rise. But consider that many of the above are references you’ll either want to check quickly and repeatedly or peruse slowly in the cockpit. I’m a book person, so my prejudice is clear. But the minds of upcoming generations may work differently.

(For a complete list of Admiral recommended references (including cookbooks!) as well as a comprehensive list of online resources, please see www.womenandcruising.com)

This article was published in the March 2010 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.

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