Daily Archives: October 6, 2009

Cruising Chart Tip

Though extremely disappointed by the fact that I haven’t had a single inquiry about the Boston Whaler I have for sale in the last two weeks despite reducing the asking price way below its true value it hasn’t kept me from dreaming about my original premis of this blog One More Good Adventure. That adventure is to sail down to Panama and live in Bocas del Toro until they find my black and bloated corpse on board.

As my expected profit from selling the Whaler shrinks, so does the size of the boats I’m looking at to do the feat shrinks as well. But long voyages in small boats are done all the time. After all, Robert Manry crossed the Atlantic in his 13-1/2 foot Tinkerbelle and really crazy have done it in even smaller craft. And there’s only one long-distance open water passage to do (Great Inagua, Bahamas to Bocas) and I only have to do it once. So, in all this day dreaming I reflect on the trip I made with Nancy Dawson from Fort Lauderdale all the way down to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and back.

To go anywhere on the water charts are essential. These days, of course there are all kinds of electronic charts and viewers available and while they are great in their own way, what happens if your electric system craps the bed? No matter how good your electronic charts are only a very stupid boater will depend on them alone. You need to have paper charts. Period.

When I was planning my Guatemala adventure I needed to have a set of charts. A set of NOAA charts were going to set me back well over $100 OR I could buy a Xeroxed set for a fraction of the cost. The problem with Xerox charts are that they are just black and white and aren’t colored like the NOAA charts.


As you can see, land masses are one color and the varying shades of blue represent different water depths. This makes it easy it much easier to read them

Xeroxed charts, on the other hand don’t have this feature. What I did was buy the B&W charts and a set of multi-colored highlighters. I then spent hours going over the charts and highlighting them. I used yellow for the land areas, blue to mark shallow areas and things like coral heads and reefs and pink to show where anchorages were indicated…

Chart 2

The chart above is from Freya Rauscher’s Cruising Guide to Belize and Mexico’s Caribbean Coast (Including Guatemala’s Rio Dulce). You can see how it worked. Not NOAA quality, but good enough. In fact, one advantage of doing this was that I had to spend quite a lot of time pouring over the charts to find all of the things that needed to be located and therefore I got a good feel for how things really were. Probably better than just reading through the more expensive charts.

Another way in which NOAA charts are superior to the Xerox variety is the quality of the paper. The are built for hard use and, in general, will last for years. The Xerox charts are on heavy bond paper but don’t have nearly the endurance potential of the more expensive charts, especially when you consider that all charts are going to get soaked somewhere along the line.

Here’s what I did and what I will do in the future whether using NOAA or Xerox charts…I took them outside and saturated the charts with Thompson’s Water Seal. That’s right, the stuff people use on their wood decks outside their homes. Worked like a charm. When they dry out you can still mark your position with pencil and even erase what you have written on them. During the cruise the charts did get splashed with sea water more than once and it simply beaded up and was easily blotted up with a paper towel.


Filed under boats, cruising, sailboats, sailing