Panbo

Never buy another guide book? No way!

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Aug 5, 2010
Jonesport_AC_illustration.jpg

Jeffrey Siegel caused a minor ruckus when he titled an iphonesailing.net thread about ActiveCaptain "There's no reason to buy another guide book..."  I'm a huge fan of AC, and I've watched Jeff's bold predictions come true one after another, but in this case I'd like to think he was just trying to provoke a constructive argument.  I don't think AC or any other source of cruising info will ever do a complete job, and my goal is have as many sources as possible on tap.  The snug little harbor I sit in right now is an excellent example...

First of all, compare the inset of the NOAA chart above -- as seen in Coastal Explorer 2010 beta with AC, Maptech, and other guide overlays -- against the Microsoft satellite image seen on the AC web site (which, cool beans, I can now link to directly).  NOAA doesn't even show the huge steel and concrete breakwater that was built here in the 80's!  Meanwhile, AC only shows rudimentary data about the facilities here, and it's misplaced.  The Maptech data is somewhat better, though older in my case, and less likely for many cruisers to have since Maptech Navigation and Coastal Explorer stopped being partners. 
   The best coverage of this harbor can be found in the Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast, a dog eared copy of which is probably aboard every cruising boat that gets this far Downeast.  But, darn it, that beautifully designed and thoroughly researched guide doesn't do Sawyer Cove justice either.  Specifically, it understates the Jonesport Shipyard, which has four transient moorings, neat-as-a-pin showers and laundry, repair expertise, and a friendly attitude.  It may be tiny in terms of "marina" but given that there's no other marina for at least 30 miles in either direction, this is information every passing boat should have.  It's great that I can update ActiveCaptain about this stuff, but many cruisers won't be aware of what a respite the Shipyard offers until the major print guide makes a point of it.
   That's because printed guides are still often the most thorough and easy to use sources.  I could give hundreds of examples where that Maine Coast Guide, now in its fifth edition, is more useful than AC or anything else I have, digital or paper.  Another good example is the new Great Loop guide just announced by Managing the Waterway.  The Doyles have already published some really well designed guides, but check out their latest ideas on how to organize all the info they've collected.  Sure it would be great to have it on, say, an iPad -- with automatic updating -- but it's really hard to imagine how a mostly-user-generated source like AC could put together data like this.  I think the well equipped cruiser has all available sources in all available mediums.

Managing_the_Waterway_sample_guide_page.jpg


Comments

I wasn't trying to provoke an argument. I honestly believe what I wrote. That posting made in May was a product announcement. I never said that guidebooks aren't needed and in fact, I have Cruising The Maine Coast on my boat right now with its own dog ears. What I wrote and strongly implied is that there is no need to buy a new guidebook. In fact Ben, you prove my point - you hail the Taft book which was last published 14 years ago!

The fact is that had you given specifics about what was "misplaced" in ActiveCaptain, it would be fixed now - within 10 minutes of your posting. That's why the paper medium is going to die.

We have had ongoing discussions with a number of guidebook authors and publishers. I've personally been to McGraw Hill's International Marine's office twice to discuss collaboration. There are big changes coming as we integrate with a variety of other sources. Just none of them will be paper-based.

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at August 5, 2010 1:03 PM | Reply

I visited the thread this morning. The specific arguments in the thread, as made by Jeff, all resonate with me entirely, as a user of guide books and as an early adopter of Active Captain. Every word Jeff wrote is fair and balanced, or more to the point, as I believe, entirely accurate.

There are lots of reasons to supplement ActiveCaptain with other sources, like up to date paper maps and local knowledge whatever the source, but Mass Marketed Guide Books paid for by marina advertising … is quickly slipping in value. I am continually disappointed as I purchase guide books for new sailing regions including again this year for my fantastic adventure up the northeast coast to Maine this summer.

Even though I know the alternatives, I have a (bad) habit of continuing to buy big guide books, a habit I need to kick. I think I purchase because I simply don’t like to use my computer when I am sailing (no objection to MFD's and marine electonics, just not a computer that looks like what I use at work, e.g. keyboard and mouse), and would rather pull out a paper reference.

Perhaps I purchased the wrong guide book for my last trip (I didn’t buy the one you mentioned Ben) but rather the large guide book with marina supported advertising that is on the shelf of my local boating store that covered the whole north east, just in case we didn’t make it to Maine. (wasn’t sure my wife was going to go for the 20 hour gulf crossing, but she did, she is the best !)

I first used the new guide book I purchased to get a sense of the local color and differences between the many harbors we were choosing between visiting. . – Guide Book Failed.

To many destination descriptions sounded identical, the worst not providing a real description at all, e.g. “this quintessential Maine designation, blah blah blah." Active Captain isn’t (yet?) a good source for local color of destinations either, but this guide book was seriously not much of a guide.

Second I tried to use the Guide Book last minute when we decided to change our destination to Rockland, Maine and needed to find a marina for the night. Should be easy, right, look up a table of marinas offering services, hail VHF or call a phone number, right ? This is exactly why I carry the book, so without opening my laptop, I have a paper reference handy with information I can quickly access if I need to change my destination, for bad weather or whatever.

Information in the book was just wrong for Rockland, Maine, including what vhf channels are monitored, wrong land line phone numbers, and even who offers transient moorings and slips and who does not. – Guide Book Abysmal Failure Again.

First marina was wrong number, second marina didn’t offer what was in guide book, third would rent us a mooring with a bunch of caveats since they didn’t normally rent moorings. Huh? Can I believe anything in this damn book? Normally I don’t use laptop computers while bouncing around if four foot waves, but I fired up the computer and the Verizon broadband modem, got on Active Captain and choose a marina to contact the way I normally do, and in one phone call we had a place to stay (Trident Marina.)

I don’t write as many reviews in ActiveCaptain as I use too (brain dump completed), but after each long family vacation like this one, I did so again. Some got 1 star ratings, including a marina in South Dartmouth I rated highly two years ago, all got information your not likely to find in a guide book, for example on all the locations I wrote in the cell phone reception for our AT&T and Verizon phones and data services, and some information about if and how dogs are welcomed at each location (e.g. do locals allow them in the stores, provide a place for them to tie up, dog treats, places to walk them … or are there just a bunch of no dog allowed signs?). Booth Bay Harbor was over the top, where our dog was invited to participate in a local dog show (and won :-), and South Dartmouth was a little desperate (you can even bring your pets into the food establishments, just please come eat, we need business)

It’s rewarding to know people will use this information, and I appreciate when other captains write their own reviews so I can similarly benefit.

I am now resigned if I every buy another guide book, I will research it carefully and place value on information about the location and things to do and activity related information (like key scuba diving sites), and generally purchase smaller specialized books where you can read about the author and their point of view to understand the context of what was written. If in doing so I come across the information I need on the internet in an electronic forum where many people’s opinions about a destination are gather in once place and well organized, well then, maybe there is no reason to buy another guide book.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at August 5, 2010 1:45 PM | Reply

But Ben... didn't you tell me--more than once--that I don't need paper charts anymore???

Posted by: Charlie D at August 5, 2010 1:47 PM | Reply

As much as I love technology, I have to completely disagree. I think AC and other resources like that can be valuable in pre-tip planning, but when you're at the helm and you need to check something in a hurry, it just doesn't work. Unfortunately, internet connectivity is not widespread or reliable, especially when you get out of the US. Not to mention, you can't just grab the book, turn to a bookmarked page and look at your highlighted or circled note. Even on land, looking something up on your iPhone can be a total pain depending on how much AT&T's network sucks where you happen to be at. Once you get down to say, the Sea of Cortez which is a common thing to do for those of us on the West Coast, that idea totally falls apart.

Posted by: outbound_sailor at August 5, 2010 1:48 PM | Reply

Dan Corcoran's experience above has been repeated by us on our cruises (the ICW twice a year and somewhere else during the summer). We do use the MTW mentioned above in Ben's post, as unlike the "big" guides, it's logical and sequential and easy to follow along the ICW. We also display AC in Coastal Explorer (without needing an on-line connection) while underway.
In the aerospace industry, when revisions are made to a major document, notations are made in the text to show changes made since the last version.
By analogy, a guide with 450 pages, I consider to be a major document.
The lack of any kind of notification of changes is what bothers me the most. My skeptical suspicion is that much of the content is unchanged. But wouldn't that be helpful to highlight what has changed?
I did get excited when one of the major guides introduced an iPhone app. Unfortunately, it is merely a digital version of the paper guide - a "stupid" app if you will, since it can't even find the marinas within X miles of your location.
I also wondered about the ads. I actually went through one of the guides and counted the ad space (ah, it's great to be retired...). Out of 448 pages, subtracting the static pages (Rules of the Road, Bridge Basics, etc), the ads took up 15% of the guide.
I guess I believe paper guides will continue into the future (for a generation or so, at least). But I for one won't be updating the guides on a yearly basis - there just isn't any value-added for the cost.

Posted by: HNickm at August 5, 2010 2:51 PM | Reply

Maybe someday, but not in the next five years.

I think there are two different points here.

1) I've found the sketch charts in guide books to at least complement the government charts (e.g., Barbuda), and in some cases entirely replace them (e.g., Doyle in Los Roques, Bauhaus in San Blas Islands). The restaurant recommendations are questionable and the immigration, customs and regulatory information may not always be current, but the sketch charts are original material that is not available anywhere else.

So if perhaps you already own the best guide book for every area in which you will ever cruise, then yes you might not need to buy another. But if you're cruising to new locations, you're going to need to buy a few guide books.

2) But what if the best content from the guide books, like the sketch charts, was incorporated into AC? And what if all the various other cruising wiki data, like depth data collection, noonsite, etc. was also incorporated into AC? Would I still need paper?

My answer is YES! And here is why:

a) The world is not as wired as the US. And the places where we found we most need a guide book, were also the places least likely to have a WiFi or cellular data connection. The very dynamic nature of AC is also it's weakness because without a data connection, we don't have access to that data and cruisers are much less likely to update the AC database. So in precisely the most remote locations, where information is already poor, data connections are also poor (or non-existent) and thus AC is also poor. Check how many AC markers you find in Los Roques or the San Blas Islands.

b) But what if I think of AC as more of an e-book and download everything along our route and adjacent areas (because though we have a plan, circumstances may cause us to change our route before our next internet connection). What if, AC was organized to enable easy downloading, saving, and printing (which it currently is not)? Wouldn't the AC data be as current as any guide book? Yes, it would, but then there would still be a major flaw with the "AC only" approach.

c) The first rule of navigation is "never rely upon a single source". AC does not get a pass on this rule. We routinely review, download, and save information on ports of entry and other critical cruising data from multiple sources before a passage to an new area. This includes noonsite.com, country specific web sites, government web sites, Yahoo group articles, CIA database, Google Earth and guidebooks! AC is one source, it can never be the only source.

I was employed in high tech marketing and finance, software and hardware, for many years. I developed a rule for guiding my market and competitive assessments which paraphrased for a public web site goes something like "Don't drink your own bath water".

AC is a wonderful thing, and I made a lot of money from things electronic. None the less, for the foreseeable future (five years or 3 Moore's law cycles), AC will not be the only source, and electronic will not be the only medium.

Posted by: Russ at August 5, 2010 3:55 PM | Reply

Active captain is a valuable source for cruising information, but it is only one of many (both electronic and printed).

Electronic guides can have more up-to-date information, but they will never be as convenient as a book open on the chart table.

Just as a prudent captain uses more than one source for navigation information, we use more than one source as a cruising guide.

Posted by: Rick at August 5, 2010 3:56 PM | Reply

Jeff, if you think the Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast is 14 years old, you're two editions behind! The latest, which we just bought, was published in 2008. As you know, but worth pointing out to others, it has no advertising and, hence, we'll have to keep buying it, even it goes electronic, if we want to see what a talented and dedicated guide writer produces next. That's my point, though maybe not well stated: there may always be a place for professional guide info that must be paid for to exist, regardless of medium.

Charlie D, I hope I never told anyone that they don't need to carry paper charts, but I may well have said that lots of people aren't using them. More than will admit it, I suspect. We have a ChartKit aboard, and it's useful for big picture planning, but we hardly use it otherwise. In fact, for navigation detail, it's our worst source. That bit of Sawyer Cove above, which is unfortunately charted at 1:40,000 scale is even harder to make out in the ChartKit because they reduced it to 1:45,400.

We're out of Sawyer Cove, by the way, but didn't make it very far. We could have handled the thick fog -- the radars, plotters, etc. are working great -- but the fair size swell we encountered once in Pleasant Bay, plus the thunderstorms seen making up to weather on Garmin XM, suggested a switch to Plan B. Which is sitting in Cape Split harbor on a hunky mooring that probably belongs to a large dragger. I'm not where I wanted to be tonight, but I'm happy.

Posted by: Ben at August 5, 2010 6:05 PM | Reply

Russ, with AC integration in MaxSea TZ and Coastal Explorer, whenever you have Internet access you can sync your local database of AC content with the most updated data available. So there's no need to print, and no need for an active Internet connection in Panama. Just sync at the start of your trip and worst case your data is a couple of months out of date -- like a guide book on the day it's published.

That said, you make a valid point about the value of original content, especially large-scale charts, in guide books. While I readily drink the crowdsourcing Kool-Aid, I do think it would be interesting if AC could also act as a distributor for paid content created by true local experts. Imagine a set of chart overlays created not by some random but by the couple that literally "wrote the book" on your out-of-the-way destination. Would you "subscribe" to that data for an additional $10? I would.

/afb

Posted by: Adam at August 5, 2010 6:53 PM | Reply

Three points:

1) There appears to be a common misconception that using ActiveCaptain's data requires a live internet connection. That simply isn't true. You only need a live connection to access the web site. Viewing ActiveCaptain data with the supported PC, iPhone, and iPad products is totally offline (more product support is coming too). I'd gladly challenge anyone to a race to find a particular marina or anchorage on one of the offline products against a paper guidebook.

2) While I totally believe in redundancy in navigation, does a guidebook raise to this requirement? I mean, it's obviously important to have current chart data in multiple forms to move your boat from Point A to B. But is that level of duplication needed when you're wondering about the cleanliness of a marina's showers or whether they have a BoatUS discount? Seriously, isn't a mobile phone with 411 capability all the redundancy that's needed in the event of a system failure?

3) If there are later editions of Taft's book, Amazon doesn't show them. I did find them on the Taft's web page which seems like an odd distribution strategy. Again, I love their book - used it myself in my TrawlerFest presentation on "Cruising the Maine Coast" last Summer. But I'd like it a lot more if it were integrated into ActiveCaptain combining their information with the user-generated comments and reviews written by thousands of boaters. And the "premium" content integrated should have update capabilities; and you should be able to just buy the parts that you want; and it should include photography and other graphics; and it has to work offline with the same synchronization currently working with multiple other products. These are the things I'm working on with other authors.

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at August 5, 2010 6:58 PM | Reply

Jeff - WRT #2 - The guidebook is absolutely redundancy, though WRT to the cleanliness of the marina's showers, I completely agree that it's not needed.

However, WRT charts, the guide books are not only redundancy, they are more often my primary source, with paper and electronic charts as a backup.

Cell phones are nice, but coverage is certainly not global and calling for help just because the plotter has crapped out is certainly not good seamanship. I'm assuming you mean calling 911, because calling 411 is definitely a waste of time, particularly when you're not in an English speaking country.

Posted by: Russ at August 5, 2010 9:01 PM | Reply

Jeff, does that mean that there is a standalone Active Captain apt in the works?

Posted by: Rick in reply to Jeffrey Siegel at August 5, 2010 10:03 PM | Reply

Rick - there are multiple versions of standalone ActiveCaptain applications. We've chosen to work with the best navigation products integrating our data into their software. The integrations are all offline - the entire database is downloaded to the PC or iPhone/iPad (yes, Android eventually too). This means you can see all of the anchorages and reviews in Ft. Lauderdale and Puget Sound even when you're 100 miles offshore with no internet connection (even on your iPhone with the Navimatics product advertised on this blog!).

Russ - if your guidebook ever flips over the side of the boat, I wouldn't call 911 to find out if the marina you'd like to go to has pumpout. I'd call 411 (obviously for the US) or look it up in Google to get the marina phone number and then call the marina directly. I have a pretty large collection of guidebooks and I'm not sure I'd ever use them as a primary navigation tool. I might use them to help in planning a route but I'd want real charts not reproduced ones at scales and aspect ratios that aren't always correct. There's a reason that almost every guidebook has a "not for navigation" disclaimer on their chartlet displays.

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at August 6, 2010 8:45 AM | Reply

We used last years published guide book that includes the entire east coast. I should have known this was going to be a terrible information source because one thick book can't possible have accurate and detailed information about any one cruising ground like the coast of Maine. In almost every case the paper bound book's information was outdated and just plain wrong. Phone numbers where wrong, description of facilities were wrong and on and on... For us, Active Captain started to become the primary data for deciding on where to go. This was the first year I could see the Active Captain icons on our Coastal Explorer 2010 (beta) and click to see the user comments. These are comments from boating people like us who are not bound by saying what the advertisers want them to say. It's a blunt, tell it like it is, type of commentary with generally truthful opinions about a harbor. Just what I need!
Jeff, I would be careful about collaborating with and combining data from any publisher as you might be getting their old faulty text and end up with a downgraded Active Captain. You already have the better product.

Posted by: Richard C at August 6, 2010 8:59 AM | Reply

I love AC, and try to contribute as often as I can. That said, a good paper guide will always have a place on my boat. I'm not one of those folks that always has to have the latest guide, but I've found a well done guide to be very useful indeed. With AC, I can usually get the latest info on a specific marina, something I can't get from the paper guide. However the paper guide is easier for me to use at the helm, and gives the "big picture" view pretty well.

Proper tool for the job - both AC and paper guides have a spot in my personal "toolbox".

-CJ
(p.s. Still waiting on my AC hat - did you up the points required for that Jeff?)

Posted by: CJ Martin at August 9, 2010 6:24 AM | Reply

Jeff, what are our options to get an off-line copy of ActiveCaptain on our boat computers that will re-sync with the latest information when connected to the internet ?

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at August 9, 2010 1:51 PM | Reply

Offline ActiveCaptain/synchronization is currently supported by MaxSea Time Zero, Rose Point's Coastal Explorer, Navimatics Chart & Tides for iPhone and iPad. Furuno has displayed support and Nobeltec has announced support for version 11 (not shipping yet) and there are a handful of other companies working on support.

It doesn't cost anything for data rights for a company to build support for ActiveCaptain into their product - it's completely free. The integration takes between a week and a couple of weeks depending on the architecture of the product.

I'm the contact person - I'm interested in talking to any company for any device or software product who would like to take advantage of our huge database of boating points-of-interest. Having ActiveCaptain support in a chartplotter product immediately makes the product more valuable because it allows the owner to get away with fewer guidebook purchases (if they need any at all - the topic of this thread).

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at August 9, 2010 2:41 PM | Reply

It really isn't all that complicated! While the cruising information paradigm may be in the midst of a giant change, the fundamentals remain: a responsible skipper uses all available resources including local knowledge.

What that boils down to for me is while cruising Maine I use the Taft/Rindlaub guide as a primary source and Active Captain to update and supplement the data there.

Rindlaub is getting lazy! His website hasn't been significantly updated for a year or so and the most recent "update" of the guide was more a light edit than a true update; it probably changed less than 2,000 words by my measure. Nontheless, this guide remains the bible for cruising Maine and I simply would not be without it cruising here. But I love the value added by Active Captain and do my best to provide AC updates of my own.

Personally, I'm delighted to see AC gain traction and become the great resource it is today. A Bluewater salute to Jeff and Karen for making it happen!

--Milt Baker, Nordhavn 47 Bluewater, Southwest Harbor, ME

Posted by: Milt Baker at August 10, 2010 10:25 AM | Reply

Hi Jeffrey,

I'm the developer of an iPhone nav app (currently in Apple's review process), and I'm very interested in adding ActiveCaptain support! I tried contacting you using the contact form on your website but haven't received any reply yet. My email is kalle at sailport dot se.

Posted by: Kalle Haglunds in reply to Jeffrey Siegel at August 10, 2010 1:42 PM | Reply

Ben,

I think this is a fun debate and perhaps Jeff Siegel is just trying to be provocative, but the bottom line is that both will coexist for some time. We are addressing some of this issue with our iPhone / iPad / Android apps coming out in the next week (Virgil is getting you an advanced copy). Our apps will have the full compliment of NOAA charting tools AND Marina / Guide data from a number of sources for quick searching and comparison et al. Our (EarthNC's) view is that crowd-sourcing is a useful adjunct to guides (and services data), but it is no replacement for dedicated, local knowledge presented in professional form. We are working with many of the Guidebooks to evolve the updating process so that in-conjunction with the most recent printed edition, you can have the most up-to-date information - on your mobile device, your laptop, or wherever.

Best,

Brad Winney
EarthNC, Inc.

Posted by: Brad Winney at August 10, 2010 2:03 PM | Reply

How long will the advertiser supported guide books continue ... without support of the advertisers?

Especially, if the content of the book changes so little in each edition no matter a marina advertises or not ?

Especially, if information cruisers need is not in the books (e.g. availability of wi-fi, strength of cell phone signal, which locations have good service, fuel prices, etc.), and the information that is there is terribly outdated (e.g. things to do are out dated as communities change, resturants and bars are out of business or long ago changed names)

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at August 10, 2010 2:25 PM | Reply

Kalle - I sent you an email last week and 3 just now. I'm also now following you on Twitter. Somehow we should be able to connect. I think that spam filtering is stopping our communication.

Brad - honest, I'm not trying to be provocative at all. I think that guidebooks as we know them are dead in short order - they're on life support right now.

It's fascinating to note that the day after Ben made his posting, Nicholas Negroponte was quoted as saying: "The physical book is dead in 5 years." That's what I'm saying but heck, I was months ahead. He quoted a study showing that Kindle sales already surpass the sales of hardcover books. The reference is here:
http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/06/physical-book-dead/

Think about music. How quickly did the world change from having physical media to having digital media? Same thing with movies - how many people watched an 8mm film last night? Why would anyone think that boating guidebooks aren't going to go the same way? And quickly.

Now I'm not saying that the need for getting information, professional or otherwise, is going away. And I'm quite interested in seeing information come from multiple sources, but it needs to be all integrated together and not disjoint with different types of media. I am, without any question, saying that the typical advertising-laden guidebook is in need of CPR and personally, I can't wait for the burial. I won't be wearing black.

There has been nothing said on this forum or to me personally that makes me question my statement of "there's no need to buy another guidebook." There might be new ones with pretty covers and nice designs, but ultimately, I think they don't hold enough value and are a total waste of money.

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at August 10, 2010 2:42 PM | Reply

Thanks Jeff, com's established! I just sent you a reply.

Posted by: Kalle Haglunds in reply to Jeffrey Siegel at August 10, 2010 2:54 PM | Reply

Guidebook author here so I'm a bit prejudiced. Now I do glance at Active Captain from time to time, but really the information is so limited on many places as to be nearly useless unless you are looking for marina stuff. Tons of great anchorages are not mentioned, passage information is non-existent, general planning and weather information, nil? How about just a general description of what an area looks and feels like? There's lots of stuff that good cruising guides offer that isn't there. I expect this type of information will be added in the future, but will it be useful? For example, do I want to read a dozen opinions on the best strategy for crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas, or do I want to read an expert's advice? But, the real bottom line for me is that I never want to be dependent on the flow of electrons for my safety. I have enough trouble keeping flashlights working onboard.

Posted by: Kettlewell at August 13, 2010 12:09 PM | Reply

Oh, I forgot to mention, a lot of the Active Captain places I look up have incorrect information. Yes, some guidebooks often do too, but I don't think you gain any accuracy with Active Captain.

Posted by: Kettlewell at August 13, 2010 12:12 PM | Reply

And of course the difference is that an identified error in ActiveCaptain gets fixed and updated within hours for everyone to take advantage of. Mr. Kettlewell's guidebook was published some 8 months ago and it surely had outdated information back then. When one person corrects an error found in the book, no one else benefits from it - if they even find the error.

If you believe that paper is the way to go, by all means, stay there. If you're afraid of the technology within your flashlight, keep to the spiral bound glossy pages with information based on the opinion of a few self-proclaimed experts. There are still companies producing sextants too. It's just not something that I'd bet my future on.

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at August 13, 2010 4:21 PM | Reply

C'mon, Jeff. Suggesting that paper cruising guides are dead as the dodo is like saying the world doesn't need newspapers or news magazines or printed books now that we have television and the Internet.

The truth is that cruising guides provide perspective not available elsewhere whereas, for all the value it offers, a site like Active Captain will never be a stand-alone-this-is-all-you-need source of navigation information. Nor, I suspect, would you ever expect that of it.

The well informed captain uses all the information at his or her disposal. In my book that includes ActiveCaptain, but it definitely also includes written cruising guides--the kind printed on paper. Don't ask which I'd choose first if I had to make a choice.

I love ActiveCaptain but I'd never put all my navigation eggs in a single basket.

--Milt Baker, Nordhavn 47 Bluewater, Southwest Harbor, ME

Posted by: Milt Baker at August 13, 2010 10:57 PM | Reply

Milt, I'm no one to suggest that newspapers, news magazines, and other printed media are dead. But I am allowed to stand on the shoulders of everyone else in the world who says it - and it's a common thread among people a lot smarter and more visionary than me. Surely I don't have to make a case, business or otherwise, that printed media is in serious trouble. There are many web sites dedicated to it, for example:
http://newspaperdeathwatch.com/

Google "newspapers dead" and see the serious journalism that has been applied to this topic.

I honestly can't remember the last time I bought a city/national newspaper. It must have been more than 5 years. Maybe 10. I honestly don't even look at the USA Today's thrown under the door of hotels. To me, newspaper is something I collect and store above my lazarette fuel tanks for times when I have a messy project onboard.

Nowhere along the line have I suggested that ActiveCaptain should become the sole source of data for planning. Those words have never come out of my mouth or typed by my fingers. There are hundreds of sites and companies competing with us. It's my job to make sure that ours is the best and is among the tools used onboard by every cruising boat.

I've also never said that guidebook authors are dead. In fact, I talk to many of them every week as we all try to figure out what is happening in this industry. In almost all cases, they come to me as they see their sales falling away and realize that electronic publishing is the obvious next step. I didn't call McGraw Hill - they wrote to me and asked me to meet with them. That doesn't happen when sales projections are being met and everything is going well.

About a year ago, I had an ongoing email discussion with a major author in the guidebook world. He admitted that he was going to "ride paper to the grave." He knew the medium was coming to an end and so was his work life. He'd rather take the easy road and ride his product's sales a little longer. There's nothing wrong with that. It's a realistic outlook, an obvious one for anyone involved with the paper medium.

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at August 14, 2010 8:44 AM | Reply

Now, boys! Jeff, that "self-proclaimed expert" crack was uncalled for. John Kettlewell already had a lot of expertise on cruising and the ICW in particular when I met him in the early 90's (I helped him with tide and current tables when he was editor of Reeds Nautical Almanacs) and he's very much stayed in the game. His work is even well represented on Amazon, which you seem to regard as arbitrator of reality (I can crack wise too ;-). In fact, Amazon's "Look Inside" pages for John's ICW Guide are a good example of the big picture stuff that mapped POI efforts currently lack.

http://www.amazon.com/Intracoastal-Waterway-Norfolk-Miami-Complete/dp/0071623760

But, John, you're deluding yourself if you really think there isn't a lot of valuable information already collected on Active Captain. For some Maine harbors I know well, it has the best coverage! (And I say that as another self-proclaimed expert -- 40 years cruising up here, 12 years writing MBHH Gunkholing articles -- who wrote some of the Maine AC stuff.) If I were you I'd be looking hard at electronic alternatives and supplements to your printed guide. At minimum a forum associated with the book where you and readers can share updates and corrections. I don't know if you're aware of what the Atlantic Cruising Club guides and Coastal Explorer did together, but it's a great example of how professional/print work and PCs can work together quite well:

http://www.panbo.com/archives/2009/11/ce_acc_great_but_not_enough_part_1.html

Posted by: Ben at August 14, 2010 9:42 AM | Reply

Touch a sensitive nerve there, did I, Jeff?

--Milt

Posted by: Milt Baker at August 15, 2010 8:28 AM | Reply

Sensitive nerve? For the life of me, Milt, I have no idea what you're talking about.

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at August 15, 2010 10:33 AM | Reply

This discussion reminds me of the prognosticators who as the first office PCs were being rolled out predicted the end of office paperwork. Remember that? No paper files, no paperwork, no forms to fill out? Anyone who works in an office knows how that worked out. I love using some of this electronic cruising guide stuff, and it can be very useful, but at the very least people will need to bring something as a back up for when the electronics fail. And, "when" is the operative word in my experience. I don't know how sales of other things are going, but our paper chartbook continues to sell quite well. It gives me a larger "screen" than most plotters, it is perfectly viewable in daylight, I can nearly instantly flip forward and back to other areas, the resolution is far greater than any electronic viewer, I can make permanent notes instantly and easily with a pen, etc. In a place like Narragansett Bay I can easily see a very large area in great detail on a paper chart. I haven't seen any 30" x 40" plotter screens onboard recently. So, paper still holds some advantages over electrons and probably will for quite some time. As to cruising guides, local knowledge, like you get in Active Captain, can be interesting, but it is very often incomplete, biased, and inaccurate. The idea that this will somehow get "corrected" over time is ridiculous. Everything will change over time too, and just adding more and more opinions to the database doesn't necessarily give the right answer. How am I supposed to know that a place has a working fuel dock or not if some say it does, and some say it doesn't? I see this sort of thing all the time while out cruising. Down in Honduras the word amongst the cruising fleet was that a particular customs agent was rotten and would ask for bribes, etc. We went there, met the guy, had a friendly conversation and had no problems. I'm pretty sure it all started with one boat that was trying to get away with something and started spreading rumors. Look at what has happened on the Internet with silly stuff like the birthers movement! I still think there is a need for expert writers and editors. Some will be making a living on the Internet, some will still be producing paper products, and probably most of us will be doing both. It's nice to have options and as Milt says, the wise captain uses all the sources of information available. Cheers!

Posted by: Kettlewell at August 16, 2010 8:53 AM | Reply

I love this discussion. I've spent my entire career at these points where new technologies were replacing existing ones. There are a few things that have to happen before the change becomes obvious even though a subset of the entrenched don't see it. One of the major tell's is when the younger generation, who doesn't have the baggage or this-is-the-way-we-do-things mentalities, totally accept the new technologies. Does anyone believe that the 30-somethings buying boats today even consider having paper charts onboard? The same exact arguments for reliability and "large screen" display exist there and yet paper charts aren't at their helms. Same thing with most 40 year olds too. The cross-over point appears to be non-motoring 60 year olds. And yes, that's a generalization but anyone reading this knows this trend is pretty solid.

For many people on a boat today, reliability is based in duplication. The reality is that a guidebook can flip out of a cockpit and into the drink (or lost or stolen) as quickly as a wave can take out unprotected electronics. Few cruising couples are onboard today with just a single laptop let alone the other electronics that can become an exceptional replacement for many electronic systems. Things like smartphones and iPad's will certainly increase in use on all boats. They have already.

The small screen argument is an interesting one. In 2005, I purposely used only a 1.5" x 1.5" Palm Treo to guide my boat from Maine to Key West and back. OK, offshore at night, the autopilot took over, but for a majority of the trip and for every anchorage and harbor I only used the tiny screen. The key to it all was instant zooming and quick panning to gain perspective. You can't judge new technology by shoe-horning it into past practices. The advantage of new technologies is taking advantage of the new capabilities. A larger screen is always nice but in this case, for the most part, size doesn't matter.

And finally the "biased" argument for crowdsourced content. I'm sorry if my "expert" comment offended anyone. It was a general statement and not directed specifically and Mr. Kettlewell. What I don't get is how can a single author be immune from bias? There are so many guidebooks that are advertising-based. Does anyone think these are unbiased? Isn't multiple, unrelated opinions the way to remove bias?

Mr. Kettlewell is clearly an experienced cruiser - I went to his blog and learned more about him. But it's quite obvious that his cruising is on a larger sailboat. Perhaps he has other experiences but aren't his impressions biased toward the type of cruising and the type of boat he has? Might my experience on a trawler be different? Or what about the trailerable boat zooming down the highway at 55 MPH to get to a boat ramp. Might they have a different impression of the waterway? Want to know the most accessed type of marker in ActiveCaptain? It isn't anchorages or marinas - it's boat ramps.

I always thought that the most valuable information while cruising was local knowledge. I don't think that local knowledge comes from a single person documenting their personal experiences. I think it comes from people local to a single area and people who have very recent experiences in a particular place. I'd much rather read the impressions of a newbie who traversed Snow's Cut last week with specific depth and hazard information than the single impression of someone who went through it a year or more ago. And yet, the impressions from a year ago have some value too - they show trends, possible issues, and warnings.

I surely think that professional writing is important - but only in context with what the community thinks. And I believe that is where the future lies.

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at August 16, 2010 10:18 AM | Reply

John wrote " It gives me a larger "screen" than most plotters, it is perfectly viewable in daylight, I can nearly instantly flip forward and back to other areas, the resolution is far greater than any electronic viewer, I can make permanent notes instantly and easily with a pen, etc. In a place like Narragansett Bay I can easily see a very large area in great detail on a paper chart. I haven't seen any 30" x 40" plotter screens onboard recently." ... ALL VERY GOOD POINTS! BUT ... somehome that isn't working out for me! I am drawn more and more to the content of active captain even if I have to put up with those pesky electrons that have been made more tolerable via clever new hardware and software.


John wrote "I still think there is a need for expert writers and editors"

I would like to agree, but it does not seem like there is enough money to pay writers and editors, or even their travel expenses, for many types of print media. From the very few entries that are updated in some guide books, it appears there is an intractable problem with guide books in paying expert writers.


John wrote "The idea that this (errors) will somehow get "corrected" over time is ridiculous." ... John I respectfully disagree, and challange you to re-examine your beliefs. For as many examples as you can provide for doubt about self correction (take a look at wikepedia debates), it overwhelmingly works. With a mismatch between the compensation guide books can pay expert writers and what they can work for, seems like the current method of correcting guide books needs to change.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at August 16, 2010 10:37 AM | Reply

Dan is right, guidebook authors are not paid enough! And, yes, that is a major reason that the quality of many books has and continues to deteriorate.

Your statement: "For as many examples as you can provide for doubt about self correction (take a look at wikepedia debates), it overwhelmingly works."

When using Active Captain I suppose it depends on your definition of "works." I love to anchor out, and usually do. In most harbors that information is very weak or non-existent, even in some very popular spots. In many cases anchorages are not even mentioned. If you know Cuttyhunk, take a look and try to imagine going there for the first time with the info. provided.

Marina info. is better, but in many cases is incomplete. Again, reading what people say about the marina at Cuttyhunk can provide some misinformation. One person describes it as Med-mooring, which it is not. He also says the moorings are pilings--there are some to rent, but most are traditional moorings. Nobody has corrected these things. I could go on and on about virtually any harbor I know. Yes, I understand that this will improve with time, but I would like to go cruising now.

Posted by: Kettlewell at August 16, 2010 1:32 PM | Reply

So, the question is, why isn't it possible to buy "expert guides" directly in ActiveCaptain? Clearly the medium of print is completely unsuitable for guides (not spatially browsable, information quickly outdated, no context aware "views" on data), so why not merge the best of both worlds? Expert content combined with user content combined with a truly great digital platform for marine content.

Posted by: Kalle Haglunds in reply to Kettlewell at August 16, 2010 1:50 PM | Reply

Excellent! A direct challenge. It's a bit unfair to cherry pick a particular harbor but I'll play the hand I'm dealt. Cuttyhunk Harbor. I'm no expert personally although I've been there 4 times - once at the marina, twice on moorings, and just last year anchored outside the channel.

The details for the mooring field marker most clearly state that "there are also free standing pilings". I'm pretty sure that is quite accurate. In 2003 when I first entered the harbor, I wasn't sure what those pilings were for. Personally, I'm glad someone documented it. It doesn't say that all the moorings are pilings. But some are. What's the issue?

Then there's a personal review from one captain (out of 29 reviews for the area) that talks about med-mooring but then also explains about tying up with mid-cleat and bow lines. So I used the email address of the harbormaster in the marker and got a response back in 30 minutes. There is no med-mooring today. That one statement in that one review is misleading.

The bottom line is that I'll stand the body of work in ActiveCaptain for Cuttyhunk against any cruising guidebook. I think it gives an exceptional and realistic view of the facilities and surroundings to someone experienced or new. It doesn't sugarcoat the town or the experience expected. I'd love to compare that against some traditional guidebook text.

Now without ever having seen Mr. Kettlewell's book, can I cherry pick a particular location for comparison?

Kalle, you've hit it. It's not the medium, it's the content that's important. Why can't the professionally written content be indexed and linked directly inside something like ActiveCaptain? Why can't some of the destination content be put alongside the detail and opinion data that we've been collecting? Of course there's no reason why it can't. In fact, stay tuned - it will.

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at August 16, 2010 3:51 PM | Reply

Jeffrey, I wasn't saying that none of the information on Cuttyhunk is correct, just that some of it is misleading or wrong. One of the commenters said the moorings are pilings, which might possibly confuse someone as others rightly point out that there are both pilings and balls. However, the main mooring information page omits the critical piece of info. about Cuttyhunk's moorings that is very odd and different. The moorings have very tall stand ups on top with a thimble that one has to pass your own painter through in order to tie up. Come in with a summer smokin' sou'wester blowing and you can have a very scary time trying to tie up amongst the other moored boats if you are not prepared. It's stuff like that I would like to see, rather than six different opinions on how great the harbor is. Oh, and the commenter who says there is no room to anchor--I have anchored there for 30 years. There's anchorage for 50 boats or more inside the basin and more outside. OK, the main listing explains there is an anchorage area, but where? The anchorage is not "at the end of the fairway." That's where the fish dock and the pilings are. Etc. Etc.

Posted by: Kettlewell at August 16, 2010 4:28 PM | Reply

And therein lies the huge advantage of crowdsourcing. Different people see the exact same situation very differently. The truth is a personal thing based on the boat, your experience, and many other environmental factors. The truth changes frequently too. Much more than a paper book gets re-printed.

I was in the basin last August. There was precious little space to anchor more than a couple of boats inside the basin. I left and anchored on the outside. You obviously see that differently or perhaps remember it differently perhaps when there were fewer moorings than exist today. You see the stand-up thimble as an issue on the moorings. Living in Maine and owning two moorings, that configuration never caused me a problem including once when I came in during a storm and stayed for 4 days. My bow is 10' off the water but I've picked up more than my share of moorings so it wasn't an issue.

All of these examples prove why a single view from a single person is just not enough for cruising information. You've also challenged what was written in ActiveCaptain against your experience. How about copying the paragraph from your book about Cuttyhunk so that I can dissect it?

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at August 16, 2010 4:46 PM | Reply

Jeffrey:

Active Captain and other crowd-sourcing Web sites are great tools, and enjoyable to read. It is fun to see what other people think of some place. But, in my humble opinion, they do not yet provide the depth, breadth, or accuracy of paper cruising guides.

I was using Cuttyhunk as one example. We are debating fine points of the anchoring and docking situation, but where is the information on the wonderful Cuttyhunk Historical Society, or the walk to the top of the hill for the spectacular view, or the story of how Cuttyhunk was the site of one of the earliest European settlements in North America?

A guidebook author researches these things in a methodical manner, fact checks everything, and then is edited by an equally experienced editorial team that makes sure it is all well written, easy to understand, and entertaining. None of that is happening on the Web (yet!), but I bet it will eventually. I'm not against electronic cruising guides, whatever form they may appear in, but I think it is too early to write the obituary of the paper guidebook. At this time they are just better.


Just for the record, I can count the number of anchored days spent in Cuttyhunk harbor in the hundreds. I first sailed there in 1980. I was last there about two weeks ago (anchored with several dozen boats, including some larger than 50 feet), for the second time this summer. The only time I picked up a mooring ball in thirty years is when I supplemented my two anchors during Hurricane Bob. I know the anchorage well. My comments above are not opinions, they are facts based on many years of anchoring and visiting there. I can not recall any other similar mooring arrangement between Labrador and the Caribbean, and I have been in most of them. I'm sure they exist, but they are rare. I witness people struggling with it every time I am in Cuttyhunk.

In any case, I look forward to seeing how your product develops.

Posted by: Kettlewell at August 16, 2010 8:19 PM | Reply

I still haven't written Active Captain entries for Jonesport (another problem with non-paid content creation) but I did add an anchorage entry at Indianpoint Island near Boothbay this morning, in preparation for a talk I'm giving tonight at Robinhood Marine. At any rate, the new entry synced to Coastal Explorer and Navimatics Tides and Charts (and probably MaxSea) within an hour or two. Nice!

Posted by: Ben at August 25, 2010 3:16 PM | Reply

Interesting! Managing the Waterway has gone nonprofit:

http://www.onthewaterchartguides.org/on-the-water-chartguides-and-managing-the-waterway-turn-non-profit/

The change immediately means that the ICW CruiseGuide -- which I found tremendously useful when I was in the "Ditch" last year -- is now only $9.95. Recommended at three times the price!

http://www.onthewaterchartguides.org/icw-cruiseguide/

Posted by: Ben at March 10, 2014 3:24 PM | Reply

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