The boaters’ bible

Even in this digital age, there is plenty of information to fascinate in the printed “Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book,” which should be found on every well-appointed nav station. Photo by David Roper

Back when I was 17, I took my first bible to sea. Oh, not that Bible. But a yellow paperback one. I figured it was maybe my best resource as I set off solo on my greatly modified ‘round the world adventure aboard my $2500, 23’ A.R. True Rocket sloop. My hero at the time was a kid my age named Robin Lee Graham, who made it big, mostly via National Geographic, after he sailed alone around the world. My voyage was less ambitious or well known; it took 39 days and only went from Marblehead, Massachusetts to Nantucket and back. But there were lots of adventures, despite that limited range. I got lost in the fog in Nantucket Sound; I met an “older woman” (a 21 year old; she, by the way, is the focal point of the story “Behind Her Mona Lisa Smile” in my book “Watching for Mermaids”); and I was reported lost at sea, having neglected to communicate with my parents for a number of weeks due to the siren call of that “older woman.”

The lost at sea part was painful, as I was the subject of an air search, and was eventually thought to be dead (false, by the way). Anyway, what did save me in many parts of that voyage was that yellow paperback bible. I still carry one, faithfully, like a devout religious man. Now, the real Bible, one of the world’s best-selling books, won’t literally get you through life’s rough seas (although I guess the central character did walk on one), but there is this other bible, this little yellow softcover book, that has, no doubt, literally saved countless people in real rough seas. Including me.

I decided to bestow this gem of a book on some boater friends and relatives this Christmas. They fanned through their copies, cocked their heads, and looked at me the way I looked at my grandmother when she gave me fluffy yellow knee socks one Christmas. “It’s like Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, but for boaters,” I enthusiastically exclaimed to friends and relatives. “Once you read it, if you put any value on valued knowledge, you’ll appreciate my gift. Even you Googleheads, who simply say, “I’ll just Google it” to find the answers… you’ll be at a disadvantage. For within the 272 pages of this guide to East Coast waters (published since 1875!), the interesting and critical information can be sourced much quicker and easier than on your phone. (And no data or roaming charges apply).”

What such information?

In the 2022 “Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book” ( is information on tides and currents, on what to do in distress at sea, on VHF channels and call scripts for emergencies, on first aid, hypothermia, rules of the road, navigation lights, sound signals, nautical chart and buoy explanations and diagrams, piloting rules, clean boating and pumpout station info, weather forecasting, how to read the skies, hurricane precautions to take, astronomical data such as sun and moon tables, moon phases, planets and on and on. Plus, sprinkled in the midst of this gem of a book, are captivating boating stories from outside contributors.

Other than a few “know it all” folks out there, I guarantee you’ll find stuff of either future or immediate value; e.g.: what to do if someone aboard mistakenly swallows a large slurp of antifreeze thinking it’s water (very bad, so don’t take the time to ask why they did that… just call 800-222-1222, quickly… it’s on the top of page 248 of your yellow book); or, if you’re asked to tow a friend’s boat in an emergency situation (full towing instructions and diagrams on pages 251 and 252); or if you want to know the weather and sea conditions 15 miles ahead of your course (Dial-A-Buoy Service, page 216); or if you want to make your compass more trustworthy by using your GPS to create a deviation table (page 255); or if you’re not sure how to identify and handle what appears to be a case of hypothermia (page 244); or if you want to judge distance of visibility (page 221); or if you need to know the time of current change in the Gulf of Maine (page 22).

Now, some of these examples were not my particular emergencies during my legendary voyage fifty-five years ago, but a few certainly saved me from accidents or even tragedy. But sadly though, there are some words of wisdom missing in this bible. For example, as a 17-year-old boy I could find nothing in the book telling me what to say to a 21-year-old woman after all romantic efforts had failed miserably. So, I just rowed her ashore and watched her walk out of my life. Forever.

Dave is the author of the three-time bestseller “Watching for Mermaids,” as well as the sequel “Beyond Mermaids,” and the novel “Rounding the Bend.” All are available through or at