The name Chris Doyle is synonymous with Caribbean cruising. His guidebooks, which cover every port and gunk hole from Anguilla to Trinidad, have educated, entertained, steered and saved many a sailor venturing from A to B.
He’s been at it a long time, which is remarkable considering that the first book came to life from a dare. In the late 1970s, Doyle was working as a charter skipper, sailing guests to his favorite spots. “One night at a party,” he recounts, “I complained to the bartender about the fact that people always asked me where to go. He told me I should write a guide.”
That first book, released in 1980, was a tour of the Windward Islands.
“It was a simple affair,” says Doyle. “It had black and white photos. Maybe a color cover. I had to keep it under $5.00 US.” He sold them from a backpack worn while windsurfing to anchored yachts.
In the beginning Doyle was the lone researcher, traveling the islands on his Carib 41. “It was one of those CSY boats- unsinkable,” he laughs. Success with book one and with islands unexplored, he sailed north to investigate, write and produce a Guide to the Leeward Islands. Around the same time he met Nancy and Simon Scott, which resulted in a pooling of talent and effort to produce The Virgin Islands Guide.
Anyone who’s cruised the Caribbean understands the depth of Doyle’s efforts to provide fresh facts. Some businesses weather well but many blow away on the winds of change. A few people make contact with updates. “They point out changes,” he says, “but it’s best if I go myself.” Each year, the course of one guide is sailed from cover to cover. Every anchorage is re-visited for the latest on clearance protocol, restaurants, stores, yacht facilities, and a myriad of services tending to boats and crew.
Old information is validated while hunting for new talent. I spotted Chris Doyle this winter in Marie-Galante, notepaper in hand, curiosity on his face, puzzling the hours of a pizza place when I interrupted to say hello. Conversation segued to the lack of a decent grocer in Saint Louis. When I mentioned the first world wonder on the edge of town, he lit up, making it the next mission. The Facebook page, Doyle Guides, was the next to hear about it.
Doyle notes that Lexi Fisher is apprenticing with him this year with the hope he can ease toward retirement. She knows the islands and shares the master’s enthusiasm for adventure. She sounded a harbor in Les Saintes for a new guide inclusion and has gained experience with teachers Messrs. Trial and Error. One lesson learned came in a meeting with an Antiguan restauranteur. She asked the owner to check over text from the guide, only to discover it included a bit of Doyle’s humorous honesty. Laughing, she explained, “I was reading it upside down when I realized it said, the owner smokes cigars; nice place if you don’t have to sit near him.”
The books abound with characters and commentary- like the entry that describes a pricey resort that escorted Doyle off the property despite having a dinner reservation. “The lady said there was no room for us so I wrote, security there is as tight as a sphincter!”
Doyle claims he doesn’t receive special treatment or bribes from businesses but there are perks to the job. He dines out frequently and every anchorage visited holds old and new friends; almost every stop is a homecoming.
His research vessel these days is a 40ft cat he helped create in Trinidad. Ti Kanot is perfect, fast, roomy and short on draft. There’s a spacious office and plenty of room to entertain. The boat is one of numerous evolutions to the trade. What once was crucial – a lead line, RDF, telex, internet cafes and that windsurfer, have been replaced by satellite navigation, Wi-Fi, Trip Advisor, social media and a proper dinghy to carry bikes and gear.
Although retirement is on the horizon for Chris Doyle, it’s clear he will always be part of the enterprise he started from the water up. When asked what lies ahead, he cheerfully announced, “I’d like to get a drone!”
Be sure to check out cruisingguides.com for the full selection of Doyle Guidebooks. You can learn more at Chris Doyle Publishing; Caribbean Cruising Guides: www.doyleguides.com or Email: [email protected]