It's my good fortune that I get to spend many a fine summer's day hanging around beautiful, bustling Camden Harbor, Maine. Often I'm fooling with some new charting wonder because that's my job, and often I'm also scanning locally busy VHF channels because I'm curious about how well these products are working out for regular boaters. What I observe is that modern electronics have made getting into the harbor fairly easy, but the theoretically invaluable Points of Interest (POIs), i.e. all those icons splattered over the latest electronic charts, don't seem that useful. It's just amazing how much radio time and who knows how many cellphone calls it costs many newcomers just to figure out what their dock and mooring possibilities are.
If you compare what's on the electronic charts to Camden reality, the confusion is totally understandable. I'll illustrate with the C-Map Max card, because it's actually the best of the lot; that's how poor the data is. For instance, C-Map gets the location and most details of Willey Wharf correct, while many charts combine this small (but big-yacht-friendly) marina with the Public Landing farther up the harbor, even though they aren't even physically adjacent, let alone unified. However, C-Map fails when it comes to Willey's VHF monitoring habits (none actually) and doesn't even mention those municipal docks, though once discovered they're a favorite of many visiting cruisers. In fact, this extra-high-resolution C-Marina chart—a unique and excellent C-Map feature—shows that Public Landing with greater detail than any other source, but (sorry, C-Map) all those finger piers drawn in at Wayfarer Marine are actually one long face dock and hence may be more confusing than the plain shoreline normally charted.
Mind you, all the details mentioned so far are major Camden Harbor facts, decades-old. Similarly the grocery store suggested by that shopping cart icon next to Willey's is actually up on Main Street and has been for about a century; so forget about more fleeting POIs like the latest hot bistro in town. Just accessing electronic POIs is also frustrating. This particular presentation, the work of PCPlanner, is better than having to pan/click all around the harbor, but wouldn't it be better still if the list showed the actual marina names and clicking on them also highlighted their location on the chart?
Lists and harbor overviews are where printed and online guides tend to excel, but they, too, are prone to errors and omissions. For instance, I can't find any source whatsoever that explains the subtle but important fact that many of Camden's private inner-harbor mooring floats—some of the finest perches on the coast of Maine and vastly superior to rolling around on an outer-harbor mooring—are for rent by the night to boats less than 42 feet. Have you checked your own harbor against the available sources? My cruising experience suggests that all are poorly POI'd, and even an energetic cruiser working a mishmash of paper and electronics sources, cell, and VHF can still miss many sweet spots.
This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.