Boaters behind popular Mexico books release San Juan Islands guide

CoverphotoAfter producing two popular cruising guides on Mexico, sailors Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer decided to turn their sights to their home waters of the Northwest.

The Bellingham-based couple will release their third cruising guide, “San Juan Islands: A Boater’s Guidebook,” in mid-April. The easy-to-read, spiral-bound guide includes more than 70 charts showing anchorages, approaches, navigational hazards and GPS waypoints; detailed descriptions of harbors and marinas; and information about fuel docks, provisioning, restaurants and marine services.

Sample itineraries and mileage tables showing distances to various destinations are helpful for trip-planning, as is information about hiking trails, parks and other points of interest on shore.

The guide features more than 70 charts.

The guide features more than 70 charts.

There are other cruising guides on the San Juan Islands, including the Dreamspeaker and Cruising series, Northwest Boat Travel and Waggoner Cruising Guide. But Breeding and Bansmer think their book stands out from the rest. For one, they point out, it contains no advertising, so their opinions can be as unbiased as possible.

Some existing guides are outdated, they say, or lack the variety of information about on-shore activities included in theirs. Some have criticized their guides for including information not strictly related to boating, such as details about hiking trails, museums and where to find the nearest brewpub. They’re not bothered by the input.

“[Cruising is] not just about boating for us,” Bansmer said. “It’s also about seeing the sights, interacting with the locals, trying to see some of the history of the area and trying to educate yourself while you’re traveling to these really cool spots.”

Colored photos and an easy-to-read layout are hallmarks of the couple's cruising guides.

Colored photos and an easy-to-read layout are hallmarks of the couple’s cruising guides.

And putting out their two acclaimed Mexico guides — “The Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser’s Guidebook,” published in 2008, and “Pacific Mexico: A Cruisers Guidebook,” published in 2010 — demonstrated that cruising guidebooks can have appeal beyond the boating market.

“One thing we learned about the Sea of Cortez guide is that a lot of tourists buy these books to take them home to their families and show them the area, with the pretty photos and the sights to see,” Bansmer said. “We weren’t really expecting that.”

Bansmer, who grew up in Eastern Washington, and Breeding, who spent his teenage years in Kentucky, met in Bellingham while working for different companies in the same building. Breeding purchased a 1976 Westsail 32, Om Shanti, in 1998 and taught Bansmer to sail.

The pair, now married, spent eight winters cruising in Mexico before returning to the Northwest in 2010 to focus on their publishing company, Blue Latitude Press. Breeding originally had the idea to do a cruising guide on the San Juan Islands years ago when he and Bansmer were in the Virgin Islands. The idea was put on the back burner while the two cruised in Mexico, he said, but after producing their two Mexico guides it made sense to revive it, especially since crime in Mexico makes tourism there a hard sell for some boaters.

“The bad news scares people away from Mexico,” Breeding said. “We just wanted to diversify and not have all our eggs in one basket.”

Stuart Island is among many destinations featured in the book.

Stuart Island is among many destinations featured in the book.

Creating charts for the San Juan Islands guide was easier than creating them for the Mexico guides, Breeding said. In Mexico, a dearth of accurate charts required the couple to go out in their dinghy with a GPS and depth sounder to collect readings. For the new guide, they were able to start with freely available NOAA data and layer on additional information about topography, roads and other details to create their own charts.

Drawing on years of sailing in the San Juans, they did most of the research for the book during four months in 2011. Breeding, a graphic designer, laid out the book, while Bansmer did most of the writing. As liveaboards with a passion for travel, they’ve managed to carve out a livelihood that suits both their talents and interests.

“We’ve built this business starting with the Mexico books and learned every iteration of it,” Breeding said. “We have this business and this publishing company now, so we figure we’ll just keep on rolling.”

“San Juan Islands: A Boater’s Guidebook” is $39.95 and will be available through Blue Latitude Press’s website and at local booksellers and marine stores.

4 Responses to Boaters behind popular Mexico books release San Juan Islands guide

  1. Tommy Long April 6, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    It looks beautiful. Lots of beautiful photos.

    Though I think guides like Salish Sea Pilot are the future. Their San Juans guide seems to be regularly updated and, a godsend for guidebook collectors like me, it’s free.

  2. Tom Brown April 6, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    First of all, a huge congrats on the third guide!

    After spending most of the last two years here in Mexico, and refering to the Sea of Cortez book by Heather and Shawn as the “bible of the sea”, I am sure that this new book will earn all of the same aclaim for the PNW boaters. In addition to putting out an amazing set of cruising guides, they are exceptional people, and have a legacy of charity work here in Mexico that is awesome

    • Deborah Bach April 6, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

      I wish our site had a like button for comments, Tom.

  3. seaweedsoup April 4, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    Have to check it out further, but what I see here looks good. The old standard guides are getting old and tired. Nice to see something fresh.

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