After a frustrating, often wind-against-tide cruise down the St. Lawrence River in 2001 with no guidebooks, Capt. Cheryl Barr decided to write her own. “A Complete Cruising Guide to the Down East Circle Route” follows a 2,400-mile clockwise cruise from New York City to the Great Lakes, down the St. Lawrence River, through the Canadian Maritimes, then south along the New England coast.“The Down East Circle is great for both experienced and entry-level cruisers. Any sound yacht equipped for Intracoastal Waterway cruising can do it,” says the 47-year-old Canadian, who holds a Yachtmaster certificate from the Royal Yacht Sailing Academy on England’s Isle of Wight.
After research cruises aboard Road to the Isles — a 62-foot steel Herreshoff schooner she and her father built — and Marita — a 50-foot custom Jack Gilbert-designed power yacht — she compiled her findings. “When I made my first Down East Circle cruise, no one knew anything about that route,” Barr says.
Her book contains harbor and navigation information, charts, current and tide data, and short articles about the region’s wildlife, historical sites and geology. “I wrote whatever I thought would pep up a navigation guide, which tends to be dry,” she says. “My second edition includes waypoints, more harbor and navigation information, and better charts, tide and current tables. Some improvements were suggested by cruisers, dozens of whom have made the circuit.”
Barr initially sold her books at boat shows, including PassageMaker magazine’s Trawler Fest, and from the trunk of her car. Eight years later, most sales are through her Yacht Pilot Publishing website (www.yachtpilot.ca), fueled by word of mouth, blogs, seminars and magazine articles.
Most Circle cruisers agree with Bill and Judy Rohde of Bayfield, Wis., who blogged about their trip. “We continue to make heavy use of our ‘bible,’ Capt. Cheryl Barr’s outstanding book, ‘Down East Circle Route,’ ” they wrote. “Don’t even consider making this trip without it on board.”
To aid those wishing to expand their cruising into the Bras d’Or Lake and Newfoundland waters, Barr painstakingly researched her home waters and published “A Cruising Guide to the Canadian Maritimes” in 2006.
Her next work, the first of a three-volume guide to Cuban waters, will be out this year. “Cuba is a fascinating country — large, with three mountain ranges, a diverse culture, music and wonderful architecture, from tiny villages to Havana itself,” says Barr, who has cruised there for 12 winters. “My ‘Cruising Guide to Cuba, Volume 1 — Varadero to Cienfuegos’ covers from Varadero around the western tip to Bahia de Cienfiegos, where the more adventuresome want to cruise.”
Barr was smitten by the sea at age 7, when her family rebuilt a tired wooden “Newfie” schooner in Nova Scotia and cruised the Caribbean for several years. She has sailed the waters of the U.K., Australia, Caribbean and Canada. In the mid-1980s she trekked through Australia and Southeast Asia and later backpacked through the South Pacific islands.
She attended Halifax’s Dalhousie University and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. “When I graduated, I had no idea I’d be writing books,” she says.
Barr now works summers at a British Columbia resort as a guide for kayaking and hiking trips — and sleeping in a tent. “It’s a nice change from sailing and writing about the most beautiful waters in the world,” she says. “I’m very happy with my life path.”
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This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue.