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In depth

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Bluewater is more than books and charts.

The Florida bookstore also stocks software and navigation instruments, and can help you plan a voyage.

Bluewater is more than books and charts.

The Florida bookstore also stocks software and navigation instruments, and can help you plan a voyage.

When the Dutch navy needed charts of the Gulf of Mexico so one of its destroyers could help with hurricane relief in New Orleans, it placed an overnight order to Bluewater Books & Charts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“We got the call at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon,” recalls Vivien Godfrey. The Dutch wanted charts, light lists and tide tables delivered the next day to Puerto Rico, where the Curacao-based destroyer was berthed.

Godfrey, who is 40 and owns Bluewater with her husband, 61-year-old John Mann, rounded up the charts and references only to discover that Federal Express doesn’t deliver to Puerto Rico on Saturday. Mann drove to the airport the next morning and pleaded with one of the airlines to deliver the material as a mercy package on its flight to San Juan. The consignment of critical navigation information arrived as promised that day.

“We’re not just a bookstore,” says Godfrey. “We offer services that go above and beyond what people normally might expect.”

Bluewater’s motto, “Information for mariners,” covers a lot of ground: advising mariners on what they need, having it on hand, and delivering it in a timely fashion to just about anywhere in the world. Bluewater and its sister store, the Armchair Sailor in Newport, R.I., together stock about 50,000 items: 30,000 books; 15,000 paper charts; a few thousand electronic charts and other software for navigation, communications, vessel management, weather and tide predictions; nautical DVDs that instruct or entertain; marine-related videos; and miscellaneous games, globes and nautical instruments — barometers, barographs, binoculars, sextants.

But Bluewater doesn’t just sell products. Its staff offers advice, and Godfrey says that is an indispensable part of its reason for being.

The Fort Lauderdale store employs 23 people with an average 25 years of boating experience. “Some have been all around the world,” Godfrey says. Three live aboard their boats, and as many as 10 liveaboards have worked at the store at the same time. They are savvy mariners who enjoy sitting down with cruisers to help them plan their passages.

Tom Reese, a South Florida sailor who keeps his 43-foot Catana catamaran in the British Virgin Islands, has been a Bluewater customer for 15 years. Reese was buying an updated BVIs cruising guide and a chart of the Bahamas to begin planning a passage from Tortola to Fort Lauderdale this spring. Years ago he used Bluewater to help plan a passage from France to the Caribbean. “They’re great for providing publications and charts that other people just don’t have,” he says.

South African yacht captain Peter Baker was preparing to fly to Cozumel, Mexico, to deliver a 31-foot sportfisherman back to Fort Lauderdale in the wake of Hurricane Rita. The megayacht he captains already was en route from Mexico to Lauderdale on a yacht transport vessel. He needed charts of the Florida Keys and Bimini.

“I’m leaving early tomorrow,” he told Bluewater. He needed charts today.

Another Bluewater devotee, Ralph Ingersoll of Cat Island in the Bahamas, says the Blue-water staff led him to weatherman Chris Parker’s “Coastal and Offshore Weather, the Essential Handbook” and to Parker’se-mail weather service. Ingersoll credits Parker’s e-mail forecasts with beating the National Hurricane Center in giving him a heads-up that Hurricane Katrina likely would turn toward Miami. The warning gave him the time he needed to secure his boat there.

“They’re very professional, very helpful,” he says.

A corner of the Florida store is given to a table and chairs for cruise planning and consulting. “If you’re planning a trip around the world, you need a place to sit down and spread out,” Godfrey says, adding that helping plan passages is one of the perks of working at Bluewater. “It’s what makes the job fun and interesting — talking with people, giving them advice, helping them realize their dreams.”

Bluewater’s owners come honestly by their interest in things nautical.

Mann, a native of Gloucester, Mass., is a recreational sailor who spent 30 years in the food industry, including stints in marketing and management at Pillsbury and General Foods. Godfrey, a former food industry consultant, grew up in the British book and chart business.

Edward Stanford Ltd. began publishing maps and charts in 1853 and counted among its clients Africa missionary Dr. David Livingstone, colonialist Cecil Rhodes, and pioneering medical relief worker Florence Nightingale. Today known as Stanfords, the company has three retail stores in Great Britain specializing in world maps and travel literature. Godfrey’s grandfather worked at Stanfords as a literary editor, her dad as an international sales representative. Godfrey, her mother, father, grandfather and an aunt all graduated from Oxford University in geography and cartography — her twin passions. Godfrey remains a member of Stanfords’ board of directors. Her hands-on involvement in Bluewater returns her to her roots, she says.

The couple bought 19-year-old Bluewater Books & Charts in 2000 and the Armchair Sailor the following year. “We are now one of the biggest nautical book businesses in the country, if not the world,” Godfrey says.

They share management duties, Mann overseeing day-to-day operations, Godfrey working on growth strategies. In September, Mann was off to Rhode Island for the Newport International Boat Show while Godfrey minded the Florida shop.

Most of Bluewater’s customers are active mariners, both recreational and professional. “Our customers are people who are going somewhere,” Godfrey says. “If they have a boat and just sit at the dock and don’t go anywhere, they probably don’t need us.”

Bluewater stocks paper and electronic charts, cruising guides, courtesy, signal and national flags, and all sorts of helpful references — tide tables, light lists, coastal pilots, tutorials, first-aid books. If there’s no English-language cruising guide for an out-of-the-way destination — the Arctic, Norway or China Sea, for instance — Bluewater likely has the British Admiralty hydrographic office’s Sailing Directions, a kind of coastal pilot, for the region.

Sometimes Bluewater researches the information and publishes its own guide. After repeated requests for a cruising guide to Bermuda — none exists — Bluewater published a yachtsman’s guide that it downloaded from a Bermuda government Web site.

Bluewater is a chart agent for the U.S., British, French, Canadian, Icelandic, Australian and New Zealand governments. That might seem like overkill, but one country’s charts may be more up to date than others for certain waters. The staff knows which are most current.

The Florida store also prints “charts on demand” from a 6-foot-long printer linked by computer to an electronic database owned by OceanGrafix, a private chart company. The printer can produce any chart of the waters of the United States, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands — updated to the latest Coast Guard Notice to Mariners — in three minutes. Godfrey says the charts-on-demand are more up-to-date than NOAA’s own lithographic charts, but Bluewater sells both. She says the lithographic charts increasingly are purchased not for navigation but for decoration because they are so out-of- date.

Bluewater stocks a large inventory of British Admiralty charts because many of the foreign-flagged mega-yachts that visit Fort Lauderdale are required under their nation’s navigation rules to carry them. Bluewater receives weekly packets of tracings of every change to the admiralty charts so that store staff can hand-correct its stock, a British government requirement. “It requires a great deal of patience and meticulous attention to detail,” says Lynne Hill, Bluewater’s full-time chart corrector. “Also, having an artist’s eye helps.”

Godfrey has spun this capability into a service, managing chart inventories for megayacht captains. Bluewater warehouses the charts — hundreds for each yacht — and when a captain prepares to leave one cruising area for another, her staff pulls the charts, corrects them, then sends them to the yacht.

“That’s a big business for us, correcting charts and helping our megayacht captains manage their chart inventories,” Godfrey says.

The Newport and Fort Lauderdale stores have slightly different emphases reflecting different mixes of clientele. Armchair Sailor carries more books about nautical, naval, Coast Guard and local maritime history, and has a sharper focus on sailing, Godfrey says. Bluewater leans toward powerboats, and has racks of U.S. government and British Admiralty publications — codes of federal regulations, crew training manuals, engineering books, standards of the International Maritime Organization, technical books for professional mariners.

Godfrey says large numbers of megayacht captains and crews visit the store, and crew training schools use Bluewater as a resource. Marianne Gardner, who crews aboard the San Diego-based 74-foot charter motoryacht Viva with her husband, rang up an $850 bill at Bluewater for British Admiralty charts, electronic charts, cruising guides, several cruising books, and flags — all for winter cruising in the Caribbean.

“If you get in a little place like Rio Dulce in Guatemala and you need a chart, you can always phone or send an e-mail to a place like this — if you have a credit card — and have them send it to you,” she says. She says she and her husband have come a long way since the days when cruisers and captains would run copies of each other’s charts on black-and-white copiers when they came up a short while cruising.

Charts, cruising guides, software and technical references are a nautical bookstore’s bread and butter, but Godfrey says Bluewater’s collection of voyaging books — true stories written by passagemakers like Bernard Moitessier and Jack London — also are a big draw, as are books of nautical fiction. Bluewater carries the classics of Herman Melville, C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian, but the popularity of these authors has eroded in favor of more contemporary ones like Alexander Kent and Dudley Pope, who are easier to read. “You have to be pretty dedicated to work your way through Moby Dick,” Godfrey says.

Bluewater moved over Memorial Day weekend from its home of 19 years on 17th Street to a new retail center several blocks away on Cordova Road. Its display space nearly doubled to 6,000 square feet, Bluewater has room now to add more nautical books, increase its collection of globes and DVDs, and introduce more general-interest books — gardening and cooking, for example — for local readers. The shop also is introducing travel guides to help cruisers get around landside in the countries they visit, and it is buying up used nautical books to sell in a bargain-book section. Godfrey says the company also is diversifying into catalog and Internet sales, which now account for 40 percent of company revenues, but she doubts that mail or Internet orders will render the retail shop obsolete for the foreseeable future.

For now, Godfrey sees a strong niche for a nautical bookstore that does a lot of other things in addition to selling books. “All the surveys show that the most important leisure activity in the United States is shopping,” she says. “It is still very important to have retail shops that are nice and interesting, and have stuff that people like to look at and buy.”

Bluewater Books & Charts is at 1811 Cordova Road, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316. Phone: (954) 763-6533. Armchair Sailor is at 543 Thames St., Newport, RI 02840. Phone: (401) 847-4252. The Web site is at www.bluewaterweb.com , and the

e-mail address is help@bluewaterweb.com . Catalogs are available on request by telephone.