Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass March 2020

Celebrating Compass's Silver Jubilee
Looking Back, Looking Forward

by Sally Erdle

The Early Years

After completing a nearly six-year circumnavigation aboard our 1963-vintage Rhodes 41 sloop, So Long, by sailing into Bequia just before Christmas of 1994, Tom Hopman and I wondered, "What next?" We didn't have to wonder for long.
On New Year's Eve 1994, over drinks aboard our friend Elen Schwartz's Carol ketch, Prana, in Admiralty Bay, the pioneering circumnavigator Bob Law of the trimaran Pistachio mentioned that he had seed money to invest in a newspaper. Did we know of anyone who might be interested in starting one?
Tom and I looked at each other and said, "Hey, we could do that!"

We had worked as charter and delivery captain and crew, and cruised the Eastern Caribbean, since the early 1970s. Along with his US Coast Guard licenses, Tom had a business degree in his back pocket. Before leaving Bequia on our circumnavigation, I'd written freelance articles for a couple of the glossy sailing magazines, as well as for Jim Long's seminal Caribbean Boating. We later enjoyed reading anything we could get our hands on throughout our travels, and during a yearlong stopover in New Zealand I was privileged to work as a feature writer for the Northern Advocate newspaper's "Shoreline" marine section. Arriving back in the Windwards, we thought that it was ridiculous for this area, with all its boating activity, not to have a dedicated recreational-marine publication of its own.

The first issue of Caribbean Compass - all 16 pages of it, in glorious black and white - was published in March of 1995, with the design and technical help of a young cruising couple, Mandy Pirimona and Graham O'Neill, who continued on their voyage from England to New Zealand the following year. Tom and I were pretty average sailors for the time - having cruised, raced a bit, worked in what's now known as "the yachting industry" and been customers of the usual types of marine businesses - and we figured there would be others who would like to read the same kind of things we did. We roped in friends to write and report, and just as friends became contributors, over the years many contributors have become friends.
Thanks to demand from both advertisers and readers, our original Windward Island coverage rapidly expanded to cover the Southern Caribbean, and then the entire Wider Caribbean Region. Since 2007, Caribbean Compass has been free online for the whole world to read.

An Even Keel
Since Compass's launching, it's been a remarkably stable craft. Our Bequia office is in the same building where we started, at the peerless address of "Brick House, Back Street, Bequia." Except for two issues, Caribbean Compass has always been printed by Guardian Media Ltd. of Trinidad & Tobago, and from Trinidad hard copies are still sent - thanks first to Leonard Doolgar and now his son Alexis - by ship, island schooner and plane to key distribution points around the Caribbean.

There's been minimal Cockpit Crew turnover. In 1997 designer Roxanne Thoeny established Compass's general look, inaugurated our now-regular Readers' Surveys and "Info & Updates" department, and created our website. When she returned to the US, photographer, graphic designer and former yacht skipper Wilfred Dederer joined the Compass Cockpit Crew as Design and Production Manager in 1998 and has been our trusty first mate ever since. From 1998 until 2003, Nicola Redway gave invaluable support as our first Assistant Editor, an indispensable position that was held for the next 16 years by Elaine Ollivierre. Sailor Noel Mawer helped set up our bookkeeping system, and bookkeeper Debra Davis joined the crew from 1998 to 2011, followed by Shellese Craig, who continues to keep the numbers and much more on track at the Advertising and Administration desk. Our newest crewmembers, Assistant Editor Tad Richards and Editorial Assistant Liesbet Collaert, came aboard last year.
Since a large number of contributors are transient cruisers, writers have come and gone, but some, like Chris Doyle and Don Street, have been with us since the beginning, and others have been regular contributors for a decade or more. We're sad when a favorite writer sails over the horizon or swallows the anchor, but every year brings new voices.

Likewise, as cruising patterns and national economies change (for example, Venezuela, once one of our biggest ad markets, has nearly disappeared off the cruising map, while Grenada has grown into a powerhouse) advertisers come and go. Nevertheless, approximately a third of Compass advertisers have been with us a decade or more. Advertisers who hopped aboard during our first five years of publication and are still with us include Caribbean-wide businesses Budget Marine, Island Water World, Doyle Sails Caribbean, Chris Doyle's Guides, Iolaire Enterprises and LIAT. Others are Northern Lights/Parts & Power of Tortola; Rodney Bay Marina and Johnson's Hardware of St. Lucia; Grenadines Sails, Gonsalves Liquors, Blue Lagoon Marina, Bequia Sailing Club and Basil's Bar of St. Vincent & the Grenadines; Art Fabrik, Carriacou Real Estate, The Food Fair, Grenada Marine, Island Dreams Yacht Services, McIntyre Bros., Neil Pryde Sails, Spice Island Marine Services and Turbulence Sails of Grenada; and Echo Marine, Peake Yacht Services and Power Boats of Trinidad. Joining these "early adopters" have been hundreds more businesses throughout the region, and we thank them all for floating our boat!

Content Remains Key
Being independently owned and operated, and thus free of corporate constraints, Compass has always steered a course based on the belief that content comes first: good content makes avid readers, and having a passionate and loyal readership is the best thing we can give our advertisers.
Compass's content has evolved over the years, being shaped more by writers' ideas, experiences and talents than by a rigid editorial policy. We've made mistakes and learned together. Our core content comes from people "out in the field" - or, more accurately, out on the water - who truly care about what they're writing about. They don't write because they've been given an assignment; they write because they are motivated to tell us about something. Compass contributors include a wide cross-section of the visiting cruising community, resident expats, and Caribbean voices. Compass contributors range from established authors to previously unknown amateurs whose writing can be so good that, as Nicola Redway once said, "It makes the hair on the backs of your arms stand on end."
The internet has been a mixed blessing. Being able to send and receive articles, photos and ads electronically, and read Compass online, makes everyone's life easier. But we miss the lively old debates that used to appear in the Readers' Forum - now cruisers seem to prefer to yell at each other on Facebook cruisers' groups!

Cartoons have always been part of Compass, from the early "Landra's World" series by Landra Bench to the score of cartoonists whose work we've featured in recent years. Having well known New Yorker cartoonist Mick Stevens walk into the Compass office unexpectedly one day and offer his cartoons was, for me (a cartoonist before I became an editor), like having Mick Jagger show up and ask if he could sing with your band. An anniversary is time for fun, and on this issue's cover we present a celebratory take on our usual page 3 map by our newest cartoonist, Sarah Steenland.
As we go into our 25th year of publication, we continue to look forward to the lift we get when a new article pops into our e-mail and we think, "Wow, Compass readers are going to love this!"

All Aboard
Compass is pleased to be able to provide a platform for contributors, readers, government agencies and advertisers, providing linkages toward greater understanding across the Caribbean recreational marine scene. A few years ago we were talking with Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander about our writing and publishing goals, and Fatty remarked, "Aha, the Compass is a community-building project!" Well, we'd never quite thought of it that way before, but it turns out, judging from many of the comments from readers and writers you'll see spread throughout this issue, that Fatty was right. Caribbean Compass is a successful business, it's a popular publication, and yet - thanks to you all - it's become so much more.
Looking back, we are blown away.
So here's to everyone who ever said, "Hey, I can do that!" and went cruising, started racing, joined a rally, wrote an article, opened a marine-related business, supported an organization, or otherwise got involved in the fascinating Caribbean marine scene. Past, present and future, we're all part of it.

We'll continue celebrating Compass's Silver Jubilee Year throughout 2020 with notable articles from past issues, "then and now" follow-ups, and more anniversary fun. Stay tuned!

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