By Milt Baker
Stephen J. Pavlidis, one of America’s top cruising guide authors, died May 29, in Covington, Georgia, after a long period of failing health. He was 65.
“Steve was one of the hardest-working individuals I have ever known,” said his publisher and close friend, Joseph F. Janson of Seaworthy Publications. “Even as his health was failing he continued to work on projects and co-authored a new book, The Captain’s Guide to Hurricane Holes, published in 2018. He had a brilliant mind and was that unique combination of writer and cartographer in one person.”
Pavlidis lived aboard his stout 40-foot sailboat IV Play beginning in 1989 and continued living aboard for much of his life, a period just shy of 30 years. He cruised the Bahamas and Caribbean for much of that time, researching and writing more than a dozen cruising guides. His guides covered the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the Leeward Islands, the Windward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Northwest Caribbean including the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Guatemala and the Rio Dulce River, and Honduras and the Bay Islands. His guides have long been described as some of the best available references for cruising the Bahamas and Caribbean.
According to Janson, “Steve personally sailed to and visited each place he wrote about, and he created over 500 detailed charts for his guides. Seaworthy Publications is committed to keeping Steve’s guides up to date just as Steve always did his best to ensure. Steve was more than a good writer- researcher—he was my friend. He will be sorely missed.” Pavlidis and Janson knew one another for 25 years.
Pavlidis’ cruising guides are widely available through bookseller channels, and all his guides are also available under the Island Hopping Digital Guide series wherever eBooks are sold.
Steve Pavlidis was a big man, larger than life in many ways. He suffered with weight issues for most of his life, and he was diabetic. He was a non-drinker and worked hard to eat healthy to keep his blood glucose in check, but his obesity took a serious toll and played havoc with his knees, something that slowed him down in his later years. “Steve really wanted to get his health in order,” said Janson, “but there were just too many obstacles.”
“Steve saw himself as a journalist, in the sense of telling a stream-of-thought recounting of his own observations,” Janson said. “Read his guides and you’ll find him walking you through the process, whether on land or on the water. On the water he lays out options, if any, then takes you through each one. On land he walks you from the dinghy dock into the town and the businesses and other things you will see along your way. He was the guide.”
Cruising in The Bahamas in the early 1990s, Pavlidis fell in love with the Exuma Land and Sea Park and its 100,000 acres of beaches, mangroves, reefs and ocean waters. Cruising in the park for weeks at a time, he befriended Ray Darville, the park warden, and became an unofficial deputy warden. He began to accompany Darville on his daily patrols around the park by boat and helped enforce the park’s rules. His experience there inspired him to write his first book, A Cruising Guide to the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. He wrote the 73-page booklet in partnership with Darville and self-published it in 1994. At the time he had no idea it would lead to a career as one of America’s most successful cruising guide writers.
Pavlidis soon connected with Seaworthy’s Janson and proposed the idea of a cruising guide for the whole Exuma Cays chain. “He would use the skills he learned by creating the booklet and expand it,”
Janson said. It was 1994 and Janson jumped aboard. New computer technology and laser printing made it possible to publish a book at a small fraction of the cost of using traditional typesetting. “So, we printed 1,000 copies, and Bluewater Books & Charts and others each promptly ordered a case of them,” he said. “We shipped the books and before we even thought they could have been delivered, Bluewater called to order another case.” Before long, Janson and Pavlidis were making plans for more cruising guides covering more areas.
According to Amazon.com’s Stephen J. Pavlidis page, “His books are different than most other cruising guides in some very significant ways. All of the charts in Steve’s books were created using data personally collected while visiting each area using a computerized system that interfaces GPS and depth soundings to produce data that allows him to create extremely accurate digital charts. The charts are so accurate that they have been licensed to GPS manufacturers as well as paper chart publishers to supplement and add detail to the official government-produced charts of regions throughout The Bahamas and Caribbean.”
Pavlidis used a laptop linked to a GPS and depth sounder, all mounted in a Pelican case, and he would shuttle his dinghy back and forth across each anchorage like mowing the lawn. The process created a dataset that linked each sounding with a GPS reading. “The amount of data was enormous,”
Janson said, “and Steve would scan down through it all, and wherever he noticed a change in depth he’d plot that depth on his chart.” The process provided Pavlidis and Seaworthy GPS-accurate proprietary copyrighted charts for each guide.
Slowly, Janson’s wife Theresa became Pavlidis’ editor, even learning to edit his charts. “At first we didn’t realize that Steve needed an editor,” he said. “Steve prided himself on the accuracy of his writing, but like all technical writers he too made mistakes. Theresa would give me a list of questions for him, and it must have been a humbling experience. But Steve accepted it. Who knew that it would be Theresa? She just started doing it out of the blue, then suddenly she had a new job,” Janson said. “Nothing, absolutely nothing, went to press until Theresa had fully reviewed and approved it. Steve’s orders.”
But Steve wasn’t all business. He also had a softer side he didn’t often show. For example, he was quite conflicted about giving away the secrets of the Jumento Cays, and he did it in a particularly sentimental way. By most any measure, what he wrote showed the depth of his feeling and was just plain sweet:
“I have a nagging feeling deep down that I shouldn’t tell anyone how to get to this lovely, unspoiled island chain. I really want to keep this one for myself. The Jumentos have all the flavor of the most pristine islands of the Exumas Cays but without all the hordes of cruisers, and yet, if needed, George Town is only a day or two away. Here is solitude. Here is natural beauty. Here you can relax, enjoy life at your own pace, and rarely see another human being except for the local fishermen who frequent these islands in great numbers. This is my favorite island chain in the entire Bahamas. Giving away the navigational information to allow cruisers to have a safe, enjoyable, memorable cruise through these cays is like giving away my daughter. Please take care of her.”
Trinidad taxi driver and highly regarded friend to cruisers, Jesse James knew Steve for about 20 years and likes to tell this story:
Steve was an honest and very hard-working guy who let absolutely NOTHING stand in his way to ensure he got the 100 percent correct info so cruisers would have the correct info. I have taken him and seen him go way, way beyond the call of duty to get it right. He was sooooooo passionate about his work and his books!
One time I played a phone prank on him, calling him and disguising my voice, and claiming one of his books had a piece of bad information. He didn’t recognize my voice, and, boy, did he fly into a rage. I froze and almost did not know what to do, but I quickly composed myself and made myself known. Quick as a flash he switched back to being sweet Steve and apologized. This just goes to show how passionate he was about his work. You can bet I never did that again. I was also very shocked and beyond surprised when I received in my mail his Cruising Guide to Trinidad and Tobago–dedicated to me.
Todd Duff, a Caribbean sailor based in the British Virgin Island, met Steve Pavlidis in the late 1990s and worked with him, shooting photos and helping edit his Virgin Islands guide. “Steve was a tremendous mentor and sounding board for some of my early writing projects, and it was through him I made a connection for publishing my first adventure novel, Kidnapped From the Caribbean with Seaworthy Publications,” he said. “He was always a very positive influence for me in my writing career and was terrific at offering constructive criticism. His own writing was concise, accurate and well researched. The charts he created have contributed significantly to the safety and enjoyment of many
remote and formerly inaccessible areas. Steve’s ‘larger than life’ presence was immediately obvious to
those who worked with him, and I hope he approves of how we make use of the detailed nautical charts
John Kretschmer, a prominent world cruising sailor, sail trainer and author, had this to say about Pavlidis, “His guidebooks were excellent, and they combined a special mix of highly accurate navigational details, charming descriptions and an unfailingly generous spirit. He was just a really good guy and was able to avoid being the be-all/end-all in his books while still providing super useful info. I have them all!”
Circumnavigator and long-time Bahamas cruiser Pam Wall, a renowned West Marine representative for many years, tells this story about Pavlidis:
“I had insisted that West carry Steve Pavlidis’ guides of cruising the Bahamas. While I corresponded with Steve occasionally, I never had a face-to-face with him until I was giving an evening presentation on Bahamas cruising at the Stuart West Marine store. I had a huge crowd of attendees and I did note a big man sitting way in the back of the room. He was totally intent on my presentation.
At the end of the presentation, which was only supposed to be one hour, I was very hurried as the manager of the store kept giving me a signal to end my talk. Of course, I knew he wanted to close the store.
So I finished my presentation quickly, suggesting the Explorer Charts by Sara and Monty Lewis. And that ended my overtime presentation. I cleaned up all my AV equipment, helped the manager close the store, and it was about a half an hour before I went out to the parking lot to get into my car about 9:30 that dark night.
I was frightened to see a big man leaning against my car. As I slowly approached he could see me hesitating and came forward, hand outstretched and saying, “Hi Pam! Don’t be scared! It’s Steve Pavlidis, and why the heck didn’t you tell everyone about my books?”
I was totally taken aback but so relieved to know who he was I ran up to him and threw my arms around him saying breathlessly, “Wow, Steve Pavlidis, fancy meeting you at last in the West Marine parking lot so late at night!” We both chuckled and remained in that parking lot for over an hour just so happy to meet each other and talk about the Bahamas. I shall never forget that night.
After that night, at all my Bahamas presentations the very first guides I always suggested were the books by Steve Pavlidis!”
Despite his long writing career, Steve Pavlidis was a very private man, and his early life seems to be a mystery. He’s known to have hailed from Covington, Georgia. His soft southern accent underscored his origins. He never married. According to Janson, he was a matter-of-fact guy who was slow to judge and extremely courteous. “He liked music and was a member of a blues band until just the past few years,” Janson remembers,” He played the guitar.”
Pavlidis told friends he had lived the whole outlaw-biker lifestyle before he began sailing. He found a kindred spirit in biker-dude Robert “Bob Bitchin” Lipkin, who founded Latitudes & Attitudes and Cruising Outpost magazines for sailors. “Motorcycles and the outlaw motorcycle lifestyle was both our passions until we ‘discovered’ sailing,” Lipkin wrote on Facebook. “But that doesn’t tell the tale of a man who lived large and loved life. He was a brother to many as well as a guide to the Caribbean sailing lifestyle. His words will be missed, but he will be missed even more. Ride-on brother. Or should I say, sail-on?”
Milt Baker, with his wife Judy, founded Bluewater Books & Charts in Fort Lauderdale in 1986 and
managed the business until selling it in 2000. Milt knew Steve Pavlidis in his early years of
writing cruising guides.