In the 1870s, in the bustling waters of Vineyard Haven, a humble catboat nimbly wove its way through the towering cargo schooners that crowded the harbor. At its helm was George W. Eldridge, peddler of maritime charts and publications, going door to door (or rather, boat to boat) to offload his merchandise.

George W. was put up to the task by his father, the elder George Eldridge, who sent his son to the busy harbor to sell his own charts. But George W. kept his ear to the deck as he haunted Vineyard Haven. And as he chatted with the captains, he noted a strong desire to get access to accurate currents tables in the Vineyard Sound and beyond.

In 1875, with the help of his father, George W. researched and compiled such tables, along with tide charts and other nautical information, into the first edition of the Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book.

Six generations have passed since that first volume, but the Eldridge family is still at the helm, currently working on the 150th edition of the Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book. The family no longer lives on the Island full-time, but remains connected to Vineyard Haven as seasonal residents.

Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book will soon have its 150th printing. — Ray Ewing

Recently the current publishers, Jenny White Kuliesis and her father, former publisher Robert Eldridge (Ridge) White Jr., reflected on a century and a half of maritime publishing.

“The Vineyard Sound is a daunting gauntlet,” Ridge said, of the conditions which first made the book a success. “If they didn’t take advantage of the currents they didn’t have a chance...the growth was guaranteed.”

Word of mouth spreads quickly when your customers travel up and down the coast, and the Eldridge was soon available in chandleries across the eastern seaboard. After the tenure of George W., the book passed to his son in law, Wilfrid O. White. A compass maker by trade, Wilfrid had little patience for the book, despite being a prolific advertiser in its pages.

“Occasionally, he got a little frustrated that the Eldridge was a distraction for him...he referred to it as ‘that darned book,’” Ridge said. As a result, Wilfrid left much of the work of publishing to his eldest daughter, Sydna.

“All through the development of the tide book, women were the unsung heroes,” said Ridge, noting that George W. also had help from his daughters in preparing the charts.

Current publisher Jenny White Kuliesis and her husband Peter. — Courtesy Jenny White Kuliesis

It was also under Wilfrid’s tenure that the readership of the Eldridge began to shift away from commercial schooners to the burgeoning community of recreational sailors.

The mantle then passed on to Robert Eldridge White Sr. and his wife Molly, and from then to his son Ridge and wife Linda — though Ridge was quick to note that Molly and Linda deserve most of the credit.

From a young age, Ridge had a suspicion that his daughter Jenny would take over the Eldridge one day. Both of his daughters where passionate about the ocean, he said, recalling their childhood days at the family’s Tashmoo cottages, but Jenny had a particular nautical zest.

“For Jenny, it was always more intense,” he said.

“They made Eldridge fun for us kids,” Jenny wrote in an email to the Gazette. “My sister and I would tag along to boat shows and help with proofreading and editing the book whenever we were home from school. My sister and I came to think of the Tide Book as another family member, always with us...we hope to do the same with our daughter.”

The original: George Eldridge. — Courtesy Eldridge family.

When Linda got sick, Jenny and her husband Peter eagerly took up the mantle as editors. The process of putting together the book is much different now, aided by computer-aided design software and government data repositories. The increase in accurate electronic nautical equipment has also forced the publishers to adapt to a new era of recreational boating, though Jenny noted that the book has some distinct advantages 

“It doesn’t require a battery and still works when wet,” she said, noting that they now include more illustrations and articles in new editions. “In-depth, authentic, salty knowledge is something Eldridge is uniquely positioned to offer,” she said. “We want Eldridge to be a useful resource to the lifelong sailor while being accessible to a novice.”

But still, much of the old remains with the Eldridge.

While removing some obsolete articles, Ridge said, they have “retained others for flavor.” They will also be returning to the classic “Eldridge Yellow” book cover for their 150th edition, Jenny said, after having to switch out the color last year due to supply chain issues. “We got some feedback on that,” she wrote, followed by an ominous, 19-period-long ellipse.

And though the future of the Eldridge is uncertain as always, both Jenny and Ridge said they hoped it would stay in the family for many more years.

“Despite Wilfrid’s saying,” Ridge said, “we are terribly proud of that darn book.”