Five Generations of Charting Island Tides

The Ridge White family portrait.

A red rooster perches jauntily on the port side of the helm of a thirty-foot lobster boat, dubbed the Red Rooster by its new owners, Robert Eldridge (Ridge) White Jr. and his wife “Admiral” Linda Foster White. The bird is made of Styrofoam, but its feathers are real. Since it flies away occasionally, it roosts in the sink once the boat gets underway.

On a perfect July morning, the Whites have tied up at a pier on Lake Tashmoo to take on guests, and while waiting to have their holding tank pumped out, Ridge talks about the Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book, which the family has published for five generations, beginning with cartographer George Eldridge of Chatham. Eldridge published Eldridge’s Pilot for Vineyard Sound and Monomoy Shoals in 1854. That Eldridge sent his son George W. to Vineyard Haven, a harbor of refuge on one of the busiest waterways in the world, where mariners sailing between Boston and New York needed to know when the often irregular tides on Vineyard and Nantucket sounds turned east or west. George W. published the first Tide book in 1875.

In 1914 his son-in-law Wilfrid Osbourne White took over and “the little Tide book took off,” says Ridge, who is Wilfrid’s grandson. The book led to the development of a nautical instrument business; Wilfrid invented the spherical compass, still used by many sailors today, even in the age of GPS. “Dad was the perfect man to take over,” Ridge says of the next generation. “He was mathematical and a keen editor.” Robert Eldridge White Sr., who died in 1990, doubled the Tide book circulation to 30,000. “The real secret to the Eldridge book has been my mother,” Ridge says.  “Molly had a sharp eye and a terrific work ethic. She added more articles, some by me. When Dad died, my mother became editor and publisher. She was ready to take it on and do it her way.” When Marion Jewett (Molly) White died last summer, Ridge and Linda took the helm as publishers. Three years ago, Alyssa joined the White staff at 711 Atlantic Avenue, across from South Station in Boston, where she handles advertising for the instrument company, while her sister Jenny helps roofreading the book. Until he died of pancreatic cancer three years ago at fifty-three, Ridge’s brother Bruce helped oversee the family business.

Off the water, Ridge and Linda spend their Island time in a classic Vineyard camp overlooking Lake Tashmoo that includes a living room, kitchen, bunk room, bathroom, and bedroom, as well as an expansive deck overhanging the scrub oak, poison ivy, and marsh. Built in 1954 by Ridge’s parents, the camp did not acquire electricity or town water until the 1960s, relying instead on kerosene lamps and a hand pump for water.

Ridge went to Tabor Academy and Yale on scholarship, spending nine years teaching English at Tabor and St. George’s. He then joined his parents in the family business of publishing and selling nautical instruments. Ridge met Linda on the water in Marion, where Ridge was working as assistant harbor master. Linda was sailing Sally Lightfoot, her Tartan 27, and another boat had gotten its propellers tangled in her mooring line. “I rescued my wife,” Ridge says. “It was Friday the 13th,” adds Linda.

Acquiring the Red Rooster has led the Whites to involve themselves more in the United States Power Squadron, which offers instruction in boating safety. “We hope to take every course they offer,” Linda says. Cruising the calm waters of Tashmoo, Ridge points out an unconventional junk-rigged vessel whose sail is coming down like a big Venetian blind. “We have a treasure here,” he says of Tashmoo – and Tashmoo has a treasure in the Whites.