ssb/weatherfax/pc based Navigation
Chuck (and Paul), there are lots of options (and many opinions) on SSB-based weather sourcing (and on electronic navigation), so expect an exercise in peeling an onion vs. getting short, simple answers.
The two issues you need to first consider are how deep into the Caribbean you will be sailing and for how long you will need supplemental weather info. This should dictate the level of investment you will make - not only in money but also in your personal effort to learn how to maximize the benefits of SSB radio.
The Bahamas offers multiple wx info sources by radio and there are many cruising sailors there, so obtaining at least basic wx info isn''t too difficult. A SSB receiver would be a reasonable minimum level of equipment. However, as you move further S & E towards Puerto Rico and their USCG/NOAA f''cast info we take for granted here, solid wx f''cast info is more difficult to come by inbetween unless you have some form of SSB radio. But keep in mind that *getting* a wx f''cast is not the same thing as it being even close to accurate. Also, consider that cruisers are often dissatisfied with SSB receivers, finding their dinky antennas inadequate, that onboard equipment obscures the already weak signals, because it is a passive device the does not allows one to seek out info, and usually because they use the radio too casually. You need to be disciplined in catching the wx info in a routine manner, tracking reports vs. actual conditions, and perhaps capture voice f''casts on a small tape recorder so you can revisit the info. (The best ''real world'' explanation of how to do this is Bruce VanSant''s clear, savvy _Passages South_. I highly recommend you read it in prep for your trip). An alternative to a receiver is a dedicated WxFax receiver. Its function is much narrower in scope but fairly automatic in operation. However, with the exception of the ham Winlink system, all the wx fax pics received by HF receivers will be from radio''s analog signal, meaning static bursts will obscure some of the data and they''ll be less crisp and readable than the digital files you receive from the internet.
It goes without saying that should you invest several thousands (likely, even more) in a SSB transceiver, ground plane, antenna, tuner and perhaps even a Pactor II ''modem'', your learning curve will be much steeper if you intend to actually utilize this equipment effectively. Regretably, this is not like buying an autopilot, hooking it up and getting immediate satisfaction.
Also, one comment on chart plotters. Most of these products are like the electronic blood monitors used by diabetics: they can be found for a very affordable price because the manufacturers make far more on the media (software). Again, ask yourself how long you''ll be ''out there'' and how extensive your chart purchases will need to be. Paper charts come first, of course, so you might want to consider a different type of chartplotter, a Yeoman Navigator. Rather than a CRT or LCD screen that depends on expensive software, the Yeoman links your GPS directly to your paper charts. This means you have a paper chart in use at all times but with all the accuracy and basic navigation capabilities (course to the waypoint, bearing to the nav aid, etc.) with none of the fiddly manually plotting of lats and longs. It is also possible to pass a waypoint you choose with a ''mouse click'' on your paper chart to your GPS...or vice versa. Yeoman come in several formats, including a portable one that can be moved between the cockpit and the nav station. (www.yeomanuk.com/prodmar/strt_frm.htm)
Finally, there are many options to purchasing new charts from a chandelry, all of them less costly but each with their own liabilities. For used charts, consider e.g. visiting the Flea Market at SSCA''s website and post your own request for what you''re looking for (www.ssca.org). Personally, I''ve been very satisfied with Bellingham Chart Printer''s new chart kits, which are B&W copies of the complete and current NIMA charts for each area of interest (www.tidesend.com). They come semi-bound in two sizes on high-quality paper and offer a good compromise of thoroughness and value for areas outside the U.S. and for which there are not other affordable products.
Geesh, I''ve been writing for quite a while and feel like I''ve only scratched the surface...most likely, because I only have! Good luck on your prep and thinking through your choices.