#37 – Logs and Blogs

Early cruiser attempt to keep in touch - conch horn symphony in the San Blas Islands (Mary, Camryka) The tradition of recording experiences as one explores extends back to the beginnings of navigation. Historically, ships’ crews recorded details like currents encountered, shoreline, bottom composition, depths, as well as reception by inhabitants, water and food stores available, and weather patterns, all to facilitate return visits and to enable others to follow. But also by keeping personal journals and making sketches and paintings, those early sailors strove to bring new lands alive for the people back home. By giving shape to the world with lat/long positions derived from the stars and careful notes, those early sailors laid the foundations for the charts and guides we cruisers use today.

With the advent of GPS and electronic charts some of the art and mystery of navigation has been removed. Chartplotters and computer programs will plot precise tracks for us whether we cross oceans or weave through reefs, and many keep an electronic log for us as well. However, most cruisers today still keep at least a minimal deck log by hand when in transit, noting hourly position reports plus heading and speed as an emergency baseline against the possibility of electronics failure. Many add more data about wind, sea, weather and vessel or marine sightings, not to mention, as Marcie of Nine of Cups says, ”Comments on what broke!”

I confess to being a bit compulsive about logs. I like the tradition and discipline of it, and I like that it keeps me mentally involved with the boat and the journey. For the same reason, my husband has kept an equally-detailed (but separate) log of all that goes on in the engine room. Either one of us can go back through ten years of cruising and reconstruct what was going on when and where.

Gwen at emailBut I also have been the sort who likes to keep track of the story of our adventure — and not only to keep track of it, but to share it with others — so in between passages my log is more like a journal, chockablock with details that I can refer to when it comes time to write emails and website updates.

The urge to share is not unique. It seems like most cruisers you meet these days have a website or blog on the Internet. This ability to ”broadcast” is probably the biggest single change to impact cruising. It was not so long ago, that sharing your story with anyone meant, at best, a typewriter, carbon paper and lots of stamps.

“When we started cruising,” remembers Mary of Camryka, “email was unknown in our lives. Instead, I typed a single-spaced page daily describing not only places and events where we cruised but also the wonderful characters we met along the way. When someone flew back to the US, I sent this to one daughter who made copies for the other three. They still have those letters and perhaps someday our grandkids will read them, too. The sad part of these years is that our daughters didn’t write back to us much. since we so rarely had mail delivered.”

The Internet has changed all that. Whether from onboard – via radio or satellite phone – or from shore – via Internet cafes or cellular links, today’s cruisers upload accounts of their latest adventures, and seconds later folks back home can be reading about it and responding!

How you decide to go about sharing your story will depend on several factors: who you want to share with (family, friends back home, cruising friends, or strangers), whether you are better with words or pictures, how you will upload, and how much time you want to put into it. Oh, yeah…and how good you are with computers. The most common venues for group sharing are email newsletters, websites, blogs, and published articles. To this I would add the surprising phenomenon of Facebook and sites like it which many Admirals have discovered this past year!

The simplest and most personal way to share your story with family and friends is to send newsletters, just like Mary did, only via email. Beverly of Cloverleaf, for example, sorts her contact list into a short one of family she writes weekly and a longer one of extended friends she write less often, and, like many cruisers, Marcie does one big newsletter a year in lieu of holiday cards. The pleasure of getting a real letter in your mailbox (even an electronic one) is hard to match, and it is the best way to share your adventures with other cruisers (who with only expensive or intermittent Internet access don’t tend to be good about following other people’s web postings!)

If images are more your thing than words, your best option is albums of pictures on photo-sharing sites like Picasa, Snapfish, KodakGallery or Flickr, or even on Facebook where you can easily add a quick line about what you’re up to. These options, however, do require shore-based Internet.

Soggy Paws website The next step up is to do a website or blog. Websites allow you to do all sorts of things – nesting hierarchies of information and embedding photos, videos, maps, etc…if you know how to do it. Therein lies the rub. I’ve had my huge website for ten years, and – CONFESSION TIME – I’ve never grasped out how to manage all that HTML stuff myself. Lucky me to have family and friends to help. Cruisers with software backgrounds like K.T. of Billabong and Sherry of Soggy Paws, not only have websites that document their own cruises, but have extensive sections with help articles for cruisers coming behind them. It’s a lot of work, but clearly such projects are rewarding for their authors.

A better online publishing option for the average cruiser, once you get past the ugly name, is a blog. Blogs entries appear in journal style, displaying in reverse chronological order so your latest post is always on top. “A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other relevant Internet sites,” says Sherry, who helped me switch three years ago. “Many are free, easy to set up, and you can post straight into them by email.” The most popular blogging sites among cruisers are Blogger, Sailblogs, and WordPress.

A blog is a lot less work than a website, but it still demands a commitment of effort and time. “I frequently find myself with writer’s block and go long periods without putting in new entries,” admits Judy of Ursa Minor. Debbie, of Illusions, is considering starting a blog but wants to avoid being the kind of cruiser who is “so tied to blogs or email that destinations and anchoring are determined by WiFi availability!” Sheri of Procyon agrees. “We see cruisers spending their entire time in port at an internet cafe updating websites or blogs. We would rather spend that time exploring where we are.”

Still, for those of us who like to write and take pictures, all this documenting holds huge rewards. It’s a high-tech version of scrap-booking, and, if you can keep it up, you end up with a vibrant historical archive of your journey, plus I’ve found, over the years, that it has stimulated me to do things I might otherwise have lazily let pass by. Camryka’s Mary puts it well, “Writing has helped me be more observant. I pay closer attention, absorbing details like sounds, smells, feelings, and conversations to provide readers with a more vivid sense of what we experience. What great memories come roaring back when I read those old paragraphs!”

Ah, you see! In the end we’re not doing it for others. In the end, we do it for ourselves.

Contributing Admirals: Sherry McCampbell, Soggy Paws; KT Roddick, Billabong, Marcie Lynn, Nine of Cups; Judy Knape, Ursa Minor; Debbie Leisure, Illusions; Sheri Schneider, Procyon; Mary Heckrotte, Camryka; Maribel Penichet, Paper Moon; Mary Verlaque, I Wanda; Beverly Feiges, Cloverleaf

(You can find helpful overviews of websites and blogs prepared by Sherry at svsoggypaws.com and KT at creative-cruising.com.)

This article was published in the August 2009 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.

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