Creating a photo logbook

Photo logbooks are short on written descriptors, but sometimes a photo — or a cluster of photos — says a thousand words. Photo courtesy Marilyn Brigham

Guest Perspective: Marilyn Brigham

My father, a lifelong sailor and cruiser, suffered a major stroke in his early 80’s. During his recuperation, it was difficult to discern how much he understood about what had happened to him, and what we told him each day. Part of this was that he’d lost some of his ability to speak. As he was housebound with not much to do, my mother had a hard time keeping his mind engaged. Then one day she found the cruising log he’d kept for his sloop, Whisper, with all his notations. She opened the book, put it on his lap and watched his expression lighten. His eyes began to glisten as he silently flipped through the pages.

A navigation logbook is comprised of many broad, blank pages for daily notations concerning boat, crew and journey. The captain of the ship writes about each day’s voyage – the navigational course, time and place of departure, estimated time as well as actual time of arrival. Detailed weather conditions are also recorded, as are barometric pressure, wave height, wind direction and velocity. Important tidal concerns, shoaling changes or other issues can also be noted. The logbook also serves as a record of engine hours/nautical miles traveled vs. fuel gallons burned, or additional fuel taken on.

My father’s logbook had copious notations and captivating prose about his journeys. It included memorable events, interesting sightings, and wry observations about the crew and changes he’d noted from the last time he’d cruised to a particular port. He left a very detailed and memorable record of his cruising experiences on Whisper.

These days, for many of us – and for a host of reasons – maintaining a detailed logbook has fallen by the wayside. It’s just too much bother. Cruising life goes undocumented.

The logbook someone gave us when we bought our first cruising sailboat, Serenade, a Catalina 27, still sits in the nav station of our latest boat. Most of the pages are empty. We had good intentions but, after our first year with it, the notations got fewer and fewer.

When we bought Toujours, a Jeanneau 36, we also bought a digital camera. We took lots of pictures. Eventually we realized we had all these pictures on our computer, but no way to share them. And, too, there had to be a way to edit them to a more manageable size. We became convinced of this after friends insisted we sit through a two-set DVD presentation of their trip Down Under. Thinking about my father and his logbook, and the happy memories it brought back, something occurred to me: Why not make a pictorial logbook?

We now have a photo logbook of each cruising season spent aboard Toujours and Selkie, our latest boat, a Catalina 445. There are no notations of the tide, wind direction or when we arrived at our port of call, but, for the most part, the pictures help us recall the general conditions of the places we cruised each year. The logbooks often sit on the coffee table, where they’re liable to start a conversation with friends. Best of all, they remind us of why we love to sail and cruise.

We do look at them sometimes. But, realistically, we mostly expect to return to the books in our dotage, after our boating days are behind us. Then we can fondly and longingly remember our cruising days (but, hopefully, not after suffering a stroke!).

How to begin? Gather all your digital photos or begin taking pictures like crazy. Document your vessel, crew, guests, kids and grandkids, favorite ports of call, interesting sites, beautiful scenery, wildlife – whatever interests you. Come November, after your boat is shrink wrapped, all the lines have been washed, the dodger glass polished and everything’s stowed, get on your computer.

• Transfer all those pictures to folders on the computer or on your phone. Group the pictures in a way that makes sense.

• Think about a theme for your book. Be creative. Your photo book could mirror the chronological order of your season or mix things up with a special theme. For instance, special ports of call, one memorable cruise, or one exceptional day on the water.

• Don’t use all your photos. Pick out your best shots. If you’re like me, you take hundreds, but only a small number are really worth keeping. Make sure your photos have color and texture. Don’t use too much of one type of particular shot.

• Think about the layout of your book. Save the truly special pictures for cover shots and two-page spreads, and group the smaller, less-impressive shots on one page, or put together interesting combinations of both. Create captions for the photos with dates, headings and ports of call. Remember that in the years to come, a picture alone may not spark total recall.

• Create your photo logbook. Check out the “create a photo book” sections on sites like Snapfish, Shutterfly, or Mixbook. See which site offers the book that pleases you the most. There are lots of styles, sizes and price ranges. The sites offer hard- or soft-cover books. Some sites have books with a pre-existing design theme like beach, travel or summer, which might help get you started.

• Try putting together a sample book. At the end of the process, there’s always a “proof” stage where you can see how it looks before you make a purchase.

You can expect to pay $20 to $40 for your photo logbook, depending on how fancy you get. The books I create are pretty straightforward – one for each sailing season. The first couple of pages are “splashdown” and rigging. I like to have pictures of the guys from the boatyard getting our boat ready. Next are the ports of call. These include shots of where our boat actually was once there, interesting destinations in town, pretty sights, cruising guests, and new places explored – especially in the dinghy. The year we bought Selkie, the book was all about her commissioning. If we have newly installed boating equipment one year, I try to document that. Finally, there are pictures of the haul-out. And, of course, there are lots of pictures of the two crewmembers and their sea-going dog!

Once you’ve created your book and hit the “purchase” button, anticipation builds until your cruising logbook arrives. Once it’s delivered, you can sit back and reminisce about all the places you traveled, the fun you had, and the beauty and magic of being on the water.

Marilyn Brigham, along with her co-captain/spouse, Paul, sails Selkie, a Catalina 445, out of Quissett Harbor in Falmouth, Mass. She is a lifelong sailor and a current member of both the Quissett and Cottage Park yacht clubs.

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