Our Sailing Holiday in Google Earth

A week ago, I returned from the sailing holiday in the Virgin Islands of the Caribbean I previously mentioned I would be taking. I’ve already written about some of the Google Earth-related technology I experimented with for navigation during the trip. I have been working on a Google Earth file documenting the trip with photos, videos, GPS tracks, and more. Please view the sailing trip in Google Earth where you can see all the details. If you double-click on the “Anchorages” folder and select the “Tools->Play Tour” option, you can see a flying tour of each of our stops. Similarly, you can get a slideshow of the geo-tagged photos by selecting the photo folder selecting “Play Tour“.
The geo-tagged photos were uploaded to PicasaWeb, so you can view the album here, or you can simply watch this slideshow below. But, I encourage you to view the Google Earth file (or try the Google Maps view) to see the locations where these photos were taken. You will notice I enjoy taking underwater photos (read below for more details on this).

Keep reading for more details on how all this was done.

While on the trip, I recorded our sailing trips using a hand-held Garmin 60Cx GPS. For most of my pictures, I used a Canon Powershot A540 digital camera for photos and videos. I used Google Picasa to enhance the photos (fix white balance, contrast, etc.), and to geotag the photos with Google Earth. I also used the GPS track and RoboGEO to geotag some of the photos. The photos were tagged with description and captions and then uploaded to the PicasaWeb Albums. Next, I processed a few of the dozens of video clips from the camera. I had to first convert the large AVI files (these were 640×480 videos) to a smaller size using the WMV format. I was disappointed that Picasa Web Albums still down-sizes the videos down to 320×200 even after I reduced the size to less than 10MBytes. As a result, the videos are pretty poor quality compared to the originals from the camera. After geotagging the videos, I uploaded them to the album as well.
I imported the GPS tracks into Garmin’s Mapsource program and saved the tracks to a GPX file. I then used GPSVisualizer to save the tracks to a Google Earth file with each leg of the trip changed to a different color. Next, I customized the anchorage placemarks (from waypoints I recorded in the GPS). I added descriptions for each stop. Then, I added some placemarks to show notes about each sailing leg. I also added some little “arrows” to indicate the direction of travel for each sailing segment.
Finally, I added a network link to point to the PicasaWeb Album Google Earth file of all the photos. Once again, here is the file so you can see the results.
I enjoy taking underwater photos, so I purchased an underwater housing made specifically for the camera. While snorkeling, I wore a weighted belt so I could remain underwater longer to take photos. Most of the underwater photos were taken between 5-10 feet underwater, but I sometimes go to 20-30 feet when I see something interesting. A couple of tips for underwater photos. Newer cameras like mine have a built-in setting for white balance for underwater. This helps adjust for the blue color of the water. I also used Picasa’s photo enhancement tools to further process the photos. A very simple process. It’s important to have the sunlight behind you and/or use the flash on your camera. It would be kind of cool to have a water-proof floating GPS to take with you while snorkeling. Then you could properly geotag underwater photos. I just estimated where I took each photo. The underwater video clips were fun to make as well.
All in all, this was a really great sailing trip. Being able to share this with everyone with Google Earth just makes it even better!
We had a great time on this trip. The boat we chartered came from VoyageCharters.com out of their Soper’s Hole, Tortola, BVI office. Their staff was friendly and helpful, and we won’t hesitate to consider them again the next time we have the urge to go to the Virgin Islands.
Footnote: I have to say that I was very disappointed with American Airlines. They lost three out of five people’s luggage for 24 hours on the way to Tortola. And, on our return trip our flight from Miami to Raleigh was delayed by 5 HOURS – we got home at 3:30 AM. The way they handled the delay at the Miami airport was very disappointing. First they had personnel not arriving on time (over 3 hours late – both the cockpit crew and then later the flight attendants), and then they had a mechanical problem and had to move us to another plane. They made the flight attendants walk from the opposite end of the terminal forcing us all to wait another 20 minutes (rather than getting them a ride to our gate). This is another verification data point supporting reports that flight delays are worse than ever.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. You’re getting some really stunning results with that camera, Frank! What model is it exactly? It has underwater white-point, so I assume digital.
    I still haven’t checked-out Picasa’s tools yet, but that web album looks pretty slick and well designed.

  2. Hello Frank, thank you for great sailing report! What time it takes to make it?

  3. The hard part is processing the photos, putting captions on them, uploading them, and then organizing them so they tell a story. It took me a while to process and choose from the hundreds of photos I took and then organizing them the way I wanted (two or three hours at this at least).
    Geotagging the photos only took about 30 minutes (less than a minute per photo).
    Converting the GPS tracks into GE was simple, but then I chose to add annotations, notes in each placemark, and little diagrams indicating the direction of travel. I probably spent a couple of hours doing all of that.
    Processing the videos was also a bit time consuming (which is why I only processed 5 or 6 of the clips). It takes a few minutes to convert a single video clip to smaller size, and then upload it to Picasa. And, as I said in the article, I wasn’t happy with the resulting resolution after it was reduced to 320×200 resolution.

  4. kathleen johnson says

    Wow! very nice. I feel as though I have a sense of what it would be like to sail around the VI, without the sunburn of course. Thanks.

  5. Frank, your knowledge of Google Earth and Geotags is quite extensive and I learned a lot from your project.
    Your trip seems to have been successful and the locality is magnificent.
    I enjoyed a lot following your routes.
    I come from the tiny island nation of Malta in the middle of the Mediterranean sea. Maybe some day you come and sail in our shores and have a visit to Sicily too, our neighbours.

  6. What a great vacation and a wonderful way to share. Glad your trip was a success.

  7. Great post, your trip looked amazing! I’m going sailing for the first time soon, around the Ionian Sea, and I can’t wait now!

  8. Wow, this is a great post, Thanks for the wonderful pictures and nice detailed story.

  9. Thank you for sharing all the details about the Google Earth tools. They certainly look like they’re worth investigating deeper.
    Your holiday is also very inspiring – just need to get a hold on my seasickness and I’ll make the leap to go on a sailing trip. It’s one way I’ll get to use loads of my wonderful natural sunscreen!

  10. Great technique. Did you stop by the Willy T’s on your adventure? I love sailing in the BVI, and that and Foxy’s are usually two of my favorite stops!

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.