Not too long ago we were in Spain, sailing down the Costa del Sol—the Sun Coast—which was living up to its name at the time. The sun was certainly shining. For what seemed like endless weeks, hot sunny weather had tanned us to a golden brown and mellowed our souls as we explored this historic coast. Even the famous variable winds of the Mediterranean had blown in our favor and today we were romping along with 20 knots from astern—sailing wing-and-wing with two jibs and the mainsail. It's on days like this that I often feel it would be great to share the experience with people at home—so I gave a friend a phone call!
And it is really as simple as that. I picked up our Spanish mobile phone, dialed my friend in Canada, and 20 seconds later he was on the line.
"Hi John, you'll never guess where we are." (Mobile phone calls often start like this. It's just so tempting!)
"Is that you, Paul? I thought you were away in Spain."
"We are—I'm calling from the cell phone—we're sailing."
"Get out of town! I'm on the car-phone myself—I've pulled over at a donut shop."
"Well, it's mid-afternoon here and we're about eight miles off the coast—the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas are in the back and we've got a lovely sailing breeze…Hey! Have a donut for me!"
I suppose part of the novelty is just being able to juxtapose the two worlds—home, work, etc., with the freedom of sailing and foreign lands. There is certainly a wonderful appeal to being in touch with home and family. In the 11 years since Sheryl and I started cruising internationally aboard our Classic 37 sailboat, Two-Step, communications have jumped ahead. Systems have improved and there are options that didn't even exist before.
|"Part of the novelty is being able to juxtapose the two worlds—home and the freedom of sailing in foreign lands."|
Of course phones are not the only communication option that has recently appeared. E-mail seems to be the perfect tool for cruising sailors since it's a "store-and-forward system." Mail is stored in the system and retrieved for you automatically (forwarded) when you connect. Heading out of range on passages, or just turning the system off is more or less what the system was designed for. No one expects an immediate answer as with a phone or fax. We have cruised with e-mail for five years now and tried various systems that we'll detail in an upcoming article on SailNet. And now that so many people at home have an e-mail account it's an even better way to keep in touch.
Writing a normal letter is a wonderfully romantic method of communication! A foreign stamp, an exotic postmark, and possibly some torn edges indicate an exciting journey to a far land. But it is certainly not ideal for sailors. Although we set up a person at home to forward our snail-mail to us at various ports on our first trip, almost no one sent us anything since they didn't feel confident that it was really going to reach us and the response time could be several weeks. Now our friends have a number of satisfying options for contacting us, namely e-mail, the HAM radio, or a simple phone call.
As the afternoon progresses the wind lightens and we slow down to five knots. Still the beautiful coast slides past, another rugged range of mountains pushing up on our port bow. This is a dramatic coast to sail along. Even the tourist developments that crowd the shore in places are almost lost from this distance off—tumble of white blocks kneeling at the foot of the majestic dark mountains 5,000 feet in the impossibly blue Spanish sky. I suppose that the world has grown smaller with the new communication options open to us as cruising sailors, but I prefer to see it as a wonderful opportunity to involve our friends and family at home more fully in our travels. Oops, there's the phone—gotta go.
Offshore Communications by Tom Wood
Sailing With E-Mail by Kathy Barron
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