Monday, 12 November 2007

Hello. Can you hear me.....?

Communication. It's both a blessing and a curse onboard.

With all the new technology that we have at our finger tips there is no excuse for being out of touch these days, even when you are in the most remote parts of our planet.

Just look at our boat and how things have changed since we started cruising.

Back in the 'old days' we had a mobile telephone, that was fine up to about 20 miles off shore in the European waters that we were sailing at the time. We had an SSB radio but hardly used it as Navtex gave us all the weather and navigation warnings that we needed. Internet was a rare commodity available at a very few cafes and libraries. I remember that the local library in Rota (Spain) allowed half an hour use a day for free if you joined as a member, luxury!

Once we crossed the Atlantic the mobile telephone became prohibitively expensive, 100's of dollars a month to keep in touch with the kids. Charges for receiving as well as making calls. Then along came Skype! Wow that sure changed things for us. Cheap phone calls via the internet.

Communication did become a little strange though, punctuated with loud demands "Can you hear me?!" and wonderfully slurred voices reminiscent of a huge overdose of alcohol. I was never certain whether my mother had just suffered a massive stroke, over-indulged on the gin or Skype was playing up!

We also noticed a huge increase in the number of internet stations, and for the first time experienced the wonder of WiFi connections. In St Maarten's we actually could surf on the boat, via a free internet connection. It was quite unbelievable, more so when you realise this was only in 2004! The speed of development has been quite astounding.

At this time we also upgraded our SSB radio and added a 'Pactor' unit which allows us to access the wonderful 'Sailmail' service which we can use to send and receive emails. This really liberated meant that for the first time, no matter where we were, the family could get in touch.

For me, an anxious Mum, that opened up the further horizons of world cruising. I missed my kids and regular communication meant that I was happy to sail further afield confident that we would be able to 'speak' regularly. With the benefit of hindsight its not always been a comfortable experience! Some things are better imparted slowly and with consideration! The offspring tended to 'dump' their immediate concerns on us, they'd go off feeling better, leaving us worrying like hell. The next communication invariably showed that they had instantly forgotten all of their problems!!!!***

Or the calls that go like this -:

"Hallo Charlotte...."
"No madam this is a fire officer.."
"Oh my god! Where's my daughter.."
"She's fine, we are just removing her from the motor vehicle!"
(She was fine too!)

or a classic one -:
"Mum, I've had an accident and I'm trapped in the car.."(We were 20 miles offshore, child was in London!)
"Oh my god! Is the car on fire, are your legs trapped..."
"I can't get the door open..."
Short silence as I panic...
"Umm haven't you got a convertible? Maybe you could open the roof!"
Still you've got to love 'em!

I like kids but I couldn't eat a whole one!

Throughout the Caribbean we have watched as all these services have grown and improved.The SSB radio and access to weather fax means that we have 24/7 information on the latest weather forecasts, hurricane warnings, wave info and so on.

We can share the usual family moments almost as they happen via email. In harbour we can even send a video link via Skype, a bit disconcerting as you rush to throw some clothes on though!

TBH can use the high speed links to maintain and set up new businesses. I can write a blog daily, at sea we can update the blogspot via Sailmail (no pictures or video though).As the costs fall I can envisage the day when we will have full internet access via satellite onboard, ready to communicate wherever we are.....

But part of me longs to be out of touch. How can you experience the real romance when all the worlds information is still available? Can the sensation of isolation ever be truly experienced again? Sometimes I long to turn off the switches, and sometimes I actually do it!
I guess the reality is that I haven't left the world that far behind, maybe I never will. It's all a matter of choices isn't it? For me the need to communicate is part of my psyche, it probably will never change - I'll just have to accept it!

What prompted these thoughts was an email received early this morning from our son. He works for the BBC and often warns us of breaking news. This mornings, emailed, tidings were headlined 'massive explosion in London'. OK logically I knew he was alright, he'd sent the message hadn't he? But it was in the part of London where his office is located. The worry starts! A call via Skype, he can't hear me! An email to him asking what's happening....finally we hear that it's a huge fire that's being investigated by the anti-terrorist forces but its not thought to be anything strange...
Now did I really need to know all that! Thirty minutes later 'Google News' carries the report....

The conclusion? It's a mixed blessing!

No comments: