April 16, 2007
August 24, 2006
August 10, 2006
July 27, 2006
Easy to Please
July 13, 2006
Silence is Golden
Lots of Locks
June 15, 2006
June 1, 2006
May 19, 2006
The Perfect Boat
May 4, 2006
In the Eye of the Beholder
April 20, 2006
April 6, 2006
Doris Does George Town
March 23, 2006
March 9, 2006
Bridge Over troubled Waters
February 23, 2006
Birthdays on Board
February 9, 2006
Wild Horses & Wooden Ships
January 26, 2006
January 12, 2006
here for 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 & 2001 Logs
March 14, 2002
Eileen waits in line to use her Pocketmail
sailing on slowly from place to place
He loves the sea and the wide open space
And he's thinking he's lucky he checked out of the race
She's thinking her grandchildren won't know her face..."
(E. Quinn, "Don't Ask Your Love To Choose")
With the exception of a handful of individuals who suddenly get very nervous
whenever the words "IRS" or "alimony" crop up in the
conversation, most long term cruisers are roaming the seas in search of
new experiences rather than fleeing ones that soured. For the vast majority,
there are ties that still bind after the docklines have been cast off.
Keeping in touch with loved ones back home is the biggest challenge facing
many sea gypsies.
David recalls visiting Post Office Bay in the Galapagos islands in the
mid-'80s. A wooden barrel had been located on the shore of the uninhabited
bay since the golden days of sail, when whalers would drop off letters
to be picked up and delivered by others who were headed in the opposite
direction. The post card David dropped in the barrel was hand delivered
to his father in the Pacific northwest a couple of months later, having
passed through several hands along the way. Advances in communications
technology have made it a lot easier for today's sailors to keep connected
with the folks back home, but it's no longer free.
The Bahamas where we are now located are an overnight sail from Florida.
For the purposes of communications to and from North America, they could
be located on the other side of the globe. The local postal system might
seem reasonably expedient on a scale of geological time. The first time
we visited the Bahamas we made the mistake of having our mail forwarded
to us by ordinary post. It arrived okay - three months later when we were
in Puerto Rico. Some cruisers attempt to circumvent delays in the local
postal system by giving their US stamped mail to anyone flying or sailing
back to the States. We generally don't do this. Surrendering our mail
to a total stranger to stuff in his or her carry on bag and post on arrival
in America doesn't seem a whole lot more secure than dropping it in a
Bahamian letter box. We know of one couple who cruised for a whole year
thinking their boat was insured only to find out that their policy had
been cancelled when the renewal form and cheque they had "mailed"
via another boater never reached the insurance company.
We've more or less given up on snail mail as our primary means of communicating
with home. It's not just because of the lengthy delays. The sad fact is
that no one we know writes letters anymore. Most of the envelopes that
eventually reach us when we have our mail forwarded have little windows
in them. The day that David's 76 year old stepmom got a computer and started
doing e-mail was the day we knew the last roadblocks had disappeared from
the information superhighway.
We're admittedly e-mail junkies. When we left Canada almost eight years
ago, we didn't have an internet server or e-mail address. Now we have
four. When we're in an isolated location, we can send e-mail via our high
frequency radio. A group of amateur radio operators has developed a set
of protocols and computer software that allow us to send and receive our
electronic messages by tuning in a shore station that's connected to the
internet. The best part is that the system is absolutely free - after
you've dropped a few thousand dollars for the radio, computer and the
little black box that connects the two, that is. There are a number of
drawbacks, however. The transmission rates are slow, discouraging long
messages. It's taken a long time to educate our family and friends not
to send us forwarded jokes, much less photos of the new puppy or class
reunion. Conditions affecting radio propagation are uneven and may render
a connection difficult or even impossible at times. And, since we're communicating
over amateur radio frequencies, we can't conduct any business.
Cyber cafes are just about extinct in North America due to the proliferation
of home computers, but in less affluent settings they're common and cheap.
We surfed the net in Venezuela a few months ago for a buck an hour, connecting
to our North American server through a local provider. We choked when
we arrived in George Town a couple of weeks ago and discovered that the
only comparable service charged $1.50 to connect and 50 cents a minute
When cyber cafes are inconvenient or too expensive, we pack up our laptop
computer in a waterproof case and go searching on shore for a phone line
that we can plug into. In George Town, this means hiking across town to
Batelco, the public telephone office. The first time we did this, we were
surprised to find the small reception area filled with other cruisers
carrying almost identical waterproof cases. Many of them also carried
books and other reading material. This should have been an important clue.
The polite woman behind the counter told us that it was going to cost
us $6.00 to use their phone line to connect with our North American server
and then $1.50 per minute after the first three minutes. She didn't mention,
and we failed to ask, the typical connection speed. It normally takes
us only a couple of minutes for a "flash" session to receive
all our backlogged messages and to send the mail we've composed offline.
We thought six bucks was a little steep, but there didn't appear to be
too many alternatives. We set ourselves up in one of the phone cubicles
and watched with horror as our messages came in at glacial speed. The
minutes ticked by. We cursed every online charlatan who was trying to
sell us a weight reduction programme or a low interest mortgage. We finally
left the phone office twenty dollars poorer.
It didn't take a lot of complicated arithmetic to figure out we'd be better
off signing up with Batelco's local internet service provider. Now we
get 50 hours of "free" internet time a month - hopefully enough
time for a few e-mail sessons at the connection rates we've been having.
We always bring books when we go to the telephone office. We've made a
lot of new friends there.
When we want to send a quick e-mail message and avoid the throng in the
telephone office, we use a service called "Pocketmail". You
access the service with a nifty little handheld device that incorporates
a miniature keyboard and an acoustic coupler. The beauty of Pocketmail
is that it works from pay phones. You dial a number in the States, hold
the device against the telephone handset, and let it make sense out of
a happy stream of squawks and squeals coming over the line. Despite limitations
on message size and content (no attachments), Pocketmail is very popular
in George Town. In front of the phone booths, there are often line ups
of cruisers clutching their mobile devices. We're thinking of buying stock
Yes, it's great having the technology to maintain instantaneous contact
with those at home. But sometimes the thought of simply dropping a letter
into a barrel on the beach seems awfully attractive.
David & Eileen