Rhumb Lines March 2013 Issue

Plotting Your Escape in the Age of Satcom

I wanted to try a little experiment this week. Something safe, with little risk of getting hurt. Something I could do while drinking coffee and listening to Puccini . . . or the Rolling Stones . . . or Mumford and Sons. Something on the Internet.

It got off to a bad start. I dropped in on one of those Internet forums where angry people wait to spring on innocents like me. The deeper I dug, the angrier they got. I can’t remember what the source of vitriol was—something about a television star I’d never heard of, but the anger was contagious. I started shouting at my LCD. And then my 8-year-old son asked me if I wanted to go outside and throw the football.

That’s the nice thing about the Internet, you can always switch it off. Out of sight, out of mind.

The inReach Earthmate app offers everything from SOS to text messaging.

The experience came to mind as I began working on this issue. Our article on satellite communication struck a nerve. Do I really want to be in touch with all my Facebook friends, all the time? Do I really need to be available 24/7, or leave a trail of breadcrumbs showing every place I’ve been?

People often mistake me for a Luddite. Sure, my wife and I cruised for years in a wooden ketch built before World War II, but we were young and broke, and it was the only boat we could afford that was up to the task. On our most recent cruise, I spent more time playing with an iPad than I ever imagined I would.

I’ll admit that electronics are not my toy of choice. When it comes to technology, I prefer machines—things with gears and springs that spit oil and grease. The wimpy aesthetics of silicon wafers rub me the wrong way. I need to get over it; I know. I live in a world full of gizmos, and gizmos are good for all kinds of things.

But what happens when you can’t push the World Wide Rant out of sight, or out of mind? What happens when you’re anchored in the Jumentos Cays, where the water is so clear that you’d swear it was air; it’s sunset, and the sky is turning a surreal shade of pink, and you’re . . .waiting for the latest numbers from Wall Street,  . . . or texting a friend of a friend?

I still get real letters written on real paper from readers. (They come in envelopes with stamps.) A while back, I got one from a reader in Maine who was looking for an article that we published about five years ago. I looked for his email address, so I could send him a PDF or the link to the article online. And then I saw further down the letter, “I don’t have a computer.” Good for him, I thought.

I found the article he wanted and put it in an envelope. I thought about including a letter reminding him that with a computer, he could have instant access to our archives online, read my riveting blog, download our new e-books, etc. Instead I just scrawled along the margins of the page: “Don’t bother getting a computer. They’re overrated.”

Sometimes, I think all these gadgets are made for people who speak a different language than me—IMHO.

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