Incommunicado in the Satellite Age

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:36PM - Comments: (1)

PS tester Frank Lanier hard at work in the Bahamas.

There was something mildly annoying about receiving a semi-automated e-mail from a Practical Sailor tester “hard at work” in the Bahamas while I was stuck in the office.

I’m not sure why I found these communiques so irksome. They were seemingly harmless notes from a friend, with the subject line “Check-in/Ok message for Frank’s Spot."

The canned messages were sent by Frank Lanier, a retired Coast Guard officer, boat surveyor, and stalwart Practical Sailor contributor who was testing the Spot Connect. The newest iteration of the Spot Messenger, the Spot Connect allowed Frank to send e-mails and post his position via satellite directly from his Android phone. A typical message read as follows:

Frank's Spot
 GPS location Date/Time:05/16/2012 21:09:06 EDT

The message included a link to a map of his idyllic locale . . . and closed with a stamped signature: Every day is an Adventure. Share Yours.

It was the signature line that twisted the knife—“share the adventure.” Ouch. We are deep into deadline week. Unless trips to the watercooler count, we have no adventures to share. We are battened down and bottled up. Fuses are short. Can't get enough caffeine. 

Frank's Cerberus leaves an envy-inciting bread-crumb trail.

Simultaneous to these emails, Frank was cheerfully updating breadcrumb tracks uploaded from his Briatech Cerberus, another satellite-based messenger/tracker designed to antagonize the office-bound. By clicking on the weblink he provided, I could vicariously join Frank as he celebrated his 50th birthday in the Abacos Sensing that we were entering the stage of the print cycle when PS editors turn into cave trolls, Frank added some perfunctory misery to his later posts.

“10 miles out of Ft Pierce. Squally with heavy rain and winds 30+, but calming down. All is well,” read one update.

Frank returned to rain-soaked Virginia this week, and I'm feeling better already. He’s still testing the new generation of portable satellite tracking and texting devices, including the DeLorme inReach and the next-gen satellite phone from Iridium.

These handheld satcom devices are revolutionizing the way we stay in touch at sea, making it incredibly easy to reassure friends and relatives that we are alive and well. And technical editor Ralph Naranjo recently illuminated their potential as back-ups for EPIRBs or Personal Locator Beacons. Still, I sometimes wonder if technology is taking the adventure out of adventure. Some of the most memorable cruising escapades, after all, begin with a quest for a static-filled landline in the middle of nowhere.

My own experience in the Bahamas comes to mind. I remember well the long uphill trudge to reach the Batelco tower on Rum Cay. Summer. Heat index pushing 100 degrees. Lizards shriveled on a shadeless trail. Dehydration blurred my sight. A cactus pierced my flip flop. I bled. (Try that, Spot Connect.)

My wife, Theresa, and I finally arrived at the top of the hill, hot, miserable, and cursing the cloudless sky. 

Yep. Good times.

The telephone office was closed for lunch hour, with no indication of when, or if, the operator would return. (Island time is strictly adhered to on Rum Cay.)

We limped down the hill and went for a snorkel. Warm water, lobster a-plenty, and afterward, cold beer. We were incommunicado . . . but it wasn’t such a bad place to be. If I find it again, I’ll send you the link.

Comments (1)

You're just grumpy. Breathe deep, finish that job and hold onto the dream - you'll get there

Posted by: ROMAN F | June 6, 2012 11:45 AM    Report this comment

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