Picture the scene: you’ve just crossed an ocean and, filled with elation, you’re brimming with the urge to share that news with your friends and family back home. But for the global cruising sailor it’s not just as simple as picking up the phone to get the word out that you’re safe and sound. Like it or not in this digital age we live in we’re increasingly heavily reliant on the internet and email to make that vital connection. Back home in London, with a house all hooked up nice and easily to the wireless world wide web, it’s a matter of a mere moment to turn on, ping out a quick message and then get on with your day. In our world, however, things aren’t quite so straightforward.


Welcome, dear readers, to the dark world of my constant frustration at trying to keep writing while actually being out there and sailing. Because we’re on a fairly small budget, like so many people cruising these days, and also due to the fact that we prefer to run a low energy usage, low-fi boat, James and I have no internet or email access whilst on board. This makes us increasingly unusual among the long distance sailors that are in our current cruising fleet. The ability to use things like sail mail or sail docs via ssb radio or a satellite phone in order to access grib files and other weather information proves invaluable when you are in some of the world’s more remote places. Those facilities being at your fingertips for vital forecasting also has the additional boon of them being available for the casual email, alerting your key people elsewhere to your major cruising milestones, but they’re not ideal platforms for a lengthy message.


Having said that, a lot of us liveaboard boaters have a rather love / hate relationship with being in contact or, perhaps more pertinently, being contactable. A boat, lying at anchor on any given day, becomes its own island. Much like the fast-dwindling practice of writing a letter by hand and the associated ritual of finding a stamp, and making an expedition to go out and post it there is a certain pleasure to be taken in having to venture ashore specifically to touch base with your landlubber family.


And it’s something we do strategize and think about. A lot. So, just to clarify how much your long distance cruiser friend, sister, uncle or whoever truly does care about replying to your last email, I’ll paint you a picture of what’s involved. You need to leave the boat, maybe bringing your own laptop, iphone or tablet with you, maybe not. Hopefully, if you are, it’s suitably bundled in a dry bag. Why? Because, dear reader, you’re probably picturing us gently leaping off our yacht, landing effortlessly in our dinghy, in a calm anchorage on a clear day, with gentle ripples on the surface of the water. That’s a pretty image and it often is that simple. However, we still need to get in touch, pay our bills or order our spares when the swell kicks up and the wind is blowing and the shortest trip ashore results in a hefty saltwater dousing to everything in the dinghy. That’s before we even begin to talk about the joys of surf landings, scrambling up onto shambolic docks or perhaps the extreme case, such as on the island of Niue in the South Pacific, of needing a crane to lift your dinghy out of the water.


Once ashore it would be lovely to be greeted with a plethora of internet cafes, all with high-speed broadband wifi that’s perhaps totally free with the purchase of an organic cappuccino or almond croissant. Yes, wouldn’t that be lovely. Instead we have to contend with a signal as painfully slow as the dial-up connections of old because in far-flung places they often use a satellite-based form of internet. Plus you may have to pay through the nose to use it, buying an expensive card or single use code that gives you a certain number of minutes use which seems less and less good value when you realise how painfully slow the connection really is.


Add into all that the fact that the local wifi hotspots may be in the most inconvenient of places, such as inside the local post office which is only open for three hours a day, five days a week and is a half hour drive away from the anchorage. It’s not unusual to see little huddled groups of cruisers with their laptops, perched in some odd location in town trying desperately to shelter themselves from the rain while trying to get as close to the hotspot router as possible.


The local businesses are onto us of course and recognise a technology addict when they see one. Any bar or restaurant looking for success will simply get themselves a decent internet connection, put up a sign in the window saying ‘free wifi’, then cunningly only dispense the magic code for its use with a purchase and then of course they’ll change said code every single day. Hey presto, your establishment is full to bursting every happy hour, the bar lined with the usual suspects: the single-hander nursing a lone beer while trying in vain on his iphone to order his vital boat parts whilst navigating the local customs taxes; the casual crew browsing online the latest sailing opportunities or perhaps his next flight; the family slowly uploading the photos to update their blog and realising they may as well just order food as this will take a good few hours; or the frazzled mother, who suddenly remembered that her tax return was due, her computer is fast running out of power, and she left the correct adaptor for the country she’s in back on the boat at anchor.


I’m speaking hypothetically of course…


To go a stage further and attempt a video call, using skype or facetime is often nothing more than an exercise in frustration with both parties endlessly repeating variants on “You’ve frozen, I can’t hear you, what was that?”. Plus any real-time communication becomes further complicated by the difference in your time zones, which is a particular problem for us Brits currently en route to New Zealand.


My real point though is not to gripe about it being hard to get online, as really it’s quite amazing that we can use the internet at all in some of the most remote islands, pure dots in the middle of an ocean. It’s more to help out the entire global fleet by saying we do read your messages and we love to receive them. Family and friends left behind at home are always on the minds of the long distance cruiser and if our emails, or facebook posts or blog entries sometimes seem short, disjointed or clipped it’s never because we don’t care.


It’s simply that the connection is bad or our minutes have run…