Through our years of cruising, one of the biggest issues has always been—communication .
We have marine VHF radios to talk to other boats, pretty much line of sight within a certain distance..but if you aren’t within range, no one can hear you scream….(I know this first hand!)
For more reliable long distance communication, SSB and Ham radios were popular and still remain a fixture on a number of cruisers. Satellite phones give us a means of connection, but that comes at a hefty cost. Cel phones came along and provided us with almost miraculous results- as long as there were cel towers nearby, (something sadly absent from most of coast). In-Reach appeared, a small portable elegant little confection that provided anyone with the ability to be found, and to communicate, albeit in short sentences only but still, something that could possibly save lives and boats off shore. Good for quick messages, but people who wanted to work remotely as they satisfied their wanderlust needed something dependable and robust… and not exorbitantly expensive. Back in the day, I remember ogling and coveting the array of antennas and collection of magic boxes on boats that required dependable long distance communication because of their real-life job back home.
And then…. Elon Musk came along. Last year the world was agog with the new state of the art satellite system – Starlink. For a relatively affordable price, all things considered, one could attach pizza-box sized Dishy to your camper, boat, or roof, depending on how you purchased it – and get almost instant and nearly perfect connectivity from a chain of satellites encircling the globe.
I saw those satellites one night, apparently just after the release of the 40 or 50 that are hurled into the sky on a weekly basis. They trailed across the sky like diamonds on a dowager’s necklace, causing quite an uproar in my tiny middle-of-nowhere community. Lots of chatter on Facebook that night about alien invasions!
The buzz among boaters last year was all about this Starlink. Some of our friends, who wanted to work remotely from their boats, were early adopters. It wasn’t horribly expensive ( based on the price of all the other means we have acquired over the years to both stay in touch and stay entertained), but we are retired… all I want to do is be able to contact my kids, my family, and my friends on a regular basis. A while ago we brought down an old iPhone and bought a Mexican phone plan so we could use cellular without the 13$ a day roaming cost incurred by using our home cel phones. ( Canada has probably the most expensive cellular network in the world. Not exactly sure why… maybe we are all too polite to complain so we just suck it up and pay it) This year we brought my old phone down too so we each had a Mexican phone.
Although the Baja has increased their cel coverage remarkably ( lots of new towers spotted on the drive south this year) it doesn’t work in the middle of nowhere. Not unlike our own BC coast. (Or even parts of BC inland where we travel with our camper… highest cost and yet numerous small towns don’t have access to it. Go figure ) (but I digress… that’s a rant for another day)
So we and by we I mean Lawrence decided to give Starlink a try and that’s how we ended up taking Dishy for a little camping trip near the end of the summer, to see how well it worked in remote areas.
Very well, it turned out, as long as we found an open spot away from trees and towering mountains.. and of course BC is full of those. However it didn’t prove impossible and was in fact a lot better than, say, our Sirius Radio which has hissy fits if it even senses a tree or a mountain nearby. We were able to watch TV, surf the World Wide Web with ease, and even take part in a few Zoom calls. Perfect. It attracted some attention too – neighbours in their trailers would come over and ask about that pizza box thing attached by a very long cable to our camper. And inevitably whoever asked knew all about it and was just waiting for the rest of the world to give Starlink a trial run before they invested in it. Pretty sure we sealed the deal for a few people that trip!
So we packed the pizza box and its accompanying equipment back up in the box and put it in the truck along with everything else we were taking down to the boat.
This year, many more boaters are sporting their own Dishy, and talking about it, using words like “game changer”. A little hyperbole I suppose, but for some I think it probably has been. Not wanting to wait until their 50’s and 60’s to pursue their ocean dreams, having an easy, relatively affordable, and very reliable way to work remotely has given them the means to cut their land ties and get on with it. We know many people who managed to do this well before Starlink, but it was usually exorbitantly expensive, took up a lot of space, was complicated to work, and was probably nowhere near as reliable. Young people seeing others living the nomad adventure have bought into this – you just have to check all the you-tube vlogs and the blogs to see that there has been a large exodus of individuals giving up sticks-and-bricks for land- or sea- based wandering. And Dishy, bless her elegant square little soul, allows them do do this.
So back in our corner of the Mexican coast… we are indeed retired, although Lawrence does some zoom meetings occasionally for a board or two he is on. Other than that – it allows me to keep in touch with family and friends back up in Canada and the States… at night, we can watch almost any show we want ( all about the Christmas movies right now although we intersperse it with an episode or two of our current fave Dead To Me… trying to not binge this last season, savouring each episode.. LOL)
Lawrence is a blog-reader, and can eat up several hours a day reading about other people’s adventures. It’s also nice to be able to research whatever project is coming up without worrying about bad wifi or no wifi…not to mention calling upon Amazon to send us whatever it is we need for said project..
Honestly, how on earth did we manage when we started cruising together back in the 70’s?
And as I sit here in our boat, at the dock in La Paz, with hubby on his iPad and me on mine…knowing that wherever we go, anchored or tied up in some remote bay, we will always be able to connect with the rest of the world… I wonder… is this such a good thing?
And that’s the question, isn’t it? The answer is we did manage. I had a ham radio that I could use to talk to my dad every morning and evening ( my mom listened in).. our kids were babies so they were with us 24/7…
Eventually we got one of those little tv’s that took dvd’s ? So the kids could watch a little tv if the weather outside was too crappy for adventuring. We didn’t read the news, we didn’t worry about the world, we anchored in remote bays and just enjoyed being away… work was something we did the rest of the year (although there were some times, in the “olden days” of the brick cel phones, where Lawrence was only able to get away for half the summer because he had one of those crazy big cel phones-and had to use it fairly frequently. But at least we were on the water).
I have had a few conversations recently with fellow boaters about this whole constant connection thing. Because we have it, because we CAN, we DO. I confess openly that I need to be able to talk to my family more than once a month… and I enjoy checking Facebook (ugh) and Instagram to see what’s happening back home…but sometimes not being connected is so nice.
When we first came down to the Sea of Cortez, we would have very limited cel service away from La Paz. We’d spend weeks travelling, relying on wobbly wifi when we found a Marina to spend a few days in, and occasionally caught stray flickers of cel service as we passed small villages, just enough to send a quick message and maybe even get a reply. If I wanted to post a blog entry, Lawrence would start up the satellite phone, I would compress my photos to reduce the size of the file… all a bit complicated and expensive.
Heading into port, I’d feel a bit sad that we were back in the real world..as I checked in on Facebook and Instagram and the news from home the instant I heard the first ping of downloading messages and mail. Addicted much!?!
I also wonder about the future of Starlink – we are all basically beta-testers, using the system in different environments, taking our boats further offshore and hoping it will still work. But what happens when Elon turns his attention back to this endeavour- will the price be jacked up, will there be new! improved! systems we will be required to buy to continue using something we have become very very addicted to? I certainly don’t know what the future holds. But meanwhile … we have a Zoom to take part in and Christmas movies to watch tonight. We will turn Dishy off…..
We just had two weeks on the boat with our grown kids, each accompanied by cel phones, I-pads and computers. One son had work he could check in on remotely…his wife had family she FaceTimed on a daily basis, and the other son is a gamer who has friends around the world he stays in touch with. None of this would have been possible last year. And this year we accomplished it, as well as indulging in our own bad habits, from the anchorages up the Sea of Cortez. Thank you Starlink. Was it a good thing?
Well, we also played board games, read books, hiked, snorkelled, caught fish, watched Christmas movies, cooked meals together… all the things we would have done if we didn’t have the world wide web to distract us. So my answer is – we can’t change the world and the way it’s going, and that’s ok as long as we hold on to the things that gave us joy in the past. Easy for us old farts, with lots of memories and history behind us – I worry about the youngest generation who are being raised in a world where the Internet is everything and everywhere.
But that’s fodder for another discussion.
Now we hope that Elon doesn’t suddenly put Starlink out of our reach by changing everything. But it’s his product … we have enjoyed it while it’s been with us… and if it gets out of our reach price wise… we will just have to go back to the old ways!