Around about now, I expect I am somewhere on the East coast, dining out with friends. Worried about exactly where I am? I’m used to that. Back in the day, some well-meaning family members got a little nervous about our whereabouts, too.
Originally posted as Calling All Worrywarts, or, Next Stop, 1996! on December 15, 2010
As this little blog has grown, I have gotten the odd bit of mail from you, my dear readers. Most of it is kind. Some of it is mystifying. But much of it comes from landlubberly types. With that in mind, it is time for the educational (or, as Stylish, age 3, would have put it, edumacational) portion of our blog. This will take the form of a Q&A with concerned readers Heckle and Jeckle. Today’s topic is:
When do we call the Coast Guard?
“I’m concerned about this sailing business, old bean!“
Heckle & Jeckle: Look here, Papillon Crew. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. You move around too much. You don’t move around enough. Your track goes higgeldy piggeldy, hither and yon. Your track has gaps. Your track goes impossible places. You stopped in the middle of the ocean. All you do is write blog posts. You never write blog posts. You don’t answer emails. You don’t take calls. All this makes me anxious. How will you ever get help without us? We’re calling the Coast Guard.
Papillon Crew: No, you’re not.
H&J: Oh, come on…
H&J: Fine then! Explain yourselves.
PC: Avec plaisir. Let’s go through our issues in order.
Complaint #1: I disapprove of your frequency of movement!
Response: In the early days, we moved almost every day. That is because a) we needed the practice, and b) it was getting very, very cold in the Chesapeake. And if there is one thing I object to in this life, it is being cold. As we reached points south, the weather improved. (Well, not here in Florida, apparently. It is frigid here.) Otherwise, hurray. And so we started to linger. Contrary to what you may think, we are out on this tub to loaf about in the tropics. We aren’t trying to circumnavigate, or race, or do anything else that would involve a lot of moving. Yes, we want to have fun sailing, but we also want to drop anchor and swim. And make sandcastles. And fly kites. You get the picture.
Summary: We’ll move when we feel like it and not before.
Complaint #2: Your tracker is misleading, confusing, and makes me worried!
Response: Our Spot, while a nifty little gadget, has its flaws. First, it will only track us for 24 hours at a time. After that, we have to press the button again to keep it going. That may not sound like much, but we’re usually otherwise occupied on passage with things like fatigue, feeding children, and whichever alternator has caught fire that day. So, a few hours go by before we remember Spot. Thus, the gap.
Also, batteries die. With the aforementioned feeding and fires, we also don’t always have time to change out batteries the moment Spot dies. Result: more gaps.
As for the funny tracks, Papillon is a sailing vessel. When we need to muck around with the sails, we turn head-to-wind. It may look like we are veering off-course, but really we’re just changing something. Keep watching and… see? Back on course.
As for those mid-trip float-abouts, they are occasionally a necessary evil for rather benign reasons. If we find that our current course and speed will get us into port in the middle of the night, we need to choose: speed up or slow down. Unlike in a car, there is only so much velocity-adjustment you can practically do. Tides, currents, wind speed… all of these things constrain us. Once in a while, we’ll choose to heave-to and just float around for a while on a calm day. That may get us in at 7 am instead of 3 am, which is much, much safer.
Summary: Spot is spotty and sailing means funny tracks.
Complaint #3: Your communication stinks.
Well, now. Our boat has an aluminum hull. That means we live in a big Faraday cage
. We don’t get signals down below – not internet, not cell phone. And the honest truth is, as time goes by, more often than not we forget we own these fancy devices. We’re busy doing math with Stylish, or reading a book to Indy. We’ve wandered off to the craft fair in town and forgotten to turn on the phone. It isn’t that we don’t love you. We are just doing other stuff.
Plus, the internet hates us, and that is that. Connections have been worse and worse as we moved south. And I just won’t waste an hour every night trying to suck my email over the three seconds of connection I manage to grab.
Summary: Our boat is rejecting your call. Don’t take it personally.
Complaint #4: You have no concept of safety and can’t take care of yourselves, you tiny babies.
Response: Hold on. My eyes have rolled right back in my head and I can’t see to type.
Ohhhkaaaay. Here’s what we’ve got, just off the top of my head, in case of trouble:
Fire alarms. Carbon monoxide detectors. Erik’s inhuman hearing. AIS
so big ol’ ships know we’re there.
Preparedness training: Man overboard drills. Fire drills (kids included). And I mean full dry runs, right up to mock-activating the life raft.
Response systems: Fire extinguishers. Fire blankets. Self-inflating life raft with food onboard.
VHF to talk to your friends the Coast Guard. SSB for offshore. An EPIRB
registered to our vessel which automatically gives all of our information to the Coast Guard, and has its own GPS unit. It is independent of all other boat systems, and would go with us if we abandon ship.
Natural suspicion: I don’t pick up hitchhikers, and if you think I’m inviting anyone strange onboard without pointing a flare gun in their face, you don’t know me very well. We will radio for help for other people, but my kids come first.
Summary: For reals, we know how and when to get help.
H&J: Yeah, okay. I guess you’ve thought of a few things. But I want to be connected to you right now!
PC: Tough nuts.
PC: No, seriously. During university, I spent a month on my own in Indonesia for a research project. There was rioting in Jakarta just before I went. Towns I visited got burned down after I left. And did anyone panic because they couldn’t reach tiny Amy during this dangerous time? No. Because it was 1996. No one expected me to have access to a phone or email during those prehistoric days. Everyone had to trust I was okay, and wait for a postcard.
So here is the deal. We are all going to pretend that it is 1996. Jump into your DeLorean
and visit us in the past, because that’s where our communications systems are living.
“Could you give Papillon a message for me?”
H&J: We’re still calling the Coast Guard.
PC: Like fun you are. Those people are busy with real problems – real problems, incidentally, that we have heard and even helped with on our aforementioned VHF radio – and they don’t have the resources to hold your hand. Plus, if we get blacklisted for fake calls, you’ll feel guilty forever that we can’t get help when we need it.
H&J: You’re mean.
PC: I’ve come to terms with that.
Reaction: June 2014
Yes, the anonymous Heckle and Jeckle did call the Coast Guard on us back in the day. While we were at anchor. In Florida. And we hadn’t moved for a week. But the internet went down and we hadn’t called home in a while… and we were too busy visiting the Space Center and enjoying ourselves to remember that the people back home were still getting used to our new life. Let this be a lesson to cruisers and family alike: don’t panic. Let people know how and when you will communicate, and do your best to stick to that. And leave the Coast Guard out of it.