Saturday, December 8, 2018

Comms and the Brown Water Sail Life

One of the biggest draws of moving to brown water work to me when I was sailing blue water jobs, was the ability to stay in touch.

 My dad's days, you didn't talk to your loved ones while you were on ship.
When I was a teenager and fishing commercially, you could call the marine operator on the radio and they would connect you to your loved one via a collect call. Everyone could hear, but you could talk to family on your VHF or SSB radio.  This was for emergencies, as it was expensive. There were a few guys I fished around who put HAM radios in their kitchen at home. so they could check in with their wives.
In the domestic trade, you'd grab a roll of quarters and get in line at the dock. Almost every terminal would have a payphone on the dock. I called my parents once a month like that for my first few years sailing.
 If you were sailing international, you could call WLO or another store station by MF/HF radio and they'd do marine operator duty if possible. You could also order flowers delivered through them. Handy.

 Cell phones changed everything. Some guys invested in Sat phones, but for shlubs like me, a cell phone was more than enough.I got my first cell phone while sailing on the West Coast one winter. Getting my ass kicked for 4 months was made more tolerable by being able to call my family when I wanted, and later when I met a nice Brazilian girl who I liked enough to keep around, we could use what limited skills we had in each other's language to say hi once a week or so. I thought we were living like the Jetsons when the Gulf of Mexico's oil rigs were wired for cell phone service. This is back before nationwide service, of course, when you'd pay by the minute for 'roaming' charges outside your home region.  Back then, Petrocom (the company who owned the cell service out there) had deals with the cell phone companies, until one by one they started charging a premium for using petrocom's service.

 The Panama Canal Zone was a local calling area, for some reason. Nobody got hit with roaming charges down there, and I called many friends during transits there. I wonder if that's still the way of it?

 Today, well, it's a lot easier. I sometimes miss the joy and anticipation of knowing that today's the day I get to check in, but I also remember the anxiety of wondering about unanswered questions, and the mental effort required to put the things I couldn't answer in the back of my mind so I could focus on doing my job. Funny, when I think of that, of the mornings spent getting ready for watch or daywork in the days before cell phones, I think of the smell of the engine room of a steam-powered ship- that light gear oil and slightly musky hot-seawater smell from the evaps, not at all unpleasant. I guess I associate that smell with being able to let go the cares of the shoreside world... something I do miss being able to do at times.

     After dinner last night, for example, my wife in Florida sent me (in New York) some pictures of the healing incisions from her surgery and we talked about the wound care instructions her surgeon had given her. I then forwarded the pictures to the surgeon (In California today) with a couple of follow up questions. When I woke up at 2300 for watch tonight, the surgeon had sent both of us a video message discussing my questions,  giving advice and further instructions until her next check in.  I'm supremely grateful to be able to be connected, to receive advice and updates, and offer them too. Under normal circumstances, it probably would have been easier for me 25 years ago to leave that behind me when I got aboard, but fact is that it's easier on my wife to have me available by phone while she's not at her best, which isn't as good as being there, but still better than having to wait a week or more between calls.

 So, since we're free tonight and I've already handled the paperwork and projects I needed, and we're at a nice lay berth, there's little left to do beyond making rounds and the rest of the time is hopefully mine.  Sometimes these quiet night watches are a real treat.


STxAR said...

You just explained to me how my mind works. I still operate in a pre-cell mentality. I'll call often during the day, just checking in, but when there are issues, I revert, compartmentalize and carry on.

Thanks for putting this down. It really explains to me the difference between the younger guys at work, and me.

Iron City said...

A couple years ago my wife had a knee replaced. On a Friday. Outpatient. By Saturday evening we were seeing some bleeding that didn't look like what it was supposed to. Called the surgeon (same town, not California) He said "send me a picture" So I sent several, and he called back and told us what to do and said it looked good, really. Not exactly a house call. but an awful good substitute. Isn't technology great.