One of my great pleasures while cruising is staying touch with all my family and friends back home(s) in the States and New Zealand. Improvements in communications technology have made it very easy and cheap to “reach out and touch someone.”
There are a number of communications devices in Moonshadow’s master control center.
First is the ubiquitous cellular phone. I keep two now, one as a backup. This also allows me to keep switched on to my New Zealand number as well as having a local number for the country in which I’m cruising. In my somewhat limited experience, it seems that even many third world countries have good coverage and cruisers no longer have to rely on the “coconut telegraph,” pay phones other 20th century inconveniences. Most recently, I have found that I could get very dependable coverage in Mexico, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand and all up and down the Queensland Coast of Australia. In most countries it is easy to get a prepay SIM card which gives you a local cell phone number and relatively cheap local calling. In Australia, for example, Vodafone offer a prepay “SuperCap” program which offers AUD$500 worth of international direct dial, local calling, and text messaging for AUD$79 per month. In addition to voice communications, in most countries one’s cell phone can be linked to a PC (via cable or infrared) for Internet access on board, albeit a bit slower than a land-line dial-up connection. Vodafone in Australia and New Zealand now offer GPRS service, which is a high speed mobile (a little faster than land-line dial up) Internet connection via cell phone, but being relatively new, I find it is still a bit pricey.
Many of the marinas here in Australia have a service called MarinaNet. This is a wireless LAN (local area network) within the marina environment to provide high speed Internet access to yachties who have mobile wireless technology on their computers. I find this to be an excellent service and at a cost of about AUD$15 per week-way easier, cheaper and safer than going to a café, and without all the hassles of land lines.
For email when I’m at sea or cruising in remote areas, I still use good ‘ol SailMail. I think this is still the best value for money for on-board email, and improving all the time. At last count there were 14 stations worldwide, each with a variety of available transmission frequencies. I can testify that I have NEVER been unable to connect. I’ve upgraded my Pactor modem to the PTC III level, so I can do all the email I want easily within the ten-minute-per-day allotment. One can now even receive small grib (weather) files on SailMail.
As a backup to the above systems, and for the occasional need to log on (collecting weather grib files) or talk from the middle of the ocean, I have an Iridium phone. Although it seldom gets used, it’s a relatively inexpensive form of worldwide communication and it is comfortable to know that I can call anywhere any time from out on the big blue hiway.
I rarely use Internet cafes unless I need to transmit a very large file or do some serious web surfing, but they seem to be everywhere, and more common than McDonalds, at least wherever I’ve been in the last few years. Curses to French keyboards!
As for good ol’ fashion snail mail, there still are a few people who choose to send that to me, mainly creditors. I have mom in the States and a collection point in New Zealand that forward it to me, minus the junk mail. The cost of re-mailing, hassle of finding a forwarding address and down time waiting for it make it a real pain in the transom, but I do look forward to getting my monthly issue of Latitude 38 in my monthly mail packet from the States.
Bills Bills Bills!
There is no question that the Internet has made cruising more user friendly, and nowadays paying bill on line, at least the moving of money anyway, is very easy and efficient.
Virtually all the expenses of cruising today can be paid for by credit card. The only bad news is that my VISA cards frequently end up with a bad case of RSS (repetitive swipe syndrome). I pay by plastic wherever possible and accrue frequent flyer miles for the occasional trip home in the process. My credit cards are set up on automatic payment from my bank account, and I can review the statements on line whenever I wish. I handle most other expenses with cash (ATM’s are everywhere) or by direct deposit/funds transfer. There are a few odd bills that are paid the old fashioned way, with a check, by mom back in the States.
I think we are all concerned about Internet security issues, but I do all my bill paying from my own laptop which has firewalls, spyware and all sorts of other stuff that are meant to protect me. So far, knock on wood. . .