As the moment of truth was overtaking us in the canal the other day we heard Jack’s phone ring down below. We were too busy to answer right then, but later I checked the voice mail and we learned that our dear friend who had a health crisis shortly after we moved aboard just suffered a turn for the worse and seemed to be nearing the end. We decided to call as soon as we were settled for the night. We learned soon enough we were entering a black hole of no cell service. Normally this would be an annoyance, but that night we were desperate for information.

Against all odds I managed to find an open wifi signal from an unseen house ashore and get the boat connected. I tried sending a few iMessages but they didn’t go through. It would have to be email, not the most immediate way of getting critical information. And then I thought of Skype. Most of our friends and family don’t use Skype, but our son Drew does and almost any time of the day or night I can find him logged on. I opened the app and immediately a Skype text message from Drew popped up, sent less than an hour before. His grandmother, my former mother-in-law, had suffered a suspected stroke. Now two of our near-and-dear were in the hospital and we still had no way to call anyone.

I texted Drew and asked him to make phone calls for us, convey our warmest thoughts and report back with whatever information he could find. He brought us up to date then called my sister to share the news with her and let her know we are out of contact.

In the morning we motored eight miles to the town of Belhaven, which is also completely disconnected from the planet. We’re pinned down here by nasty weather for at least a day or two and we have no cell service and there are no open wifi networks. It’s amazing to me that everyone feels the need to lock their network, and makes me appreciate the towns that provide free or low-cost wifi for visitors. How else can you learn if there’s a pharmacy or grocery store or sailmaker ashore? What better way to advertise a farmers market or community event or sale? We happily paid $12.99 for a month of pretty good wifi at anchor in Annapolis. A local company here wants $15/ day. Seriously? More than a New York City hotel charges business people on expense accounts? I tried contacting them to see if they really get customers at that rate and to share the rates from other places we’ve visited, but their login page — which is the only thing I can access — doesn’t list an email address, only a phone number. And we have no cell service.

All of this does not bode well for our mental health in the future. We will probably activate our satellite phone to use in emergencies like this one, but adjusting to being unplugged will take some doing. We are both news junkies — ok, a shortwave radio will solve that problem — and love the day-to-day interactions via Facebook and Twitter. We can save up blog entries and post when we have Internet access. We’ll have to accept the fact that we won’t be able to indulge in the instant gratification of Google and Wikipedia and the New York Times. But it doesn’t mean we have to like it.




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6 Responses to Disconnected

  1. You can use your wifi connection to Skype, Marce. We do it all the time. You can call any phone in the world, but it may cost a few cents rather than being free (as it would be to someone already on a Skype connection)

    • Yep, we’re also going to buy a Skype phone number because once we leave the country we won’t have our cell phone numbers anymore. Staying connected gets complicated.

  2. We also found good luck the first two years up and down the East Coast with a Verizon WiFi Dongle in our Macbook. It got us radar up to 12 miles off the coast and also let us skype anywhere Verizon was, which was most spots. They are not a good choice if they charge a yearly subscription though. But also, I have found all the US cell phone companies are happy to sell you a cell phone dongle or service (MyFi) or other solution for a 30 day money back trial. We have taken advantage of that before, but be careful as you may like it too much and not want to take it back. Have to make a reminder so you do not miss the return date. Ed and Sue (ps… AT&T will sell you a 30 day chip to run your iPAD on a month to month basis and you can cancel anytime and renew anytime. Good solution too if AT&T is in your neighborhood. Ed & Sue at Marmaris, Turkey

    • We’ve had a monthly data plan for the iPad for over a year but it only works when you have a cell signal. In Belhaven, nothing. Nada. Absolutely no cell service except for people who bought cell phones from the little local company. I guess they won’t share their towers with AT&T, Verizon or anyone else. Drove us nuts.

  3. Rebecca

    You can download the Skype or Google Voice apps to many smartphones and use them just as you would your phone, only using wifi instead. Also, the Tango app can be used like iPhone’s Face Time with people who don’t have iPhones, if they download the Tango app to their smartphones and have front facing cameras.

    Google Voice, for sure, needs to be signed up for before you leave the States, so don’t forget. You can text from it over wifi, as well, it’s truly invaluable.

    • Only works when you have an acceptable signal. On the night in question we managed to connect very briefly to an open network long enough to exchange a few texts over Skype. Not enough bandwidth for voice and certainly not for video. We were lucky to get what we did, especially in a place with no cell signal at all.

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