Chasing internet around the world

Sarah Smith is a Freelance Writer and Editor who now lives the good life, sailing the seven seas and working as she goes. Isn’t technology great nowadays? Is it really as good as it sounds, though? Read on…

It’s coming up to 6 am here, and just light enough for me to see the keyboard on my laptop and start writing this – I’m 5 hours behind the UK, and expecting an email about my current editing project. I’ve put the kettle on to make a cup to tea, trying not to make too much noise and wake everyone else up. I start work early, while it is relatively cool – it’s already 29 degrees C (and 95% humidity) but it’ll be in the mid-30s by lunchtime (by which time I will have melted). This morning we are anchored in Mount Hartman Bay in Grenada (12°00.195 N 061°44.911 W); yesterday we were in Carriacou, a small island about 40 miles further north.

6 years ago…

I left the UK 6 years ago on our 43-foot sailboat, Cape, with my husband, David, daughter, Bethany (then aged 9) and son, Bryn (then aged 7) to ‘sail around the world’. Well, I don’t think that we’ll ever make it all the way around as we go too slowly and won’t live long enough, but we are still travelling! Our travels so far have taken us from our home port of Aberystwyth in mid-Wales, to Ireland, Atlantic Spain and Portugal, Morocco, Italy, Greece, Malta, Mediterranean Spain, Gibraltar, the Canaries, to the Gambia in West Africa. From the Gambia we crossed the Atlantic in 2012 to Tobago and we have spent the last year island hopping in the Eastern Caribbean. You can see our track on the map and read our blog at http://blog.mailasail.com/cape.

As long as I can get internet access, I can work

We home-school the kids, who are now 15 and 13, respectively. I’m still working as a freelance medical writer/editor to fund our trip – as long as I can get internet access, I can work. This morning I am logged on to the internet via Cruisers’ Wi-fi. We have a wi-fi signal amplifier that ‘sucks’ in wi-fi from up to 1 mile ashore. (Don’t ask me how it works – ask my Technical Advisor.) Cruisers’ Wi-fi and HotHotHot Spot cater for the deepest, darkest internet desires of cruisers in a number of the Caribbean islands, with a relatively fast (depending on how you swing at anchor), relatively cheap (108 EC$ or about 40 US$ or £26 a month for unlimited download), buy on-line-when-you-need-it approach. It’s wonderful (OK, it depends on your definition of wonderful) – but it isn’t always this easy!

MedLine at MacDonalds

We have chased internet everywhere we’ve been. I’ve dragged David, Bethany and Bryn and the long-suffering laptop ashore via numerous wet dinghy rides to track down dedicated internet cafes. They’ve suffered hours nursing an eye-wateringly expensive beer/coke in bars and restaurants for me to get at the free wi-fi (pronounced ‘wee-fee’ in Europe). They have forced down a Big Mac, fries and a milkshake without a murmur so that I can mess about on MedLine at MacDonalds. I am happy to suffer in solitude – I’ve sat and edited on benches in town squares and libraries with free public wi-fi. I’ve stood, balancing the laptop on a window sill at the marina office because the office was closed but the free wi-fi was still on but too weak to reach Cape. I’ve sat, cramped, for hours on a specific spot on deck (the only place that I could get a wi-fi signal), with my laptop on my knees and a towel over my head to stop the glare on the screen. I’ve even managed to check email on my 3G-enabled Kindle!

How big is your 3G dongle collection?

The discovery of internet access via the 2G then 3G mobile phone network on USB dongles and local SIM cards in the Mediterranean was a revolution! This meant the luxury of internet access on the boat while at anchor (and occasionally at sea – although working down below when it was rough on passage did make me seasick)! David has walked miles to mobile phone shops to get me connected, and then gone back again countless times in countless towns and cities ‘cos it wasn’t working (it’s all in the configuration, apparently). He can quote you the ins and outs of the different pay-as-you-go 3G internet plans in Spanish, Italian and Greek. We had no less than five different 3G USB dongles by the time we left Europe (“Sorry Madam, this is a Vodafone Balearics dongle – it won’t work on the Vodafone Spain 3G network, but I can sell you one that will…”). We collected another one in Gambia where homes had no mains water or electric, but the wonderfully friendly, helpful and smiley Gambians all had mobile phones – and I had 2G internet access 150 miles up the Gambia River. The Gambian dongle came with a free, bright orange plastic bucket, no less! The rough plan is to head south from here, to Guyana and Suriname – I’m sure you can’t wait to hear about internet access there for Day in the Life of MedComms 2014!

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. I have work to do before I can go for a swim…

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4 Responses to “Chasing internet around the world”

  1. Jackie Marchington Says:

    Hi Sarah – glad to see you’re still at it! Seems a long time since we were newbies together!

  2. Frances O'Connor Says:

    Oh Sarah! What a life, a true work:life balance 🙂

  3. Sarah Smith Says:

    Hi Jackie! Where did the time go? Good to see that you are still encouraging newbies in to this lark. It’s been good to all of us I think, and not many careers are as rewarding — or as flexible.

  4. Sarah Smith Says:

    Hi Frances! Finding that balance is still tough — the flow of work is never quite right. On the whole though, life is pretty good, even if quite a bit of it is ‘boat maintenance in exotic locations’.

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