My friend Pete, an old salt and professed Luddite, often reminisced about his boat delivery days in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I loved hearing his stories about traveling along the ICW, and jaunts to Bermuda and Mexico in boats as sparsely equipped as his own. They spoke to simpler days when the captain relied purely on his ability to sail the conditions Poseidon presented. I thought of Pete as Clint prepared our boat for a trip from Chesapeake Bay to Florida by loading down the boat with enough electronic gadgets and back-up power sources to rival NASA’s Mission Control. I began to wonder if it was all needed or even necessary. Unbeknownst to Clint I was mentally keeping score throughout the trip.
A pilot by trade, Clint is accustomed to in-depth planning and system redundancy in his aircraft. Before leaving port, he spent weeks reading through cruisers’ forums, monitoring weather, bookmarking bridge schedules and developing contingency plans. He bought publications, downloaded apps on the iPad, computers and iPhone, and preloaded every possible waypoint into the iNavX and boat GPS. For added safety Clint rented a satellite phone and put on a Spot Connect Satellite Messenger with a tracking feature so our friends could monitor his progress. He felt well prepared.
Clint’s trip south began when Hurricane Sandy was below Cuba, its path yet unknown. As he and his crew made their way down the Chesapeake, I monitored their progress on Spot while paying close attention to Sandy. About 2 a.m. that first evening, Tri Dreaming suddenly altered course and began heading to shore. It wasn’t long before friends, also monitoring their progress, began texting me wondering what was wrong. Frantically I began trying to reach Clint. Voicemail, text and e-mails were sent without response. He finally called at 7 a.m. explaining that a bushing on the prop let lose and they were waiting for a store to open to make repairs. Five hours of needless worry. Luddite 1, Technology 0.
The repair in Deltaville, Va., kept them further north than they wanted as Sandy turned toward Florida. The expensive weather forecasting program insisted on favorable winds allowing them to reach Charleston, S.C., or Savannah, Ga., before coming inside to safely wait out the storm. Using the satellite phone, Clint instructed me to contact the Seven Seas Cruising Association Cruising Station hosts in those cities, provided them with his intentions and his contact information. By the end of the day, both hosts were in touch with Clint and he developed a game plan. Luddite 1, Technology 1.
The weather forecasting program was wrong. The winds shut off as Sandy ran up the coast. In its defense, Sandy was a once in a lifetime storm, so I really can’t take away a point for Technology or give one to the Luddite. They ended their leg in Southport, N.C., where Tri Dreaming was safely placed on a side tie and prepared for whatever punch Sandy was going to throw.
This is where the ultimate tech gadget gave us peace of mind. Southport Marina has a webcam and guess where it was pointing? Yep, Clint monitored Tri Dreaming via the Internet throughout the entire storm. Not a sail out of place or a single fender rub. Double points for technology. Luddite 1, Technology 3.
After a week we were ready to get Tri Dreaming on her way again, however, all her crew were dealing with the storm aftermath. The B team – moi – hopped onboard. Since I don’t have many open sea miles under my belt, we decided to coastal cruise, giving us the option to get inside to the ICW if needed.
Clint’s array of gadgets gave me a sense of comfort that first evening as we watched the dolphins play before a near-perfect sunset. The conditions were about to take a drastic change as the next weather system formed.
Again the weather forecaster was wrong (no excuse this time) as we battled strong winds on our nose. We hit Charleston for fuel and a rest before heading out the North Edisto River inlet with a strong current and freshening winds. After an hour, I went below to see frantic text messages from our friend Maggie who had been religiously monitoring our every move on Spot. Apparently our tracker stopped transmitting just as we were heading out the inlet. Maggie panicked knowing the weather forecast north of our location showed 30- to 40-knot winds. Luckily I responded before she called the Coast Guard. I gave the Luddites double points.
Halfway to Savannah, the B crew waved the white flag, ready for a crew swap. Technology reigned supreme once again, allowing us to arrange transportation for the next crew member (our son CJ) and dock facilities prior to making the turn into Tybee Road Channel. Technology was back in the lead.
The last leg had strong following winds, which forced Clint to turn off Otto, our Autohelm, and sail the boat as she was meant to be sailed. Out in the open ocean, tech took a back seat with both men swapping two-hour watches. As they pulled into port, Clint’s phone immediately began chiming with congratulatory texts and phone calls from friends and family monitoring his progress. These were welcomed messages after a grueling 51 hours at sea.
If you go by my scorecard it looks like technology won. What did we miss as we answered the phone or had our head buried in the computer? A dolphin?
A shooting star? The silence? Technology may have enhanced how we navigate the seas, but then again maybe Pete had it right all those years ago. It can be as simple as a man, his boat and the sea.