Photo: Join the WhatsApp Viking Funeral group...
When we left the Mediterranean back in 2007 to begin our unplanned circumnavigation, we found the Red Sea about as remote as anything we could then imagine. Of course, GPS and plotters had long replaced our reliance upon paper charts, old-fashioned dead-reckoning and my dust-covered sextant were distant memories I had to read up to remember. These new wonders of electronic science have changed everything. With GPS, sailing suddenly became a safer way of life in terms of knowing where we were - rather than a guesstimate of where we might be within a five mile radius. But the glories of onboard internet and data was still a far off dream.
Communications at that time had not changed much in thirty years. We still relied upon our short range VHF radio, our sometimes temperamental SSB long-range radio and the even more unreliable satellite phone system - iridium at that time had gone bust. Email was, on land, well established but only back home or whenever we could find an internet cafe... which in the Red Sea countries of Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Yemen were mostly nonexistent. We had our little flip-phones which could allegedly 'roam' but never did, in these remote countries this option did not exist, we still sent postcards home by Airmail telling everyone we were safe and well. We loved it, we were living by our wits and own endeavours, it was the ultimate dropout adventure, we really were living off-grid.
Once we reached the more western tourist-ridden ports of southeast Asia we were able to roam our mobile phones (cellphones) more easily, we discovered for the first time the excitement of buying a local SIM - no longer did we experience the horrendous international call charges of Vodafone. But still, the offering of mass data browsing on your hand device was science-fiction talk of the tech savvy and those bottle-rimmed glasses types. Only when we sailed into El Nido up on the Philippine island of Palawan did we first come across this strange overwhelming powerhouse called Facebook. In El Nido, electricity was a joy to be experienced only a split nine hours per day, and when power was restored in the early evenings there were huge young-backpacker rushes for the internet cafes - it was fascinating to watch these young travellers scramble over each other to get to a screen and keyboard. Following puzzled enquiries, I was told these intrepid one year thrill-seekers were anxious to get their photos and travelling stories uploaded to something called Facebook.
2012 found us in New Zealand, by now we had mastered the rudiments of smartphones and finding pathetic monthly data deals of a mere five-hundred megabytes - but we could at least download our emails and basic weather. Even in Alaska in 2014, we prided ourselves in discovering wonderful AT&T monthly data offers that meant we could get detailed weather forecasts instantly onboard, we could download our emails and indulge in amazing internet browsing until just beyond the middle of the month when our data package was all used up. By comparison, British Columbia was a retrograde step backward into the proverbial data dark-ages with Telus, though once down on the west coast of the US the world of hand-held data just opened up. But only when we headed south to cross the US-Mexican sea border did we really discover the whole fascinating world of Facebook and WhatsApp sailing.
I'm not sure if we were behind the times, but never did we realise that living off-grid was so much simpler with wall-to-wall internet. Of course, we thought ourselves entirely self-sufficient with our solar panels, wind generator and watermaker - we could power our electronics and shower till our hearts content - so much removed from my early days of subsistence sailing when water onboard was rationed, when we used seawater to cook and wash dishes. But sailing nowadays has undoubtedly followed the onshore route of frantic social-media communities which, to me, shakes the foundations of why we choose to live this life of freedom from mainstream living. It's a curious phenomenon, no doubt there's those of you out there who'll say it's the way the world has changed - get used to it. Right now, where we are in Panama, we're surrounded by English-language Facebook and WhatsApp groups for everything. A good German friend of ours, who sails a trimaran solo, calls these self-formed communities 'Facebook Sailors' which is a description I myself have taken up using whilst I try to understand exactly what is happening to our hallowed world of blue-water sailing. To me, maybe for you too, long-distance sailing is about making our own way, exploring what we find and learn, living off our wits in strange countries - not banding together in English-speaking communities that aren't unlike the black & white olden days of the British Empire. There are now growing numbers of financially comfortable westerners who have abandoned their possessions and sold their homes, they've purchased their dream with canvas sails, they've waved goodbye to friends and family on the dockside to sail off into the dreamlike sunset - to then join the local sailing social-media WhatsApp and Facebook group. I'm not commenting either way - I'm just saying, this is how off-grid living is these days.
Of course, this is not is not just a sailing phenomenon. It's a worldwide social mega-change well anticipated by the Zuckerburg's of this world, who are now self-made billionaires in the process. The old greybeard grey-heads like me, with their sextants and leather-banded pony-tails, are still to be found lurking in secluded little-known anchorages... they themselves know a thing or two about survival sailing. But they will soon be gone, their rusting sailing hulks left to sink and founder, creating little reefs of marine-life splendour in their memory.
If only we ageing mariners could be set afloat in that old Viking manner, our vessels set alight then gently pushed out to sea to burn our bent decrepit bodies. But, no doubt, in fact without any shadow of doubt, some new-generation sailor would record it on their smartphone then post it on the Viking Burial Facebook group - which would then be shared on the WhatsApp Remember Those Good Old Sailing Days group. God forbid, my own Viking burning is posted on that new-generational SnapChat thing which, I'm told, self-delete after five seconds or so.
Of course, this social-media blog and our Sänna
Facebook page, they're both programmed to self-delete on the 23rd June of... so hurry, join this group I've created on WhatsApp, it's called 'If you wanna be buried like a Viking' group.
My good wife Marie, she's standing here next to me right now, she has a box of old fashioned matches she found free on Facebook. And how to burn a moaning old goat sailor is all there on YouTube
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at www.facebook.com/SV.Sanna. Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.
Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat