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On the modern cruising yacht the computer has become an increasingly integral part of daily life. It plays a key role in communication, navigation, entertainment, and storage of critical documents, journals, photos, music, and videos. To most, a computer is something they just can't live without. Yet for something that plays such a critical role in their lives, most people don't give it the respect or attention it deserves. When you unplug your computer and take it offshore you have entered one of the most unfriendly environments ever envisioned for a modern computer, in the corrosive salt air, getting tossed about, and disconnected from the internet. Unfortunately most cruisers just cross their fingers and hope that nothing goes wrong. By now, you must have seen someone drop their phone. Their eyes open wide and they start to sweat, wondering when they last hot synced the contents; of a phone! Imagine the horror when someone loses their navigation computer and all the photos from years of adventure.

Most people in the "land of the connected" don't realize the luxury of a direct or easy connection to the internet until it's gone. There are rarely WiFi hotspots in the destinations of paradise that we seek. Remote and unconnected; that's what makes them so exotic right? In Indonesia, in 2007, we went months without finding an Internet Cafe. Most connected people can't imagine a minute without the internet, let alone two months. When you finally do find a connection in paradise, you won’t get the fast connection speeds you are familiar with. Most services are dial-up, and the internet café usually won’t allow you to connect directly (with your own laptop) because they just don’t know how to handle it.

When you are living life disconnected there is no "Run Now or Save to Disk?", "Windows Update", or "would you like US to check your system?". In most cases you're on your own. It's like everything else; you will need to become self sufficient, learn to anticipate potential problems, and have solutions readily available. Most modern computer and software companies can't even imagine that one of their users WOULDN'T be connected to the internet.  

I had an interesting discussion with a Microsoft employee who answered my support call for a Windows XP licensing problem. My machine had locked me out and they wouldn't allow me to install my USB wireless card so that I could access the internet to resolve my problem. Nice!! The machine assumed I had a direct connection to the internet, and since I didn't, I had to use the phone option. Windows XP produces a HUGE, ridiculously long, code to call into the service center, something like 50+ numbers, and then you are given an equally long result to enter back into the computer.  I didn't want to lug my computer down the dock to the payphone (remember those), because if the computer shuts down (say, due to the battery running out while on hold) a whole new number is generated and you have to start all over again. So I wrote the code down and called. The support person couldn't understand why I was calling, and certainly couldn't understand why I wasn't sitting in front of the computer.  After about half an hour and couple of verifications of the numbers through the  strong Australian accent, I went back to the boat and it worked. Imagine if that had happened at sea. Email wouldn't work and Microsoft certainly doesn't have a radio operator on call to handle their support calls that come in via HAM/SSB. That would have been one expensive Sat Phone bill, but at least I could have been in sitting in front of the computer instead of writing down all the numbers. The “directly connected” support model is becoming increasing popular with companies who are moving their support overseas to save money. It means you won’t have the easy access to support, but there are some things you can do to prepare.


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