I is for Isolation

During our summer cruises up here in the Pacific Northwest, Mike and I enjoy days where we are anchored in quiet areas, not close to towns. We like to explore places that are off the well-sailed paths of others and this means we sometimes don’t see a lot of other people and we don’t have cell phone coverage. Generally speaking that’s fine, but so far our longest cruise has been only 5 weeks.  And this leads to anxiety about being isolated from my family; kids, mom, and sister. The Fear-O-Meter on this one can waver between low to high, depending on the scenario and how much communication electronics we have on board.

Here’s what it’s like when I’m cruising locally with good cell phone coverage.

It gets to about here or higher when we spend days at a time in Canada without any way of communicating with our kids.

In a nutshell, I do not like being unable to talk to our kids. It isn’t that we talk to them all the time. In fact, they live their lives and we are lucky if we talk to them every couple of weeks, or even longer. Our daughter is not even in this country! But the thing is I COULD talk to them if they needed me, or if I just wanted to hear their voices.  I can call my mom and my sister and catch up with their lives. Facebook keeps me updated pretty much, and as a parent I have learned that for the most part, no news is good news. But not always. And if I don’t have cell phone coverage, I also don’t have Facebook or email or anything else.

When we were in Canada this summer, we went to areas where there was zero cell phone reception. It just did not exist.  We have no Sat phone. So for most of our vacation, we were completely out of touch. I hated that. A lot. And I know that this low level of anxiety every day contributed to the number of meltdowns I had about things like shallow water and docking.

I had to have a number of serious conversations with Amy G. Dala about her dark fantasies. She was creating more of a disturbance than was actually necessary. Sure, it LOOKED like I was relaxing in a meditative way in the cockpit. But I was actually being kept busy by creating scenarios about how if the kids needed us, or something bad happened, someone would call the Coast Guard, and then our Coast Guard could contact Canadian CG, then they could come find us because we were using a SPOT locator device so people would know where we were. If the Coast Guard was not calling us on the radio or speeding toward S/V Galapagos with an urgent message, everything was probably fine. This is a giant flipping waste of my time. It also seriously compromises my ability to have fun.


Can you think of any good reason to have a panic attack when you are surrounded by this much beauty? Neither can I, but there it is.

Unlike some of these other anxieties, this one can be ameliorated somewhat by spending the money on a Sat phone like the Iridium GO, or the DeLorme Inreach. That way if I am out of cell phone reception area, we have a backup. I’m really only looking for any kind of communication. I don’t need to be able to talk on the phone. Email, text, I’ll take anything. We are in decision-making mode here so chime in your thoughts. We hope we can get our old but excellent quality SSB to work by some dark magic.

I know I will miss my family very much when we are gone, but I do really want to go, and I do really want to enjoy it. So there will have to be good communications equipment with backups.  Let it be written. Let it be done.

Just joined us for the A to Z Challenge and want to read from the beginning? Here’s a link to the first post. Just click on ‘next’ to go to the next post.



No real relation to this post. Just a really fun sail on Moonrise and I’m looking at old photos.



25 thoughts on “I is for Isolation

  1. We don’t have SSB, but are really considering a GO. I want to be able to send and receive texts with family, call for medical advice if neccessary, and Matt is really excited about getting weather reports. It’s only money!

  2. BC: I can’t remember exacty where you went to last Summer, but I recall as far “North” as Clayquot Sound. If so, there is very good cell coverage in Clayquot and Barkley Sounds with one cell carrier: Telus. Likely your USA cell carrier roamed on the Rogers network, which has MUCH poorer coverage in Clayquot/Barkley (as well as Central/North BC coasts).

    Mexico: you will have “fun” with cell coverage especially on the inside (East) side of Baja, Having said that, TELCEL coverage is pretty good the rest of the coast (oddly, cell coverage is much better on the Pacific (West) side of Baja).

    I’m being repetitive, but a HF SSB radio with pactor makes it so much easy to be in contact with others (other boats near and far, email with family, weather forecasts, etc). I place in tge top 3 additions to Pelagia for our travels South 2013-2015 (and am looking forward to using it up North this Summer – – making daily contact with othwr boats scattered up-and-down the BC coast). Installation is not really so bad (one can use a whip antenna or GAM antenna (instead of insulated backstay), and the KISS-SSB counterpoise is very simple-to-install (instead of the ground plane).

    In 2011, we cruised Haida Gwaii (2nd time). We had seen so few boats on our trip North and in Haida Gwaii, and I began to feel a lttle too isolated. Back then, we didn’t have our HF-SSB radio; I’m no longer concerned now that we can easily communicate with others anywhere regardless of how isolated. (Plus, we are now much more comfortable with isolation….

    Cheers, David

    • I would love to have both the SSB and the Pactor but alas, money is an object. We are hoping our SSB can be fixed. We may have to send it to the factory. In terms of our cell phone coverage last summer, yes we went to Clayoquot Sound and Barkley. It was Clayoquot where we had trouble with reception. Perhaps it matters what phone you have or what carrier you are using? We just had zero reception for long periods of time. I, too, am looking forward to being in contact with other boats via radio, but I am unlikely to be getting up every morning early to join the ‘cruising nets’. I’m looking forward to NOT having to have appointments in the morning, especially for Mike. Personally, I am very comfortable being isolated from other people for long periods of time. It’s only my family I want to be in touch with. If I’m the only boat in a beautiful quiet anchorage and another boat happens upon us, I’m not very excited about that. I love being the only boat there. And I want to always be able to enjoy that. I’m lucky in that Mike is an ex-air force ground radio guy. He knows radios. I know he’ll fix us up before we go.

      • Yes, it REALLY matters in parts of BC which cell carrier (or, for visitors, which cell carrier they roam on). No issues though for inner South coast (Victoria up to Campbell River).

        Canadian carriers Telus and Bell (they share networks) have the best coverage for “remote” coastal BC. SO, USA cell carriers that roam on Telus or Bell networks will be best. Sorry, I do not know which USA carriers do this.

        Rogers is third “large” cell carrier in Canada. But its coverage for remote coastal BC is definitely not as good as Telus. AT&T is a USA carrier that roams on the Rogers network. If your cell is AT&T then that explains why you had problems in Clayquot (in contrast, Telus cell coverage is pretty good in Clayquot.

        Another alternative, if you have an unlocked cell phone, is to get a prepaid cell SIM card in Canada from Telus or Koodo (which is a cheaper subsidiary of Telus that uses the Telus network). You’d also consider this in Mexico (Ensenada is an excellent place to get a TELCEL SIM – – you can choose where in Mexico you want your number based. We chose, luckily, La Paz.)


  3. Prior to my Father’s unexpected illness, and passing away last November, I stayed in close communications with my family using our SAT phone and UUplus. I would never be without it again.

    I also have a fun?! story about a kayak trip we were on, and I fell and shattered my wrist. This was our first trip with a SAT phone, and totally convinced me that my life is not complete without one. We take it on road trips, ATV trips, camping, and have loaned it a time or two. In Canada, we have purchased a sim card for one of our unlocked cell phones, so that works when there is a signal.

    Bill has done extensive blog posts about our communications, and I won’t send everyone to sleep with the details. (It’s hard for me to get into all that, I know he will make the best choices…whew.) svdenalirosenc43.blogspot.com

    • I’ll have a look at your blog posts about communication. We tried to buy a sim card for our phone this summer in Uclulet. No dice. I don’t know why. My phone is unlocked. It made sense at the time, but I can’t remember the deal. Shattering a wrist in an isolated location is not my idea of fun at all. I’m telling you: we will have a sat phone. Please tell me more about UUplus. Perhaps that’s on your blog?

      • Yes, I’m sure Bill has something about it. I had to “train” my family members to send email to UUplus when I was away from civilization, and my gmail when back in our slip. We also have a communications document on the blog that has a controlled access. It lists all of the ways to contact us, and detailed instructions on how to use it.

  4. Hi Mellissa,

    I’m enjoying your A-Z series. Kudos. I appreciate the time and energy it takes to write succinctly without loosing depth….

    Regarding communications, we have also gone through this exercise. [And it is ongoing as technology evolves…]

    If you are interested, we have several communications related (and very dry) pages in our ‘Stuff we have and use’ sidebar on our blog. There we describe our requirements, our choices and decisions in case that is useful.

    While your choices may not match ours in the end, the decision making logic is similar…

    Great work. Thank you…



    • We will check those out again. It may be that Mike already has ideas in his head about what direction we will be going with radios, etc. We have an older but good quality SSB on board. Unfortunately Mike, a radio guy from way back, has been unable to get it to work. We may need to send it off to the factory. Glad you are enjoying the series. I have to say, yes, it’s a lot of work, but for some reason these posts seem to write themselves in my head before they ever get to the computer. It keeps me up at night.

  5. Melissa,

    PS: I apologize for inadvertently changing the spelling of your first name without your permission in my last post… I need new glasses me thinks…

    You may call me Will if that helps…



  6. We enjoy cruising in the similar types of places, so I have to let my mom know before we go offline to keep her from worrying too much. In the early days, she could handle about a week but now she’s used to it and doesn’t start having conversations with Amy until 2 or 3 have passed. We use our cellphone primarily but, in the past, used Sailmail and sent emails through the SSB and our Pactor modem.


    • We have used the Spot to keep family’s worry about our well-being at a low level. I’m the one who gets worried, although when we first went cruising, my mother worried about us. The Spot helped, but if we forgot to push the little ‘we are here for the night’ button, that amped people up a bit. So the last time we went, we just left it on and didn’t promise to push that button every night. We won’t have a Pactor modem because we have too many other things to buy and they cost too much.

    • I would love to be able to spend the money on ALL the communications electronics available. Alas, I don’t think a pactor modem is in our future with their hefty pricetag.

  7. We, too, used the SPOT to keep family members apprised of our location when cruising. While we have a couple of HF SSB receivers on board, we do not have a transceiver. Having a working SSB makes communications with cruising nets and other similarly equipped cruisers possible and is a great addition to communications and safety gear. Our fall back was an Iridium Sat phone. Expensive to use, it provided trouble free communications when we needed. If I were to upgrade, I’d consider the Iridium GO for voice calling, text messaging, e-mail, photo-sharing, as well as weather applications. It acts as a world-wide WiFi server for all your smart devices. Not inexpensive to use, but offers a great deal of flexibility for your needs.

    • That’s the direction we’re leaning, with the Predict Wind package. Behan Gifford of Sailing Totem has a couple of very useful blog posts about the ins and outs of using the Go. Other people seem to like the DeLorme In Reach. I’ll probably have to let Mike decide. As long as it works, great. I’m willing to spend the money.

  8. Are you still in touch with Steve Roberts? If he can’t help you with your SSB I am pretty sure he knows people who can give you a hand. I knew some of the folks who helped him out on some of his advanced projects back in the day and the tech/radio knowledge was…skyhigh…..(haha, but seriously) I’m not in touch with any of them anymore so I can’t point you anywhere. (Our friend who was part of some of the projects is gone now. )

    • You know what? That is an excellent idea and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it! Yes, I am in touch with him through Facebook so I’ll give him a shout and see if he knows anyone. Apparently Mike contacted the Kenwood company and they won’t touch it. Thanks!

  9. We’ve been thinking of this same issue as we head down to the Med. The cheapest option for us is to buy a SIM card for Spain and Portugal. We’ve had good luck with that, even in the small villages. But a sat phone would be a bonus for getting weather information anywhere (especially in the middle of Biscay Bay) and for staying in touch with our aging parents. I stumbled onto one clever idea called the Sat Sleeve, which is a case that goes on over your smart phone and turns it into a satellite phone. You keep all your apps, your contacts, etc., but now have global coverage. Here in Europe, it’s about 550 Euros and you still have to get some sort of plan with that, but it’s a cool idea.

    • My kids have both traveled all over Europe and the UK with unlocked Iphones. Their system of going in and buying a prepaid sim card is so much easier than ours. We tried that in Canada but it didn’t work; I cannot remember why. I’m interested in this Sat Sleeve. I wonder if it’s available in the U.S. Off to do the Google on that. Thanks!

    • Thanks! I am considering whether I should take that on board the boat so that when words fail me I can communicate to Mike that we’re too close to rocks, or whatever else is happening out there.

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