I have a friend that I met my very first week onboard ships. We weren’t great friends at first, but about a month after I came onboard the ship was in wet-dock and we discovered a mutual love of board games. Since then we make a point to see each other at least every year or so.
Two years into working on board and her and I were on the same ship again. She had been working onboard for about five years at that point, and well, she was sick of it. Her boyfriend at the time had just quit ships and she was at a career impasse.
On a contract that was going to take her from the Alaska season out of Seattle and across to Australia she knew she needed to make a decision soon – nine times out of ten if you quit mid-contract you have to pay for your flights home and she knew it was going to be less expensive to fly home (home in her case was New Jersey) from Seattle than it would be from Australia.
One afternoon I went to her cabin to visit her. When I opened the door for her hallway I saw her sitting on the floor outside her room with her laptop. I asked her why she was sitting in the hallway and she responded, “I get better internet out here.”
Between then and now the internet situation has changed a bit. Back then we paid per minute. This means that even when the internet wasn’t working well and the pages weren’t loading it would still cost her. So, if it works better in the hallway, you go to the hallway. We no longer pay per minute for internet and instead pay per megabyte.
I asked her what she was up to. She was making a pro’s and con’s list of ship life, trying to figure out what her decision was going to be. She wanted to check to see how much plane tickets would be to give herself an idea as to what to expect if she went through with it and had to buy her own way home.
I asked her to read her list to me, pro’s and con’s. I don’t remember all of what was on the list, but one in particular on the con list was “terrible internet”. Almost at the same moment she was reading this list to me the page she was trying to load to check ticket prices decided to tell her she was S.O.L. and she’d just used a bunch of her internet minutes to get to that point. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on her, she was done with ship life and the final straw was the stupid internet.
Fast forward to today (and two days ago, and a week ago, and two weeks ago, and a month ago) that a picture won’t load. Much like there are days when all of the sea days have blended together and I think we might be in a Truman Show and Groundhog Day combo movie, the internet not loading a picture has been consistent, and with it’s consistency and repetitiveness my frustration has grown.
Technology has changed a bit since my friend sat there with her pro and con list. That was nearly 8 years ago. Even with my frustrations I have to admit – the internet has gotten better.
I’ve never expected much out of shipboard internet. I relied on it to check email, contact family, or something like double check that a payment went through. I’ve always had the ability to go into port to make phone calls and send pictures, it wasn’t much of a big deal. We’ve been onboard for 42 days (the last time any of us were on land), nearly entirely reliant (aside from the few days we’ve been close enough to port for me to use my cell phone data), on ship internet and satellite phone calls. The internet might be better than it was but that still doesn’t mean that it’s good. If you’ve ever seen a post with a really blurry picture it’s because I had to reduce the file size so much to get it to load. It’s not just pictures and my blog. All of that “adulting” stuff – paying bills, managing your banking, taxes – we have to do, too. We can’t mail a check in, we can’t call them when the internet won’t work (well, we could – on a 12 hour time difference from a satellite phone that costs real $$), we are stuck dealing with the internet from the ship.
Now, it’s not all bad. There is free WhatsApp messaging for crew now. This was a great change they made and the crew is grateful for it as it makes communicating with home so much easier. Using megabyte plans end up being less expensive than the per-minute plans of yesteryear as long as you’ve shut off automatic upgrades and background app refreshes. Before someone out there thinks I’m not dealing with reality: I know I can’t expect it to be as reliable or fast as a land based connection. Logic would dictate that. Doesn’t mean I have to like it though.
I try to be positive and keep the situation in perspective. We are safe and healthy, we have food, water, a roof over our head, and a bed to sleep in at night. It’s reliable enough for me to message home and hear from friends. And, while it’s not always the most reliable and it’s frustrating I am thankful that there is any internet while we are out to sea at all.
Being grateful for all the good parts doesn’t make it less frustrating when it doesn’t work though. Each time it doesn’t work not only is it frustrating in that moment but it also discourages me against trying to do more that is internet based. The internet makes so much able to happen. Families are able to do home schooling and video chat with each other. You can take courses and work from home! You can have music lessons over video chat, or watch a YouTube video to learn how to cable knit.
I have friends that say “why don’t you find an online job?” and I have to tell them that the internet onboard is both too expensive and unreliable for that. I have been debating taking some online classes but honestly, I’m not sure it’s even reliable enough for that.
We all adapt and learn as we go, and this situation is no different. Life at sea isn’t all dolphins jumping out of the water and beautiful sunsets (both of which I’ve seen this week – there are good parts to it!) Life at sea has its own frustrations, and like in any “normal” life some days you smile those frustrations off and other days they drive you absolutely bonkers.
Need less to say even with the improvements to the internet they’ve made since my friend made that pro/con list all those years ago, I still think she would put it in the con column. It sure is for me right now.