Wednesday, May 11, 2011

VHF Radio and the Party Line

I grew up in an era where no one's mother worked outside the home, soap operas were religiously watched every day by both moms and kids (and we all hated Erica because she was so mean to poor old Chuck, and it saddens me to learn that All My Children has just recently announced that it's ending its 41 year run), and listening in on your neighbor's telephone calls was a given.

It was called the party line and as many as ten people at a time shared one single circuit which meant only one conversation could take place at a time.

I kid you not.

I have no idea what the hell I thought was so funny here. Maybe it was something I just heard on the radio.

It worked like this; every home's phone had its own individual ring cycle and when you received a call, no one else on your party line was supposed to know about it. But sometimes technology would run amok and when your phone went ding ding instead of ring ring you instantly knew a party mate/neighbor was receiving a call, and every self respecting female picked up her phone, placed a discreet hand across the mouth piece, and avidly listened in.

This gave the ladies great fodder for their over the back yard fence gossip sessions I'm sure!

It wasn't until years later at the ripe old age of eighteen and I started working at the telephone company, that I realized that this whole ding ding issue was what was referred to as a 'case of trouble' and should have been reported as such, but of course never was!

This was all brought home to me recently when I realized that we (mostly I) were listening to our VHF radio with a little more alacrity than was necessarily warranted. Normally, I don't pay much attention to the VHF, but during our trip down the Intracoastal we had to monitor it constantly. All day long cruisers would radio their intent to pass us on either our port or starboard side, and I hate to admit it but we hardly ever had a chance to reciprocate as we usually moved along at a sedate speed of 5 knots and rarely passed anyone else.

Once we arrived in the Bahamas our radio was pretty much useless (ie; no coverage) until we arrived in the Abaco's and entered the wild world of The Cruiser's Net.

Goooooooooooooood Moooooooooooorrrnnniiiiiinnnng Abaco!!!!!!!!!!! was the screaming announcement that woke me up every morning at 8 AM via our VHF channel 68.

Dear God!!! Didn't they know we'd had a few too many Wilbur Wow Wow's (our name for any and all Bahamian drinks) I'd whipped up in our galley the night before, and we weren't quite ready for so much cheer?

Anyway, the Cruiser's Net gives us the daily weather forecast (not always correct) along with all the current events taking place for those who might be interested. After that, channel 68 is wide open for cruisers in need of contacting other cruisers, and that's when my eavesdropping genes kicked in.

Now, you might ask, "Well, if people are calling each other on a public channel how can you be accused of 'listening in'?"

Because Channel 68 is a 'hailing channel' only, that's why. You hail your friends, ask them to move to another channel, and then continue your conversation. So when anyone we found to be even remotely interesting asked their friends to go up one (move to channel 69), we were on it like flies on doggy doo.

And I have to tell you, I never thought that listening to our VHF radio would rank right up there as a memorable Bahamian experience along with white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters.

But it has.

Hans and I rarely transmit over the VHF but we've found that some people can't seem to exist without it, and it pleases me to no end to find and excitedly point out in any of our new anchorages, some of the most prolific VHF users we've overheard. In this way it also makes the Bahamas seem like a small town as opposed to a great expanse of Cays since you hear the same people over and over.

This brings me to a cruiser whom we've heard all the time and yet (thankfully) have never, ever met. 'Starship' has been on the radio 24/7 and I swear the captain sleeps in his bunk every night with his radio firmly in hand. He hails other cruisers all day long, and whether they answer or not doesn't matter to him as he apparently has a long list from which to choose. As for the hapless sucker who's stupid enough to respond, well, he now ends up running errands, lending tools, and being stuck on Starship's VHF speed dial (I know, I know, there is no speed dial on a radio, it just seems like it).

One day he wanted to know if there was any room in an anchorage he anticipated using and this is what we heard: "My Girl, My Girl, this is Starship."

No answer.

"Elizabeth, Elizabeth, this is Starship."

No answer.

"Crazy Cat, Crazy Cat, this is Starship."

And by now Hans and I were snickering and I commented that I bet every one of those cruisers was crouched down below and giving their partners a shushing sign and forbidding them from answering. But when we heard his plaintive wail, "Any boat in Little Harbor!!!! Any boat in Little Harbor, this is Starship!!!" and no one answered (even though you know someone out there heard him), Hans and I literally collapsed in tears of laughter. I can only assume that his reputation and his overuse of the VHF preceded him.

I have no idea if he found a spot in the anchorage or not as I was busy listening to a conversation between cruisers who had the latest weather update.

I only hope that technology doesn't catch up to the VHF like it has to our telephone system. Life on the water would lose a little of its fun without this particular party line!


  1. Cheryl, someday you'll see what I mean!

  2. Maybe it's a sign of the times...but my immediate reaction was to click the "like" button (which clearly does not exist on the blog).

    hmmm. This will just have to do:

  3. I have missed your tales! I love how out on the sea they are still replaying what we I had only thought was a sitcom occurrence.
    P.S. On Friday we're announcing a summer "contest" where we're asking people to write posts about their hometowns and advice on cool things to see and do with your dog. We love reading about your adventures and would so love if you could do a write-up about what it's like to sail around with Wilbur. There will be complete details on Friday, but we just love hearing your stories!

  4. Two Pitties, oh my! I have tons of hometown stories but believe me, no one would ever want to visit there! However, I would love to come up with a sailing with Wilbur adventure.
    Internet access is a bear but I've been keeping up with you guys; I need my Miss M and Mr B fix!