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Uncharted Waters: Zoom This

As virtual meetings pile up, do you ever feel like giving the ol’ laptop a little boat ride ... to Davey Jones’ locker?

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Bill Tossing Laptop

Far be it from me to disparage Zoom meetings. Or -Skype. Or Microsoft Teams. Or FaceTime. Or even GoToMeeting. I mean, not long ago I had the opportunity to experience pretty close to the whole shebang in one day, starting at noon with an hour of Zoomification followed by a disgruntled overseas Skype call at roughly two o’clock. (Ever wonder why disgruntled people seem more disgruntled on a computer screen than they do in reality?) Then, at about four o’clock came another hour’s worth of back-to-back Teams video chats and finally, at nightfall, a surprise virtual visit from a family member materialized via FaceTime.

I’m only sorta complaining here. Most all of these virtual -meetings were either somewhat enjoyable, somewhat informative or somewhat necessary. One of ‘em was all three. And when you consider the continuing emphasis on social distancing these days, in addition to the ongoing emphasis on remote learning, telecommuting and all the other forms of getting together without actually getting together, you’ve got to admit—yeah, the virtual realm ain’t perfect, but it’s about the only realm we’ve got going for us these days.

But still, there are drawbacks. I’m not talking “Zoom Fatigue” or any of the other downers associated with interacting with oodles of faces (including your own) enclosed in digitized boxes on a computer screen for hours on end. Nope, most of that stuff’s small -potatoes when stacked up against a larger issue, an issue that’s the real problem, at least for those of us who are into the freedom-lovin’, semi-escapist boating lifestyle. Let me explain.

Decades ago, I worked as a cub pilot with a Great Lakes Pilots Association and, while I pursued my studies aboard a variety of foreign ships, a retired supertanker skipper who’d turned pilot became my friend and mentor. He was a grizzled old cuss and a philosopher at heart.

One night, as the two of us prepared to catch a few winks in the pilot’s cabin of a British freighter crossing Lake Superior, the old boy tossed out an especially perceptive comment from the shadows of the bottom bunk.

“You know what it is I most like about this seafarin’ life we’re livin’, Bill?” he asked, letting a little silence go by for effect. -“Everybody of importance to me at this very moment sort of knows where I am. But then again, they don’t.”

What was the old boy getting at?

I believe he was acknowledging how important it was for a guy like him—as salty a seafarer as ever spliced a mainbrace—to -occasionally feel untethered from the society he’d been born into, to feel peacefully free of everything ashore, if only for a brief -moment in time.

Zoom, of course, as well as all the other forms of virtual togetherness in vogue today, constitutes the antithesis of this. Indeed, there’s a cloying, you might even say intrusive, aspect to the whole pile of ‘em. In one way or another, they all manage to always be there, poised to cheerily announce themselves and then promptly entangle you in yet another of society’s ever-critical machinations.

Just this morning, for example, I was minding my own business, sitting at the kitchen table eating a bowl of corn flakes, when BAM! Outta nowhere comes the familiar ding! ding! ding! I’d left my laptop nearby, and it was heralding the first video chat of the day.

Cripes! Do these people ever sleep? Do they never take a break? Am I being targeted by some sort of cabal that wants to digitally socialize me to such a wicked extent that I’ll never know peace again?

Maybe it was just my imagination, but for a moment I swear I heard my old friend’s voice, whispering from the shadows of the bottom bunk.

“Bill,” he said, “why don’t you pack up that laptop of yours and take it for a good long ride on the Betty Jane II. And then, at some appropriate offshore location, with many dozens of fathoms under the keel, just rear back and hurl the dang thing overboard!”

This article originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.