Branch Office

In 2001, I was in the midst of closing a major transaction at work. A necessary step was obtaining the board of directors’ approval. The chairman of the board was off sailing in Maine, aboard his Sabre 38, so he went to the v-berth and ran the meeting via cellphone from there. The connection was patchy, and the engine noise somewhat intrusive, but we got the job done.

Back then, mobile technology was not as widespread or advanced as it is now. I never imagined that I would find myself living aboard my own Sabre for six months, much less needing to take care of personal or professional business while doing so. But neither my sabbatical at sea nor many weekends of sailing this summer would have been possible without those capabilities.
When I first started imagining sailing away, it was at a time when phone and email technologies were clunky at best, laptop computers were delicate and expensive, and the concept of managing life online was a fantasy. The reality, in 2013-14, was far more streamlined and efficient.

Although our nav station often resembled a tangle of wires, cables, and chargers, as a practical matter, the amount of equipment we used was fairly modest: a laptop computer, WiFi hotspot, smartphone, and portable printer (which was never used). The amount of office supplies I kept aboard fit inside a plastic shoebox. With this gear, I was able to organize photos, blog, pay bills, review and respond to mail and email, manage our finances, and surf the web.

While in the Bahamas, getting adequate bandwidth could be very challenging. In fact, the places where “free” WiFi was offered were often the ones with the greatest difficulty, since everyone wanted a piece of that action. Rick sometimes ran the hotspot up the mast in a tote with a halyard to get a better signal. On one desperate occasion, I got up at 2:30 a.m. (with the hope that I would be sharing the bandwidth with fewer moochers) to take care of some business.

Once back in the U.S., it was much easier to access the Internet. In fact, the day after we crossed back to Florida, Rick drove the boat up the ICW while I positively binged for a few hours, not only paying bills and writing a blog post on the fly, but booking a foreign vacation. I may not have been ready for full-on civilization, but re-connecting with the world was a treat.

I was hardly ready to give up the cruising lifestyle when I went back to work, so weekends on the boat were precious. For better or worse, though, my services were in demand when I came back – and not just during the week. Rather than forego weekend cruises, I just packed my boat office along with me. Like that chairman of the board all those years ago, I participated in conference calls, reviewed and drafted documents, and pushed my work forward without anyone being wise to the fact that I was somewhere in the wilds of the Chesapeake.

I’ve seen a lot of boats with names like Branch Office, allowing those owners to pretend they’re heading out to do business when they are playing hooky. Who can blame them! I, on the other hand, have set up my boat to allow me to wedge some work in when I am trying to play. Though I don’t love being tethered to the office, technology allows me more play time than I would have had, so I consider it a win.

by Eva Hill