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By Dave and Jaja Martin


The telephone call

Making a telephone call is something most people take for granted. In the privacy and comfort of your own home, it's easy to relax while talking to friends. I know this because I'm living in a house this winter. Multi-tasking is a cinch and it makes me feel really good: "Hey, Look at me! I'm talking to my sister, burning dinner, and stopping my kids from killing each other!"

It's another story trying to make a phone call while cruising. Usually, finding a pay phone that works and getting a call through is no big deal, but sometimes it can be like an extreme sport. Here are some examples of "Extreme Phoning":

1992--The Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

It was 11:30 p.m. We were riding at anchor off Airly Beach, about halfway up Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The wind was blowing and a large chop surged through the anchorage. On board DIRECTION it felt like we were still out in the channel.

We hadn't communicated with family for months and knew it was time to attempt "The Telephone Call".

For some logical reason that I can no longer remember, we had to call at 11:30 p.m. our time to reach family in the States. We decided to go in together as a family. Obviously, living on a small boat with two babies had caused brain damage.

Chris was 3 years old and Holly was 1. I woke the kids and dressed them in sweaters, while Dave brought the 7 foot pram dinghy alongside. During the row in we were continually doused with salt spray. The kids tried to shelter under my shirt. As we approached the beach, Dave popped the dinghy atop a swell, rode the surf in, and we both jumped out. We quickly pulled the dinghy up the beach so the next wave wouldn't poop us.

Light and music spilled from the local pubs as we passed by on our way to the phone booth. It was about a half mile walk. Not too far, but with two tired babies it seemed a long way.

"You make your calls first," offered Dave.

Dave held the flashlight while I dialed. Holly was asleep on my shoulder and I tried to adjust the phone without waking her. I called my sister first. The phone rang four times then: "You have reached 123-4567. Please leave a message at the tone." I hung up. "Answering machine," I told Dave.

Next, I tried my Mom. I let it ring a dozen times before I gave up. "Your turn," I told Dave.

Chris had woken up and was groggily staggering around. Holly was still half asleep on my shoulder. "I want to go home," Chris whined, pulling on my arm.

"Here," I told Chris, "you can hold the flashlight."

Chris ineffectively waved the flashlight; Dave tried to dial his mom's phone number when the light beam streaked by. We waited, but Dave soon hung up. "Answering machine," he said.

"Try your Dad," I suggested hopefully.

"No answer."

Dave hung up. He shouldered Chris and we retraced our steps to the dinghy. Holly woke up briefly when we launched the dinghy through the surf. We rowed back through the swell, tied up the dinghy, put the kids to bed and sighed. It was nearly one o'clock in the morning.

"Should we try it again tomorrow night? Or bag it?" I wondered aloud.

"Let's just write post cards," said Dave.

1999--Arctic Norway.

As I stood in the phone booth I remembered that Aussie phone scenario from long ago. "What was the big deal?" I thought. "At least it was warm."

I was trying to call home. The phone booth was a two mile hike from the boat. Luckily, I had a kick-sled to ride. It glided well over the packed snow on the streets. Even though it was daytime, it was pitch dark because the sun had disappeared for the winter. Snow was blowing horizontally in my face. The blizzard was getting worse. When I reached the phone booth I couldn't open the door; it was wedged shut by drifted snow. I used a combination of my booted foot and the front of the sled to push away enough snow to wedge myself in the crack-like opening. I was thankful that the phone booth was the old-fashioned kind. At least it offered a little protection from the elements. As I dialed I hoped that I wouldn't get the answering machine again. This was the third day in a row I had tried to get through.

When my sister answered the phone, it seemed as though the temperature in the phone booth instantly became tropical. We had much catching up to do. We talked for a long time. After 15 minutes the tropical feelings faded; my hands and feet were numb. After 30 minutes I had little feeling left in my extremities and I began to shake. But I was having such a good time talking I didn't want to hang up. After 45 minutes I had to say goodbye. I was shaking uncontrollably, my mouth was hardly working, and I was worried I wouldn't be able to ride my sled home. I was chilled to the core, but it had been worth it. It was great to hear from family.

I tried to open the phone booth door, but the snow had drifted up again while I was chatting. It was pinned shut. It was the kind of door that accordions to a V-shape as it hinges open. The snow had filled the area where it V's. As I worked the door back and forth trying to escape, I imagined the headlines: "Tourist Dies of Hypothermia While Trapped in Phone Booth".

Little by little the snow compressed and the door opened enough for me to slip out. I warmed up as I kicked my sled home, but when I entered the warmth of DRIVER's cabin I began to shake again. Why was I so cold, now that I was in the heated boat? I took off my wool mittens and put my hands on Dave's back.

"Oh my God!" he exclaimed. "Your hands feel like ice cubes!"


In Newfoundland Dave and I bought a cell phone. "This will be great," we thought. "We can call from the warmth of our own floating home!" Unfortunately, the marina where we lived was in a hollow, behind a ridge. At high tide we could get a signal for our phone, but only if we stood outside on deck. At low tide we couldn't use our phone at all.

I would tell our friends: "If you can't get through, just wait 6 hours till the tide comes up!"

As the weather got colder, our outdoor phone conversations became shorter. We consoled ourselves: "Think of how much money we're saving!".


When we returned to the U.S.A. last summer, we reasoned that phone calls would be easier. "No huge time zone problems, no foreign exchanges."

In Damariscotta, Maine, I had several phone calls to make. I found a phone at the gas station on Route 1 and made my first call. I punched in the 800 number on the pre-paid phone card, then the 12 digit pin number, then the 11 digit phone number. "Hello!" I yelled. "What? I can't hear you." An eighteen wheeler was barreling through town. When it passed I resumed my conversation. "What? Hang on." A truck was backing up: "Beep, Beep, Beep". After that, a generator went on in the garage workshop. I gave up. "Call you back later," I said.

One day, when I was driving through the public parking lot behind Main Street I found It. There It stood, in the far corner over by the launching ramp. The Perfect Phone. Not only was it off the main road, and away from all noise, but it also had a million dollar view. A waterfront phone. I parked the car and quietly walked over to it. Would it be broken? I picked up the receiver and heard the music of a strong dial tone. As I began to dial, the first black cloud covered the sun. When the downpour hit, I hung up and retreated to the car.

If there is an afterlife I would like to have a serious FACE TO FACE conversation with Mr. A. Bell.

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