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Barry's Blog #90 - The quest for Internet data

A B Sea

Back in July 2016, when we were still living in Queensland, Australia and I came up with this crazy idea of buying a yacht and sailing the world, if you had asked me to name the one thing that I thought would be our highest priority when living on board, I might have said accessing diesel or fresh water or maybe coping with wild weather. But the simple truth is that the thing which challenges us the most is being able to access the Internet.

Since beginning our journey it has undoubtedly been the most time consuming and sometimes frustrating challenge to overcome. It was even challenging when we were land based in Javea in Spain, from December 2017 to April 2018.

The more exasperating thing is that even now, in July 2019 as I write this blog, while we are still in the modern and civilised Mediterranean area, getting access to a reasonably priced data-only sim sometimes proves quite difficult.

Of course there are the language barriers in the various countries we visit which can lead to some confused looks as we try to convey the idea that phone calls and text messages are not required, it's just the data we're after. We can only imagine how difficult it will be getting Internet data access once we sail away from Europe.

But I'm getting ahead of myself again, I'll talk more about Internet data later in this blog.

The wind - Our friend and our nemesis

Obviously living on a sail boat means that we can use the wind to travel from place to place. That of course assumes the wind is blowing in the right direction and is blowing enough, but not too much.

It has been said of the Mediterranean wind, that it either blows too little, too much or is right on the nose. In our short time as liveaboards we have found this to be true and we also recently discovered exactly what is meant when our chart says 'strong gusts' on any particular coastline we may be considering anchoring off.

The anchor is finally set

The big bay on the Greek island of Lipsi is where we dropped anchor hoping to be able to buy a sim card for Internet access from somewhere in the main town that's situated there. It took a couple of goes to get our anchor set but once it was in and we swam over it to check it was secure, we were happy that A B Sea wasn't going to be budging as long as the wind didn't shift.

As the sun set the winds gods decided to get playful and the aforementioned 'strong gusts' became apparent. The main problem with gusts off the land is that they generally don't always come from one direction which means that A B Sea was swinging in quite a large arc around her anchor.

At one point during the night the wind swung around 180 degrees and we heard and felt our anchor unhook from her sandy hold. Fortunately the Mantus anchor is designed in such a way that it will generally reset and dig in within a few metres, which it thankfully did. But that few metres and few moments seems to last a lifetime when you're laying in bed, suddenly awake and waiting for the anchor dragging alarm to go off if we move past a preset distance. Luckily that night the alarm didn't go off, but from that point on there was no chance of any real sleep.

The first reason is because my brain was now on high alert waiting for another anchor reset or drag, the second reason was because the wind shift had now placed A B Sea side on to the small but steady swell that was entering the bay from the west. That meant we were in for a very rolly night.

At first light we both got up and checked the wind prediction websites. There was no indication that things were going to change for the better so we decided to relocate to a more protected anchorage just 2 nautical miles to the south.

But first we needed to go to town in our quest for a sim card.

Your mission should you choose to accept it…

Aannsha stayed on board to prepare A B Sea for immediate departure once I returned from town. The dinghy ride over was a bit wet because the previously calm bay was being whipped into a jumbled mess of small waves by the increasing wind.

After tying the dinghy off at the quay I walked to the shop where I'd been reliably informed that I could indeed buy a Cosmote sim card. The lady behind the counter happily sold me a sim for 5 Euros (AU$8) and an extra 30 Euros (AU$48) of credit.

Thinking that I'd successfully completed my mission with some ease, I went back to A B Sea. My little inner voice said "You'd better activate that now to be sure it works." And this time I did listen to the little voice, but the whole process was not as simple as it was explained in the instructions, which actually came in Greek and English. The wind was picking up, the boat was all over the place and we were only going around the corner, so if there was a problem, it wasn't too far to come back. I decided I'd activate it when we got to the new anchorage. So we upped anchor and left.

No phone signal

As the next anchorage was only 2 nautical miles we decided to motor there, plus with the wind now blowing up to 30 knots we didn't want to be buggering around with sails for such a short trip.

Moving to a more protected anchorage

The new anchorage was beautiful. Well protected, very calm water and somehow the wind seemed to be lessened by its passage over the hills of the island. At least we were going to get a good night's sleep here.

After we dropped anchor and put the boat to bed I set about trying to get the sim card activated ready to install the 30 Euros of credit. It was frustrating for several reasons. Firstly the mobile phone signal was very poor and kept dropping in and out. Secondly I couldn't access the suggested webpage to activate the credit, the page simply did not show up.

We decided to sleep on the problem and tackle it the next day.

Delaila's Bar

The following morning we took the dinghy over to Delaila's Bar, at the head of the bay we were anchored in, hoping to get a better mobile phone signal or at the very least hook into the bar's free wireless Internet to see if we could access the elusive webpage to activate the credit.

A friendly young Greek guy served us two cold beers and gave us the wireless password. As we sipped our beers and tried this and that without success he noticed our obvious frustration and came over to ask if we needed any help. As luck would have it he had previously worked for a Greek telecom company and he was happy to take over the troublesome process.

We were the only customers in the bar so he had plenty of time on his hands. About 15 minutes later he came back with not so good news. It turns out that the lady in the shop had sold me a Cosmote phone sim, which was now activated. But she'd then sold me 30 Euros of credit for a Cosmote data sim and the two things were incompatible.

If in doubt, go snorkelling.

This meant a trip into town which was a 30 minute walk up and over the hill and that wasn't going to happen today because it was after midday and the shop would be closed until 5.00pm. Slightly disappointed but at least glad that we now had a full understanding of our problem we went back to A B Sea for lunch and an afternoon of snorkelling.

Over the hill and far away

The next day after a great night's sleep we were up early and ready for our walk into town. We very sensibly took bottled water and started out at 8.30am to avoid the midday heat. As we walked we made a plan to ask first at the post office to see if they could sell us a Cosmote data sim, we figured that there was a better chance of having someone there who spoke some English to smooth the transaction.

However our hike was for nought and our hopes were dashed as we got to the post office and found it closed, even though it was a Monday morning. Asking a lady at a nearby restaurant/bar what time it opened, she explained that today was a fiesta and most places in town were closed.

Post office closed for fiesta

After a refreshing cold beer for me and a fortifying coffee for Aannsha we walked back over the hill and headed back to the boat.

Back at Delaila's Bar, where we'd tied up our dinghy, we saw the young waiter who had previously helped us and he asked us if we'd managed to sort things out. After listening to our story he suggested that when we go back into town on Tuesday that we should buy a Cosmote What's Up sim as it has good coverage all around Greece and they have some great prices on data too.

A result and away we go

Tuesday morning and we were once again back in town where I managed to buy a Cosmote What's Up sim plus another 30 Euros of credit to go with it. We activated this one while we were still in town and it worked perfectly. The only downside is that the What's Up sim caters to a younger demographic and is heavily slanted towards phone and text messages but it does offer some good data deals every now and then. This solution would have to do until we could find an island where we could buy a Cosmote data sim and finally activate that first 30 Euros of credit we'd bought. We just hoped there was no 'use by' date on the coupon code.

Back on board A B Sea we upped anchor and headed south and slightly east to the Greek island of Leros to continue our quest for Internet data.

To watch the video that accompanies this blog click here.

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