Bringing The World With Us--Virtually

At 9 degrees 30 minutes south latitude, 116 degrees 47 minutes west longitude, we are 1,318 nautical miles from land. Nothing but open ocean for more than two weeks; not a freighter, airplane or any sign of life besides the flying fish, dolphins and whales that roam these remote latitudes. The avocados my husband, Achim, and I picked weeks earlier in the Marquesas Islands are all ripening simultaneously. What more perfect time to write my sister for her guacamole recipe? And, by the way, how did she enjoy ''Angela's Ashes"?

For more than eight years Achim and I have lived aboard our steel-hulled, double-masted sail ketch, Pangaea. Because we are linked to the wider world by a Pactor II radio modem, our location has become irrelevant when it comes to keeping in touch, making us part of a new breed of world travelers: technomads.

Some traditional sailors shun the use of communications technology on board. "If you're going to be so tied to civilization," they ask, "why leave it at all?" But I'm not a misanthrope or a hermit. I go crazy on secluded anchorages for more than a few days, and connectivity has yet to make a romantic South Seas sunset less special to us.

Going wireless was an evolutionary process. In 1993, before our first Atlantic crossing, high tech meant rowing to land with our laptop and finding Europe's southernmost telephone booth in the Canary Islands to send a fax via an acoustic coupler. Locals on the island of Hierro stuck their noses into the telephone booth, wide-eyed, watching us perform our electronic magic. By 1998 we could remain at our chart table while sending and receiving e-mail. That same year, we took the link a step further and created the first radio-updated Web site, pangaea.to. My husband's parents in Hamburg and mine in Los Angeles could now view the mola textiles I traded for my beads with the Kuna Indians in Panama that very afternoon.

When I transmit our daily longitude and latitude update via e-mail to two dozen friends and family members, and they in turn forward it to several more of our acquaintances, I imagine the recipients sinking pushpins in wall maps all over the world. If they stopped hearing from us, our faithful readers would forward our last position to search-and-rescue authorities. During our first "wired" voyage, Pangaea sprang a leak where the rudder and hull intersect, and we had to make a choice between Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica for an emergency repair. Readers, who were "virtually" on board with us, offered advice regarding overhaul facilities and the present political situation in these volatile countries. Finding out that carnival was scheduled that week in Jamaica contributed to our decision: the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club in Kingston would be our best bet for an immediate dry-docking, accompanied by calypso and reggae music.

We found that the keyboard was mightier than the sword when we developed a political Web site regarding French Polynesian immigration law while moored in the remote Anaho Bay in the Marquesas. Officials were using decrees dating from 1939 to demand thousands of dollars from arriving sailors as a repatriation bond. Thanks to our Web site, word spread to the cruising community, and the crews of 25 European yachts supported us with a joint petition of protest. We caught the attention of the European Commission in Brussels, which forced French Polynesia to update its entry procedures for European citizens.

Safety and politics aside, the Internet serves as an emotional lifeline when we are far away from land. The connection we feel with family, friends and other Web-site readers boosts our morale and makes the adventure more manageable.

"Sometime between 0400 and 2200 UTC last night, halfway between Galapagos and the Marquesas Islands, Lulu fell overboard. My eyes can barely see the keyboard, they are so red from crying. The computer, the cabin, the movement, everything makes me sick and sad right now."

Minutes after I sent those painful lines, our friends and family members, as well as the hundreds of people who were following our Pacific crossing via the Pangaea Web site, received the sad news that our beautiful tabby kitten had fallen overboard. During the next days, we downloaded many touching messages of condolence, love and letting go. Nothing could have been more comforting for us as we sailed with the southeasterly trade winds toward the Marquesas, still weeks away. By the time our anchors were set in the Bay of Atuona, we were able to share the much happier news that a new crew member was growing inside me.

Later that summer we headed for Hawaii and found a cozy place on the windward shore of Oahu to receive our daughter into this world. We look forward to the day when we can share more of the far reaches of this wonderful planet with her, and, of course, anyone else who cares to sail with us... virtually.