Eventually the GPS receiver module became so small that it
could be incorporated into a host of dual-use devices and
connected to onboard PCs via USB.
years had passed since I had seen John O’Keefe, New
Hampshire restaurateur and crazy sailor. We used to call
him “No Reef O’Keefe” because of his unwillingness to
shorten sail no matter how strong the wind. On the ride
we caught up on each other’s lives. Unlike many of us at
his age, O’Keefe was not ready for the switch to a trawler.
No Reef hadn’t changed a bit.
To the point, I credit O’Keefe for helping me grasp the
significance of new technology in general and GPS in
particular. Back in the mid-1990s we were sitting at the
bar of his pub as I listened skeptically to his plans to sail
Fiddlers Green from New England to Ireland. I, with my
recent course in celestial navigation, asked him whether
he had any idea how to use a sextant and how could he
consider an Atlantic crossing without such knowledge.
No big deal, he replied. He had thrown some money
at the problem. He had purchased three of those new
Garmin handheld GPS receivers and a mess of batteries.
Two of the Garmins would be stowed in Tupperware
containers with batteries in ziplock bags; those were his
backups. No Reef crossed to Europe all right, not once,
but twice. After one of those passages, I recall him telling
me that he had run out of food, which I thought odd for
a guy in the restaurant industry. O’Keefe might have been
hungry for a while, but he was never lost.
O’Keefe’s adventures brought me to a moment of
clarity. His Atlantic voyages were not unique. He was
taking part in a trend. Crossing oceans was no longer
the purview of supersailors, those wizards of seamanship
and navigation. Thanks to GPS, all kinds of ordinary
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