You don’t have to use a computer to know that a social network is a structure of connections among people with the same interests, beliefs, or some type of interdependency. The idea of networking was around long before computers became personal. When most of us hear the term “social networking,” our connotation is connected to high-speed Internet; e-mails, blogs, Web sites and especially Facebook. In our quaint little town of five islands, where news is frequently exchanged over coffee at the Cranberry General store, or on the mailboat, or when retrieving mail at either of the island post offices, Facebook has ramped up the efficiency of the island grapevine. The age-old question, “Where did you hear that?” is now often answered with two words, “On Facebook.” People who are still unfamiliar with Facebook (FB) are doing just fine without it. They are the ones who have more time on their hands because they are not checking their computers or smart phones many times a day in search of witty remarks, photos, responses or funny video clips. FB can be quite addictive. Like gossip, you may not want to contribute, but you don’t want to be left out of the loop. Unlike gossip, FB is less malicious, more interesting and frequently quite useful.

On a stormy day, Wendy Rackliff posts FB updates on the Beal and Bunker Ferry page: “3:30 leaving Northeast canceled. Please tell a friend so they don’t end up on the wrong side of the pond…” She also posts biweekly church-boat information, helpful during the off-season when there is otherwise one Sunday trip. The Cranberry Isles Commuter Boat has a page as well, where Mandy Bracy keeps us up to date on any early or late boat cancelations. Hugh and Karen Smallwood are organizing an August 13 music festival on Islesford with bands from Kentucky to Maryland to Maine. Want information? It’s on the Cranberry Fest FB page. These connections keep us in touch with each other and with island residents who don’t live here year-round. We can check on Jeanne Smith in Massachusetts after her knee surgery. We can see Ryan Field’s photos of his move to Sydney, Australia. When friends are going through a rough time, we know right away to keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

With a winter population of roughly 120 people between our two islands, the entertainment factor of “people watching” turns stale pretty fast. Enter Facebook, and the wacky videos that people post. Who wouldn’t want to watch those 18-month-old twins talking animatedly in their own language, or laugh at “Mrs. Brown Gets a Bikini Wax?” When Annie Morse posts the latest wry comment from her four-year-old son, Parker, “… just informed me that when his sister takes ballet lessons he will be taking pirate lessons,” I can call my sister-in-law, Karen, and tell her how much her grandson cracks me up. However, Facebook is not the only social network that that serves this purpose around the Cranberry Isles.

The marine VHF radio, primarily used as a means to contact other ships, harbors or rescue services, is a combined transmitter and receiver system operating on standard international frequencies. The Coast Guard monitors channel 16 24 hours a day, for emergencies. The fishermen and their families monitor channel 72, in a social-networking style that could have fostered FB as its stepchild. While most all of the fishermen carry cell phones for necessary private conversations, they also communicate with each other in brief statements over the VHF radio. Friends who ride bikes together after fishing will say what trails they plan to take, or how many miles they might ride in the park.

In early spring, there is talk of birds showing up:

“Seen any geese yet?”
“Yup. 10 Canada Geese and 12 Brant. I’ve noticed the
sea pigeons changing from their winter color.”
“Tomorrow they’ll have snow on their backs.”
“If I were them I would have held off a little bit.”
“Jeremy saw an osprey, and 10 great blue herons in the big marsh the other day.”

Fishermen report finding each other’s lost gear:

“I found an old pair of your traps. I’ll put ’em aboard and bring ’em into the dock.”
“Anything in ’em to pay you back?”
“About enough for a lobster sandwich.”


“I just found an old trap of yours with no tags in it. It’s in really good shape. When did we start using them (tags)?”
“That must be about 15 years old.”
“I wish my new traps looked that good.”
“Bring ‘er in. We’ll have a resurrection.”

Comments are made about the weather, or the price of lobsters, or when bait is coming in. Anyone know what time it is? Do you think I could still get through the gut? What time is low water? How’re you coming on ’em? (How many more traps do you think you’ll haul?) A comment about the news gives way to the opportunity for a joke:

“Why is the government wasting time trying to decide if the whoopie pie should become the state dessert? I hate all that state bird, state tree stuff. But I did hear a good one on the radio, last week. Did you know they named a new state drink? It’s called the ‘Burnt Trailer.’ It’s made of half Moxie and half Allen’s Coffee Brandy.”

If the fishermen are working hard, or hauling traps in bad weather, you don’t hear a lot of talk. If a boat is in trouble, there is no joking around. It is all serious concern about safety and rescue. But, for the most part, the VHF chatter is comments about the minutiae of everyday life. During the summer months, a myriad of yachters also use channel 72 to contact harbormasters for moorings, discuss weather, and plan picnics or cocktail gatherings. On Facebook, when people share more information than you want to be bothered with, you have the option of removing them from your “friends” list. Their comments are no longer seen on your FB page. Fishermen using VHF radios may have been the first to create the “unfriend” option. When they hear too much unrelated chatter, they move their social network to another frequency.

-Islesford, April 15, 2011