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Old 12-07-2010, 00:09   #16
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I sailed from the US to NZ via the Caribbean and Panama in the last 2.5 years and had the following setup:

SSB/Tuner and Pactor III with Sailmail. (Insulated Backstay)
VHF (2)
Laptop

I couldn't afford an Iridium phone and thought they were not economical as I had no intention of using one to "call home".

One of the things I REALLY like with the SSB is that almost everyone else out there had one and we could all keep in touch with the various nets that we set up, particularly on the longer voyages. Some of my closer cruising buddies also had our own private nets where we would tune in and chat at a set time and frequency each day and on the longer passages I REALLY liked this.
Others had Iridium phone and used them to connect with their HOME bases but no-one I know used them for ship to ship communication. Just too expensive.

I used the SSB/Pactor/Sailmail/Saildocs arrangement for weather. Grib files were an enormous help and weather info was readily shared and discussed by everyone most every day. The Airmail program used for both Sailmail and Winlink is awesome and has LOADS of great weather stuff built into it.

Hope that helps!!

Michael
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Old 12-07-2010, 07:34   #17
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Comm / Nav system design, layout, and installation....

Salty,
A few things I forgot to mention regarding communications gear, etc. (and general electronics).....
It is the wiring/installation, commissioning/programing, and system design, layout and set-up, that all combine to make things work properly (and efficiently!!!)....

In addition to being a radio nut, having spent the past 25+ years owning/operating my own electronics firm, give me an advantage here....

1) BUT, if you take your time, draw things out beforehand, "plan" the system, and follow proper procedures, you'll find that in addition to things all working very well and efficiently (integrated AND/OR independently), you'll have a friendly and ergonomically designed system.....


2) Secondly, make sure you allow for ease of access to your comm / nav gear.....to allow for proper installation, as well as maintenance, and repairs at sea.....
(I designed my set-up with hinge-down panels, etc. and plenty of room...)


3) Third, make sure you design-in room for future growth / future equipment / etc.....
Even with my current set-up, I have room in the panels for a PACTOR modem, another radio, and an Iridium phone bracket......should I ever desire to add those items....
And, plenty of room for an AIS transponder, satellite radio, INMARSAT C gear, etc...should I decide on those as well....
(I'd probably use a "Ram" mount/bracket for the monitor, for an INMARSAT-C terminal...)



I hope this helps...

John
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Old 12-07-2010, 08:04   #18
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Hi all. There is a lot here to digest on this thread and I am going through the posts of the last day not only reading the fine details but also looking at the reference sites of everyone to derive additional information. I'm going to try and post back a summary opinion based on everyones contribution to my original question within the next day or so.

In the meantime, please feel free to continue the conversation or contributions. This has been an extremely helpful read so far.

Thanks

SaltyMonkey
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Old 12-07-2010, 08:28   #19
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I agree with John/ka4wja. If I implied one need have a Pactor modem for wefax or Navtex I apologize. I was not sufficiently clear. My point was that if you DO have a Pactor modem than those things are available immediately with no additional equipment or configuration.

With all due respect to Evans and Beth, to the best of my knowledge, they made a choice based on their research and chose a sat phone. That works for them. Most opinions from most cruisers are based on choices they have made and whether that choice worked for them. There are few (John and I are among the few) who have used both and certainly have had the opportunity to use both on a significant passage.

I absolutely agree that an unlocked quad-band GSM phone is the way to go for voice calls when island hopping and accepting dead time on long passages. From Florida to Bahamas the "dead-time" is a few hours. If you are a coastal US sailor running the ICW with some coastal hops and jumping to the Bahamas and even into the Caribbean you will be fine with cell and wifi. JVCOMM and a simple connection of an SSB receiver to your laptop is fine.

Upshot: I have used both sat-phones and HF, voice and data, sometimes side-by-side, and fine HF SSB to be the way to go. YMMV.
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Old 12-07-2010, 10:34   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SaltyMonkey
The grounding plates are indeed expensive and I believe two are needed.
I don't think anyone else has addressed this yet, so I will. There is absolutely no need for grounding plates! Most especially not on a metal boat, which I believe is what you are contemplating. On a metal boat your entire hull is your ground.

On a fiberglass boat you can usually get a fine RF ground simply by running a piece of relatively cheap copper strap to the nearest bronze through-hull. If that doesn't seem to do it then several wires spread around your boat will work. Getting an acceptable RF ground is not nearly as difficult as some people make it out to be.

Usually, those who say you MUST do this or you CANNOT do that, as far as RF grounding, are either simply misinformed, or are radio "nuts" who are trying to get the absolute best ground possible. You do not need "the absolute best ground possible" in order to communicate quite effectively over great distances. If you start thinking to yourself that this RF grounding stuff is way too complicated then step back, take a deep breath, and search on this forum for some of the postings by btrayfors wherein he describes a variety of cheap and easy ways to establish a very effective ground.
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Old 12-07-2010, 11:56   #21
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Originally Posted by Auspicious View Post
With all due respect to Evans and Beth, to the best of my knowledge, they made a choice based on their research and chose a sat phone. That works for them. Most opinions from most cruisers are based on choices they have made and whether that choice worked for them. There are few (John and I are among the few) who have used both and certainly have had the opportunity to use both on a significant passage.
We have been round the world twice . . . once with an SSB (ICOM 710) and the second time with an iridium . . . we vastly prefer the iridium.
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Old 12-07-2010, 13:35   #22
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We have been round the world twice . . . once with an SSB (ICOM 710) and the second time with an iridium . . . we vastly prefer the iridium.
I stand corrected. I don't understand why your experience is so very different from mine. I'm quite happy with my SSB installation and find the time associated with passing traffic (voice or e-mail) and dealing with weather is shorter with SSB than Iridium. I respect your experience but my own is different, including side-by-side experience.
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Old 12-07-2010, 13:48   #23
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Auspicious, I believe estarzinger has a compelling reason to not have an SSB or HAM besides the cost. For one, they may have felt the constant and available communication would distract from their ability to enjoy the cruise rather than detach themselves into a world of tweaking and geeking a bunch of radio equipment. Moreover, it would distract from paying attention and developing skills to what is going around them.

I feel the same way about stereos on a boat. Playing music onboard distracts from my ability to hear and feel what is going on at sea - weather / sea conditions as well as sea life and other boats.
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Old 12-07-2010, 14:02   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SaltyMonkey View Post
Auspicious, I believe estarzinger has a compelling reason to not have an SSB or HAM besides the cost. For one, they may have felt the constant and available communication would distract from their ability to enjoy the cruise rather than detach themselves into a world of tweaking and geeking a bunch of radio equipment. Moreover, it would distract from paying attention and developing skills to what is going around them.
I'm not sure what you intend to say. My personal experience is different from Evans. I still respect his experience and competence. I hope he respects mine, although I clearly don't have the miles under my keel that he does. My personal experience is that I spend less time at the nav station with HF/SSB than I do with sat phones. There are many variables in a comparison that are difficult to pin down.

With no question I am more comfortable crossing oceans with HF radio than with sat phones. Clearly Evans feels differently. Each of us puts our money--and or lives--where our mouths are.
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Old 12-07-2010, 14:29   #25
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No worries!

Quote:
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If I implied one need have a Pactor modem for wefax or Navtex I apologize.
Dave,
No worries here.....it was NOT your words that I was refering to.....
It was just that myth among cruisers, where many assmune that GRIBS are the "be all, end all" of weather info/forecasts.....and quite a few not even knowing about WeFax (or Navtex)......

I just wanted to b sure Salty understood that if he needs to economize (such as doing without a PACTOR modem), he CAN do that, and still get the finest ("worldwide gold standard") weather data / forecasts for FREE, via WeFax, etc....


On a side note, since I do not have a PACTOR modem, and hence do not use Winlink (or Sailmail), it was just this past year that I learned that you can get wefax charts (from NWS/NOAA forecasters) from saildocs, etc....
Prior to that, I had wrongly assumed that everyone using a PACTOR modem to access weather info/forecasts were using GRIBs exclusively.....
So, chalk that one up to the "learn something new each day" column..


Fair winds.

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Old 12-07-2010, 14:50   #26
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many assmune that GRIBS are the "be all, end all" of weather info/forecasts.....and quite a few not even knowing about WeFax (or Navtex)......
Indeed. In fact, even those who didn't pass freshman calculus should be able to understand that the models that generate gribs don't display artifacts we care about, like fronts.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ka4wja View Post
I just wanted to b sure Salty understood that if he needs to economize (such as doing without a PACTOR modem), he CAN do that, and still get the finest ("worldwide gold standard") weather data / forecasts for FREE, via WeFax, etc....
Absolutely agree. My point was only that you can get wefax and Navtex directly through a Pactor modem without having to download them as e-mail. Accordingly one gets the best weather information without overloading the shared resource of e-mail over either HF radio or sat-phone.

I think we are in agreement.
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Old 12-07-2010, 14:55   #27
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auspicious mentioned winmor but didn't elaborate...

i've been using winmor with great success as a connection to winlink. maybe it'll be different when i get away from the US, but at this point i don't feel like i need to spend a grand or more on pactor.

i'd be curious to know if others feel differently or have more experience, but i'm guessing that the days when pactor was a necessity for onboard email are either over or soon will be.
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Old 12-07-2010, 15:06   #28
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kb79 - interesting kb. My sentiments exactly. I'd like to know more about this option as seems to me a kludgy modem is sooo 1980's and $$$$
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Old 12-07-2010, 15:14   #29
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I stand corrected. I don't understand why your experience is so very different from mine.
It's very probable that our communication needs are quite different, which leads to different preferences.

We (especially Beth) do want to talk pretty frequently with our families from very remote places (where there are no cell towers or cybercafes) and we really don't want to talk (on the radio or sat phone) to other cruisers. Salt does capture a bit of this with his comments about us . . . we did not enjoy the schedules the nets put in our day (without the nets our day is completely ours), and I did not like the fact that on passage they made me more competitive (wanting to make more miles/day than the next guy), and we do sort of like making landfall and having it be a surprise rather than already knowing everyone there.

We (and especially Beth) does need a level of 'business capable' e-mail in order to deal with her magazine articles. This means being able to send/receive from anywhere and anytime somewhat longer documents. We found that a bit difficult by radio - with propagation issues and sailmail under capacity - by Iridium it's a snap.

We have spent quite a bit of time in the high latitudes and there are distinctive propagation issues above 60 degrees. Basically you can not get weather from an HF radio reliably along for example the NW passage. It's something to do with the atmosphere that you would probably understand better than I do.

In emergencies we like the fact that with iridium we can speed dial directly to the USCG SAR duty officer's desk or directly to an MD - using the iridium's own battery and antenna (in case the boat has been rolled, dis-masted and filled with water). I think that's much more useful than the HF potential to get other vessels.

In my experience, the radio guys are emotionally involved in the communication process and tend to feel a need to say their solution is best, while the Iridium guys just want a 'switch it on and go' solution and just say it works for them. We are clearly in the later camp. Obviously the best solution is to have both . . . but from a cost perspective I had to choose one or the other.

I have great respect for the Hams and their commitment to their hobby and its skills . . . I am just more interested in sailing to hard and remote places and have not had/taken the time to 'learn radios'.
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Old 12-07-2010, 15:21   #30
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i spent $100 on a singalink interface (supposedly winmor connections can be made using your computer's sound card, but you need to somehow activate the radio's PTT button. it can be done without signalink, but wasn't worth saving $100 to me to figure out). i'm using RMS express, and all i've gotta do is tune to the appropriate channel, and i can connect pretty reliably to winlink, sans pactor.

i'm admittedly no expert, but here's my $.02:

- you need a HAM license which is a small barrier to entry. it's easy to get though... i studied for about 10 days.
- winmor's supposedly slower than pactor. so far it's been plenty fast enough for me, but maybe i've just been lucky. i've found speeds are fast enough to request and receive weather tifs in about 10 to 30 minutes.
- i understand that the connection is less reliable. again, it's been working fine for me and frankly (unless you're working remotely while cruising), i don't see why you can't go a day or two without email if propagation conditions aren't great.
- for the $1k you're saving, you can get a sat phone too with a limited use package and have the best of both worlds

as others have pointed out, you can get wefaxs without pactor and without winlink. in my opinion, weather data is all you really "need", and email's just a nice to have. having a free (or close to it) option like winmor is a compromise that works for me.

i'm not bringing a satphone. if i had gobs of money it'd be a no-brainer but there are other, higher priority items on my list. the other thing no one's mentioned is a phone patch. it's obviously nowhere near as easy or convenient as having your own personal phone on board, but in an emergency you've got a good chance of being able to use a phone patch to call friends or family without having to use a satphone.
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