Michael Frankel sent us this report on offshore communica-tions issues from the Millennium’s First Sail, an around-the-world yacht rally:
“I am the net controller on a twice-daily schedule of HF/SSB contacts among our fleet of 30 boats that are sometimes spread over 1,000 miles of ocean. On the 3,000-mile passage between the Galápagos and the Marquesas, I noticed a great deal of variation in signal quality among various types of SSB units in our fleet. There does not seem to be any correlation between signal quality and brand type. I suspect it’s all the quality of installation.
“It is critical to ensure good quality of antenna installation. For example, I greatly improved our signal when I replaced a section of copper foil connected to the engine that had become corroded by saltwater splashing from a leaking raw-water pump.
“I selected an Inmarsat-C unit for this trip. More than half the fleet has the C units, another third has M, and one boat has Iridium. During the approximately 30° of overlap in the Atlantic-West and Pacific satellite footprints, several M users experienced difficulties. The C users, I included, have had 100 percent reliability in all weather conditions and boat motion from Florida to Tahiti.
“My boat and another vessel have DSC-VHF radios manufactured by Ross Engineering. We frequently use the DSC hailing, automatic position polling, and scrambling features. With the Ross radios, you can monitor any channel and have the DSC features working by automatically transferring the called radio to the caller’s channel. Although this is supposed to be required operations on commercial vessels by IMO as of Feb. 1999, so far no freighter has responded.
“For me, e-mail by Inmarsat has revolutionized long ocean passages. It ranks right up there with GPS. I have never been so happy communicating with the world through the Internet while far out at sea. Too many of the past articles have focused on the cost-per-minute or cost-per-character of these systems. Not enough has been said about safety messages, news broadcasts, family peace of mind, and other psychicrewards of instant communications.”