"OCEAN COMMS ARE A MIXED BLESSING."
-- Roz Savage
I had (still have) mixed feelings about technology. I was a whisker away from doing the Indian Ocean the old-fashioned way - simply setting out from harbour and being incommunicado until I arrived (or didn't) at my destination. There are several reasons I wimped out:
- celestial navigation is REALLY difficult from the deck of a tiny, tippy rowboat
- coast guards don't like it
- my mother wouldn't like it
- the main point of my voyages was to raise environmental awareness, which requires communication
- and as the saying goes, an expedition without a report is just a holiday
So, for better or worse, I stayed in the 21st century.
This is what I took on the Pacific Ocean... Please bear in mind, my information is probably out of date by now, so please take the trouble to find out the latest developments in satellite communications technology.
1. What technology do you take with you?
Panasonic Toughbook CF-Y5
Panasonic Toughbook 19
Communications while at sea:
Iridium 9555 (first satellite phone, for voice and data calls)
Iridium 9505a (second satellite phone)
Iridium 9500 (third satellite phone)
External antenna, with patch antenna and handheld antenna as spares
iPod x 6 with many, many sets of earbuds - even the "waterproof" ones succumb
Fusion waterproof stereo
Speakers x 4 (by West Marine – 2 in cockpit, 2 in cabin)
Sanyo Xacti handheld video cameras – 1 waterproof, 1 HD and waterproof
Pentax Optio WP waterproof camera
QMemory Mobile Disk Elite USB external hard drive (160GB)
Sandisk Cruzer Titanium U3 USB Flash drive (1 x 4GB)
Sandisk Cruzer Mini USB Flash drive (1 x 1GB)
Toshiba Compact Flash cards (5 x 16GB, 1 x 8GB)
SDHC QMEMORY Secure Digital cards (7 x 4GB, 2 x 2GB)
Emergency data storage:
3 x iPod (60GB + 60GB + 8GB = 128GB)
To put this in perspective, this is roughly the equivalent of more than 3 miles of shelved books, or 25,000 trees made into paper and printed. I’m glad I don’t have to carry those on my boat…
2. In terms of blogging, video content etc, how did you do this? what systems did you use? any tips with regards to this?
For the Atlantic I used Contact 3 by HumanEdgeTech.com, which runs on a PDA. Pros: PDA is small and light, and more comfortable to use as you can lie on your bunk while you tap out your blog with the stylus. Cons: when I used it, if you lost the satphone connection part way through a transmission you had to go back to the start again. This issue may have been addressed in subsequent releases, but it’s worth checking. If you’re going to upload anything more than plain text and a low-res photo, then it can get really frustrating if you have to go through multiple attempts.
It is possible to upload video, but it’s not easy. To upload 30 seconds of low res video takes at least half an hour – and often much, much longer if you lose the satphone signal. For Pacific II, I created an intro, outro, and a short clip for each week while I was still on dry land. This gave us a shell into which my video editor could insert the short update that I sent each week from the ocean. This worked quite well, but it was still a labour of love to record, edit, and upload the video update each week.
Podcasts are much easier, especially if you have a co-host on dry land who deals with all the recording and editing side of it. Then all you have to do is dial in and talk. Much easier, quicker and cheaper than video.
Tweeting from a satphone is relatively easy. The satphone handset technology is antiquated compared with most mobile phones, so it’s rather laborious to compose the Tweet as an SMS, but then it’s just a few seconds to upload it, and there are many Twitter apps that allow you to post updates via SMS. Quite an effective way to keep people abreast of your latest news.
There are systems (e.g. Fleet) that allow much greater bandwidth by running 3 satphone lines in parallel. But these systems are prohibitively large, heavy, and very expensive. And the call costs are much greater too, as you’re essentially multiplying your cost per minute by 3, i.e. around $1.50 per minute x 3. It adds up quickly. Even just using a single phone line, my satphone bill is typically $10,000 for a 100 day crossing.
3. Music system/iPod – how did you set this up on board?
I have trashed more stereo systems and amplifiers than I care to remember, which really bothers my eco-conscience. Fusion’s stereo allows you to insert your iPod (with adapters for different models of iPod), and it lasted better than most. When that failed I used an Aquapac iPod bag with waterproof earbuds. It’s worth taking at least a couple of these. And lots of other Aquapacs in various sizes. They’re invaluable!