Friday, April 6, 2012

What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
By Michael

Here I am using our handy new deck/anchor wash
system to spray the krill off me after cleaning
the hull and prop.
I posted last week about the Puddle Jumpers, a nickname for those cruisers currently making their way across the Pacific Ocean from the Americas. Most of them check in daily on one of a few nets set up for folks voyaging under sail in this region. For these nets (and hundreds like them), folks transmit over high frequency radio bands.

Our friends aboard Convivia and Wondertime check in nightly (0200 Greenwich Mean Time aka Zulu Time aka UTC) on the Pacific Puddle Jump Net at the single sideband (SSB) frequencies of 8294/8297 KHz. This means that anyone within thousands of miles of them
with a shortwave radio can tune in and perhaps listen to the transmissions and even talk to vessels underway.

Many cruising boats (including ours) have these radios and use them for long-distance communications with other boats and shore-based stations, for obtaining weather and news, and for sending short emails using special modems and software. These radios are large, appear complicated (to me), use a huge antennae (most sailboats run one up the mast or use their standing rigging as an antennae), and require a lot of power to transmit.

But it is pretty cool to listen to these transmissions (or to the BBC, for example). The sound quality is sometimes surprisingly good, but usually hissy and crackly with high-pitched squeals in the background—like tuning a 1920s tube radio to hear one of President Roosevelt’s fireside chats. In our modern age where I can walk down the street of any big city with my iPhone and enjoy a crystal clear conversation with someone on the other side of the planet, shortwave radio communication is quaint—and fundamentally unchanged since World War II. But these radios (including both the HAM and SSB bands) remain  a dominant means for communications on the high seas (though it is probably only a matter of time and price declines before satellite internet access usurps them).
I recorded Sara of Wondertime checking in the other night on her way across the Pacific. If this 90-second recording from a little boat about 1,000 miles out to sea doesn’t excite you, you may not be cut out for cruising. Enjoy (following this is a transcription).

Sara: This is Wondertime, how do you copy us, over.

Net Controller: You are right next door, literally. Go ahead.

Sara: Roger that, I figure we’d come in okay. Okay, it’s, uh, oh two hundred Zulu, Wondertime, whiskey-delta-foxtrot-five-eight-four-eight. We’re at zero six degrees, three three minutes north, one two four degrees, two two minutes west. We’re steering two two two true. Our speed is four decimal five knots. We have, uh, northeast one five knots of wind. Uh, we have a northeast three meter swell, six zero percent cloud cover and our bar is at one zero zero seven and that’s steady. How copy, over.
The Icom M710 is aboard Del Viento.

Net Controller: Oh, you were so loud and clear. Okay, I’ll read back to you. At zero two hundred zulu, Wondertime was at zero six degrees, three three minutes north, uh, one two four degrees , two two minutes west. Uh, two two two degrees true, speed four point five knots. We’ve got northeast wind at fifteen knots, northeast swell three meters, the cloud cover, uh, sixty percent, and barometer one zero zero seven millibars, sounds familiar. How did you get that, any corrections?

Sara: Nope, you got it. Uh, all is well on board and, uh, we have no traffic.

Net Controller: Okay, roger that. Well blaze away, we’re right behind you. I’ll break with you and go to Convivia…


Windy (reflected) is in charge of the radio aboard Del Viento. She obtained
her HAM radio license before leaving so we could transmit on
those bands if we wanted (though no HAM license is required for SSB).

1 comment:

  1. Oh you guys! Michael and I had a blast listening to that audio! Now that the trip is over it's like it went flying by... how can 26 days be over so quickly?? I hope your trip to San Diego is going well, be sure to enjoy some Thai food when you get there for us! We miss you all so much!!


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