Ocean Communications

Posted on June 3, 2014 in General

Friends, family, and other people following the Great Pacific Race will be looking forward to updates from the crews as they make their way from Monterey to Hawaii. As you are enjoying a blog from the big blue, you might want to spare a thought for the effort that went into getting that post online for your perusal.

First, it’s not always easy to summon up the enthusiasm for blog-writing when you’ve been rowing for 12 hours in every 24, interspersed with mealtimes, boat maintenance, navigation, and as much sleep as you can manage to squeeze in.

Then there can be few things more conducive to seasickness than sitting in a stuffy cabin on a tippy rowboat tapping away on a keyboard.

And then we have the vagaries of satellite communications, as the blogger attempts to upload their update to the internet by connecting their laptop (or iPad, or smartphone) to the satellite phone that is the thin thread of communication between boat and shore. Satphone connections are notoriously unreliable, with satellites moving constantly around the earth, and the rowboat’s antenna tipping from side to side as it rolls with the waves. The bandwidth is minuscule (think of your worst ever dial-up connection and halve it) and the signal will often drop in mid-transmission, so it may take several attempts to upload even a short blog post with a small, low-res photo. Meanwhile, time is also money, each minute of airtime costing around $1.40.

Tweets can be a little easier, as the rower can send them directly by text from the satphone handset (although no smartphone-type texting on a satphone – e.g. to type an “S”, you have to hit the 7 key four times) – but most Twitter apps can’t handle a text directly from a satphone because they don’t recognise the country code “8816”, so in most cases the Tweet you read will have been relayed via a trusty friend ashore.

The handiest tool we are providing to our crews is an iPadio account, which gives them the facility to create a mini radio transmission simply by calling up a number and leaving a voicemail that is then posted to the iPadio website and also to their team pages. For seasick, weary, and/or cash-challenged crews this is definitely a very attractive option. The iPadio tagline is “reach the hard to reach”, which just about sums it up.

So as you are enjoying the updates posted by our intrepid rowers, I hope you will spare a thought for the amount of dedication, determination, labour-of-love and patience-of-saint that went into sending you their latest news. Please show your appreciation by posting a comment offering support, encouragement, and appreciation for their efforts both on the oars and on the keyboard. Humour and jokes are also very welcome, “Row harder!” not so much. :-)

NOTE: If you know the satphone number of a crew, you can send them a message FOR FREE via the Iridium website. Simply go to http://messaging.iridium.com/ and enter their satphone number and a short message of up to 160 characters. The welcome beep of an incoming text can seriously boost flagging morale, so don’t be shy! (But don’t overdo it either – satphones can only store a small number of texts so you may crowd out other vital messages if you send too many).