Sometimes…..it’s just not!

I’m still working on getting our SSB radio set up. When we first started on this project we kept hearing people say “get your communications in place 6 months before you leave”. Seemed a bit excessive to us then.

It’s not.

So after we got the radio installed, we wanted to get the pactor modem upgraded from a 2 to a 3. It’s usually a simple software upgrade-except for ours, it had to also have some physical upgrades too. So our modem went on a journey to see the great guys a Farrallon electronics in California and a few weeks later came back all refreshed and ready to work.

So, I’m all-here we go….ready to send an email via the radio…..just set up the Winlink software and connect all the cables between the computer, modem, and radio and hit send. Easy.

It’s not.

Right on the Winlink website, they state that they intentionally don’t make the set up “Internet easy”. Good job guys, mission accomplished! I did get the programs downloaded and an account set up, and I even got it to work via the internet. Not really the goal, but baby-steps. But no matter what I tried I could not get the whole system to work via the radio. The problem seemed to be that the computer/modem was not telling the radio which frequencies to transmit and receive on. God knows where I was sending my transmissions to (sorry). One frustrating weekend later, I think I have not one, but two problems.

First problem, most modems only need one cable. Ours, the PTC IIe, needs two. The second one is to select the channel on the radio from the computer. Ding-ding-ding exactly my problem. Fine, buy another specialty cable. Oh, and another USB to serial adapter cable for the specialty cable. Because it’s not so special that it actually works right on its own.

Second problem, so I am supposed to be able to program the radio without this not-so-special-cable manually. I know how to do that on the radio, no problem. I program the receive frequency. OK. I program the transmit frequency. Can’t. I tried over and over, different frequencies- just won’t program. I start to get this funny little feeling, so I try to program several of the HAM net frequencies. No go. Uh-oh. Long story short, when we purchased the radio we thought (were told) it was opened up for use on the HAM frequencies.

It’s not.

Ok, fine, just find a local radio shop and get it opened up. Easy.

Oh, of course, it’s not!

I know that someone with any experience at all could have figured out my issues in a matter of minutes, but then I wouldn’t have read, and reread (and reread) the manual. Or watch the youtube videos over and over trying to see what I missed. I wouldn’t have been googling how other sailors set up their systems. And I wouldn’t have gained the tiny bit of knowledge and confidence that I have gained in the past few frustrating days. So it’s a good thing–and I’m just going to keep telling myself that.

Needles to say, this one is not checked off the list yet.

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Where were we ONE year ago: Splurge!

SSB Radio Number Three

Weather access and communication are topics that Keith and I have been wrestling with for the past three years. Our first stab at it was a tiny handheld katio ssb receiver, but during our first Bahama shake down cruise we found it to be nearly worthless, we were never able to hear a full weather report on it. We had to use our friends little grundig. Back to the drawing board. We hit the the boat shows, forums, and web only to walk away more confused. A ssb transiever with modem was an obvious solution but the price–ouch. Add in the fact that the whole concept is a bit intimidating and we just shied away from this option. Instead we bought another portable ssb receiver and an ipad app to download weather faxes and we also decided that we could add a satellite phone later. Done. Checked off the list.

Or maybe not. The closer we get to casting off and the more been-there-done-that cruisers we meet, the more we realized that we really wanted a real ssb. So this past weekend it was our main focus at the SSCA Gam. Went straight over to the radio guys table, $4200.00 for the icom m802 ssb complete set up. Um…….Nope. Still, we went to the Winlink seminar on using your ham/ssb radio to send and receive emails from anywhere-no internet required. (Emails don’t just mean saying “Hi” to other boats or friends and family ashore, they are how you get printed forecasts, weather faxes, and weather grib files.) Things that make you rethink and actually consider spending over $4000.00.

By Sunday we committed to purchasing a radio, just not one of the show packages. (If you know us, you know we kinda like to get a deal.) We hit the internet distributors, eBay, and craigslist in search. No luck. This morning Keith called Zach at Duys Marine Electronics in Cape Canaveral. We knew him the yacht club many years ago and he even remembered us. It turns out he had an icom 710 with remote display, the tuner, and all the accessories-$1100.00 for the package. This was sounding good. Keith went down to the shop and asked if he had a pactor 2/3 modem too. Yep, and he threw it in “to sweeten the deal” What!? That’s several hundred dollars, $1200.00 new. Done deal.

So, this was the happy surprise I came home to see on the settee tonight. Another score by Keith.

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Thank goodness we got the remote head, I didn’t realize just how BIG the components were.