Sods Law for Navigators part 8
by Jules Salter
You never know how much you miss Inmarsat’s Fleet Broadband until it has gone. Here Jules navigator Salter talks through the challenges of having to return to fax in a world of satellite communication.
The frustration onboard is compounded by the fact that Ericsson 4 is currently sailing in the wider global spot beam of the I3 satellite and is currently only able to get voice and Sat C for location. It is expected that they will clear this in the next few hours.
We have known for a while that there were going to be some communications problems on this whopper of a leg due to the global satellite reorganisation upgrade which is taking place for the first 10 days of the leg.
Such is life...just another Volvo sailor moaning you say. We now can't use our back up Fleet 33 units. These are slower for download - (think dial up CompuServe connection circa '98) and get most of what we need -all you need is a bit more patience. We are currently sailing in a wedge of the west Pacific roughly over Micronesia, which does not get Fleet 33 spot beam coverage, which means that we can't get data via the Fleet 33. The data I am talking about are GRIB files (wind speed and data information our computers use to work out the fastest routes to take), weather maps from expert forecasters, satellite photos and other information we use to help us guess where to position our boats.
Sods law of course dictates that we are in the 100nm or so before we enter the first light and fickle doldrum belt on this voyage. So no weather info other than some general met area text descriptions, our onboard satellite receiver (5 a day if lucky) and much to the amusement of those of a certain age on board, I have got the old school weather fax running. With our T&T radio set we can get weather maps from the sky as sent out at the US taxpayers expense from Hawaii, amongst other places.
Reception is not digital but there is a pleasure in receiving a slightly blurred weather map from the airwaves as you hear the tone come in over the SSB radio. You have to tune the unit, look up a schedule, set up the software and also make sure no one has accedentally pulled the plug out of the backstay antenna as they take a leak off the back of the yacht.
Whether it will help us maintain our slender lead through the first doldrum area is a moot point. As much information as possible is always good to base your decisions on but so often with these bubbling, light wind, cloudy weather situations a large amount of good luck will be more important.
Still it was good to revisit old technology for a while as we become ever too complacent on so much newer technology we (me especially) do not understand.
Volvo Ocean Race