Raven crew, and lots of other cruisers, have gone high tech. In the olden
days of cruising, boats were wooden, navigation was by the stars, and
comforts were minimal. These days, although some pine for the old days,
everyone uses the US military's Global Positioning System (GPS) with its
instantaneous latitude and longitude, and most have former luxuries like
refrigeration and watermakers. These technologies have become cheaper and
more accessible, so lots more take advantage.
This page covers three technology topics
that are important to us:
if you know Jan, you also knew we'd have a ton of electronic gear aboard!
First of all, websites like
ours are far from rare. Many cruising sailors all over the world, and of
many nationalities, use this flexible method to keep in touch with family and
friends. Some of them are professionally created and maintained, but most
are pretty low tech, handmade jobs like ours. If you want to see how
others do it, this website has a long list of them:
Cruise News: Ships at Sea.
And the Dashews' website (www.setsail.com)
has some of the best logs, photos, and reports from cruisers, as well as
plenty of material about cruising in general.
Tacoma graphics artist friend Jerry Petteys gets full credit for the overall look of our
website. We have gradually added complexity to Jerry's original, clean
design, so if it looks lopsided or crowded that's our fault, not his!
webmaster, is a talented computer engineer from a large company in the
Pacific Northwest and without him we couldn't maintain the website or send
out our email notices of updates. He does a great job of assembling all
the text and photos we email him, using Microsoft FrontPage (plus
his own HTML code) to create new
web pages out of our material. He uses WS_FTP Pro to upload it to
our web host, and then he sends emails to our friends and
family announcing the updates.
Creating New Web Pages
We take lots of digital
photos and store them on our Dell laptop
computer. Every few weeks, Signe or Jan will sit down and write about
recent adventures, emphasizing the the fact that we're having a great
time, of course! Then we'll sort
through all the photos to find the ones that best illustrate our story, or
give the best impression of cruising or the country we're visiting.
When we have a full set of
new web page material ready (photos, text, graphics, email text), Jan 'burns' a
blank CD-R with the whole package -- usually several megabytes -- and
takes it to the nearest internet cafe to email it to Jay. Of course,
there's many a slip twixt the CD and the net, especially in third world
countries, and it can take hours or even days to get the material emailed
properly. Then Jay does his stuff and you hear all about it.
We program our Sony DSC-S75
camera to take photos in a high-resolution mode, 2048x1536 pixels, or about 3
million pixels total for each photo. This compresses down to about 1.3 megabytes
per photo in the JPG format that most websites use, far too large
to expect our friends to download to their computers. So Jan uses Adobe
Photoshop Elements, or Adobe Image Ready to reduce the size and
resolution of the photos for quicker downloading. We've almost given up
taking photos with regular film, because we can order (www.snapfish.com is
our favorite source) as many high-quality prints as we want from our
high-resolution digital files.
Lest you think our website
is technically impressive, it's nothing compared to what some cruisers do.
For example, we cruised in Mexico with several boats crewed by
Seattle-based techies from Microsoft, Onyx, and Real Networks. Those guys
(this includes the equally tech-savvy women) don't need a webmaster a home;
they do it all from internet cafes, FTP-ing their new material, editing
online , and even administering complex databases. Take a look at their
websites, remembering that they do it while cruising in Mexico, Bora Bora,
Rarotonga, and other metropolises! Here are the links:
Radio 'hams' are also known
as amateur radio operators, but that sounds too stuffy. You have to pass a
group of tests decreed by the Federal Communications Commission (or
equivalent in other countries), concerning technical aspects of radio,
regulations, safety, etc. To use the frequency bands that permit
long-distance contacts, you also have
to pass a simple test on receiving Morse Code at five words per minute
(much easier than it sounds). In return, you have access to a global
network of hams who are only too glad to help you in any way possible.
They'll gladly help in emergencies, they pass messages to family, and
they'll even set up a phone call for you via the radio link. It's a
wonderful group of people and they make the cruising life much safer and
more pleasant for the likes of us.
Signe's has a General
license and her call sign is W3IIJ (Whiskey Three India India Juliette) . That's the same call sign her father
-- also a ham for many years before his death -- had, and she's very
pleased to have been granted it. Jan has an Extra license, which allows
him use of all the amateur bands, and his call sign is K7JT (Kilo Seven
Juliette Tango). That's a
'vanity' call sign with his initials.
Email via ham radio is one of the
best things that has happened to make cruising more enjoyable, because we
can keep in touch with our families so much better. our most frequent and
important use of email. Daily, when aboard Raven, we upload and download
email messages via our laptop, the radio transceiver, and a special modem.
In a cruising season, we'll easily send and receive over 500 emails. This
Winlink2000 network is maintained by 25+ hams with stations in all
continents, who dedicate their stations to helping nomads like us stay in
touch. They even provide a host of internet weather reports from around
Cruiser Radio Nets
Cruisers stay in touch with
each other via radio nets of several kinds. For example, all of the
Mexican cruising ports have regular morning local VHF radio nets where all
the cruisers trade information and help each other with problems. For
longer distances, both ham and
marine single sideband nets help us talk with our friends in other boats
up to several thousand miles away. All of the many boats crossing the
Pacific each year have at least eight formal nets to choose from, plus
lots of informal ones among small groups of boats. Many hams in the US and
New Zealand provide valuable tracking services so that families back home
always know where we are and how we're doing.
Electronics and Cruising
The most basic electronic
instrument that every boat really must have is an acoustic depth
sounder. This essential item not only warns you of shallow water, but in
conjunction with the depths listed on the charts it's a great help in
determining your position if other navigation gear breaks down.
But all cruising boats with
sane skippers have GPS receivers aboard, which these days give positions
every few seconds, accurate to within a boat length! GPS positions are now
so good that the charts aren't accurate enough. In Mexico and many of the
Pacific islands, charts are often based on surveys done in sailing ships
during the 19th century! Consequently, every cruiser in his right mind
seasons his GPS positions with lots of salt. Almost everyone carries a
sextant and the tables needed for celestial navigation, but we all hope we
never have to use them.
Another basic is radar.
Raven has a powerful Furuno model 1942 Mark II radar, with a four-foot
open-array antenna (that's the kind with a rotating bar up in the
rigging), plus a backup Sitex RadarPC in a small radome. The Furuno has an
amazing ability to pick out targets with great accuracy, and is a
tremendous help in navigation and avoiding big ships. The Sitex RadarPC
has no display unit. It uses the laptop screen as its display; great
concept and it works well. We can even display the Sitex radar image on
top of an electronic chart. To help ships avoid us, we also
have a transponder that amplifies our image on other radars' screens.
Like many boats, we have a
laptop computer (our fifth Dell PC) aboard, along with charts on CD-ROM.
We also carry the original paper charts, of course, for reasons that
should be clear if your computer has ever suddenly given you the Blue
Screen of Death. No way we'd trust our lives to a PC! Still, having the
charts on the PC screen, with the GPS position plotted electronically, has
changed everyone's navigation habits.
Other major electronic
systems aboard Raven include:
Hercules sailing instruments
& marine transceivers
& ??? VHF transceivers
weather fax receiver
satellite data transceiver
satellite photo receiver
No, we have no interest in
steering Raven by remote control via the internet, as some cynics have
suggested is the next step. In fact, we don't even have an electronic link
between our excellent autopilot and the computers. It's just not safe to
have a computer guiding the boat through possibly dangerous waters. We
insist on having a human brain -- one that's awake, with luck! --
constantly monitoring the weather, position, course, and speed.
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