Kiribati 36 - The Marine SSB in the cruising life aboard Green Nomad
I have been asked to provide a description of how SSB played an important and enjoyable part in our 10 years of cruising in the Pacific Ocean, period in which we have even spent 3 cyclone seasons out of the main centres of Australia and New Zealand, usually the refuge for cruising sailors during the Southern hemisphere summer.
We cruised on our first boat, a 36ft steel cutter named Green Nomad, from 1996 to 2006, leaving from Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil and cruising along the Brazilian coast to the Caribbean, where we visited Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada, the Grenadines and then Venezuela, Curacao and the San Blas Islands, before crossing the Panama Canal and starting our unforgettable cruise of that ocean that for us embodies all the dreams of freedom and cruising.
The First Green Nomad sailing in New Caledonia
We then made the more or less usual route from Las Perlas in Panama to the Galapagos, then Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas, Manihi in the Tuamotus, Tahiti and the other Society Islands of Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Bora Bora, before crossing to the Vavau group in Tonga. Then to Suva in Fiji and a straight dash to Brisbane, Australia. In this last one we got hit by 3 strong depressions, and had to endure a 24 day trip for the 1600 mile stretch. We hit it in part because we did not have weather fax ( this was a time prior to grib files and pactor, at least for us ).
After some time we left Australia and sailed back East to New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and back down to Kiribati, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. This second part of the cruise lasted 3 years, during which we never went out of the tropical areas, and good weather information was vital for the 3 cyclone seasons we spent there.
When leaving Rio in 1997 we did not have a computer on board, and SSB voice broadcasts were our main tool for weather information and communication. We had regular contact with the radio station at the Rio Yacht Club, and the operator there, Flavio, would call my mother and she would relay our whereabouts to other family members.
These contacts lasted almost all the way to the Marquesas, when big differences in time zone did not allow us to reach them due to propagation.
All the while we used the SSB to keep in touch with other cruisers, and when crossing the Pacific from Galapagos to Marquesas there were regular contacts every 6 hours, but we only used to come twice a day.
Our Furuno SSB tuned to talk to Rio Yacht Club
Getting closer to French Polynesia we could get voice weather broadcasts from Mahina Radio in Tahiti, and from there on we started tuning in to Australian and New Zealand weather services.
I got word of an excellent book, the Metservice Yacht Pack from Bob Mcdavitt, and made a copy ( later on in Australia I made a point of buying it and having the original ). In the back of this book was a reticulated map of the whole Pacific, which enabled one to listen to the voice broadcasts and then plot one's own weather map from them. I made many photocopies of that page and used colour pencils to draw the systems, and comparing them from day to day knew what was happening.
This book also has lots of information on how to get the broadcasts, weather fax etc. I recommend it strongly, because it teaches how to read the weather maps properly, and gives you a very comprehensive knowledge of Pacific weather.
After arriving in Australia we moved into the world of computers, and with that we could receive weather fax and after some time we bought an old Pactor I modem, which we used in conjunction with our Furuno FS 1502 radio to keep in touch via email. But Pactor I was too slow for Grib File reception, so our main tool was then weather fax broadcasts from Honolulu, Australia and New Zealand. We also used a lot Taupo Maritime Radio ( ZLM) voice broadcasts.
With weather fax we practically became self-sufficient for weather, but before that we used some weather nets, like Southbound II in the Caribbean and Russel Radio from New Zealand. It was from Des in Russel Radio that we received support and information during the 1998 storms, when we had to heave to waiting for depressions to pass our path before resuming our way from Fiji to Australia. It was very good to have that person to talk to every day, know if things were going to improve or not. Herb let us know of the abandoning of the Yacht Freya, with a family of 3 airlifted into safety close to North Cape in New Zealand. The events of this storm were the basis for a book by Steve and Linda Dashew, “Surviving the Storm”.
We can say that SSB radio was our main safety link at that time.
And after as well, with the Pacific Streamline Analysis transmitted by Honolulu weather fax letting us know more than 10 days in advance if conditions looked ripe for a cyclone or not. You just had to know the look and feel of a safe or dangerous looking weather map to take action and seek shelter in time.
Then our Pactor I stopped working and we thought our modem was broken, but in fact it was the computer serial port, but we got a new Pactor III modem, and from then on Grib files came to make things even easier. The constant switching from RX to TX that Pactor I made caused our Furuno FS 1502 to burn the output transistors, and we got a new Icom IC-M802, but the Furuno was later fixed and sold.
Now on the second Green Nomad, an aluminum 36 ft swing keel design, we still have the same Pactor III modem and an old Icom IC-M710 RT, which was a gift from my brother Nuno, who had removed it from a boat he sold.
As for the question of satellite comms, Inmarsat or Iridium, they are in a different cost league from what we want. And you don't wake up in the morning and phone your cruising buddies at 0900, one at a time, to find out what they are up to, or email them all and expect answers that same day. It is just not the same thing, you lose a lot of touch with your friends that are cruising in the same area. You may know all your hometown neighbours are doing via their emails or social media, but that is not so relevant to your cruising life and friends.
Of course SSB reception and communication is a bit like wind vane self steering. It is not for everybody, you have to be committed and like to use it to get good results. But when you get it, if feels very good, the use is free and you are making the most of your cruising budget.
We had a good installation and so we had many opportunities to contact marine oriented ham radio operators from places as distant as from New Caledonia to Brazil and the Canary Islands. We even used to help a radio net from Gran Canaria to reach its members when they were in the Pacific area, relaying messages from there to boats sailing on the roaring forties south of New Zealand. We also used our weather fax capability to relay weather information via SSB to other boats, some fitted only with receivers, which would tune in at some times and frequencies and hear our broadcasts.
My brother who is an electronics dealer many times tried to get me started in satellite communications, but I hold on to what is right for our budget and style, and that is SSB.
I do not deny that accessing the net and getting the weather maps directly online is better, but in order to do that you have to increase your fixed costs, and doing that we may not be able to cruise at all. I sell boat designs and my main means of communication is and will be SSB. If someone clicks in contact on our website, the message goes to our sailmail address, so our intention is to be in some remote Pacific Island and be able to check our possible costumers via SSB. And it works. And if it does not work today, it will work tomorrow, and being patient is part of the cruising life, as we all know.
The new Green Nomad in Ilha Grande, Brazil
If you are interested to read more about our time in the Pacific, you can visit our website.
Below are some links links:
Below I paste a compilation I made when cruising the area from 1998 to 2006. Some of the information may be out-dated, so please check for yourself.
Summary of Weather Broadcasts and Weather Fax Transmissions of Interest for the Pacific Ocean, Mainly for the South West Area.
(In Khz , USB - Weather Fax frequencies are already decreased by 1.9 Khz )
Australian Voice Broadcasts
2201, 6507, 8176, 12365, 16546
Australian Weather Fax
5098.1, 11028.1, 13918.1, 20467.1, 5763.1, 7533.1, 10553.1, 15613.1, 18078.1
New Zealand Weather Fax
5085.1, 9457.1, 13548.6, 16338.2
Honolulu Weather Fax
9980.6, 11088.1, 16133.1, 23329.6
Luis Manuel Pinho is a metallurgic engineer and a talented yacht designer. He belongs to the B & G team of designers, being the office's adviser for issues related to metallic building. Luis lives with his wife Marli aboard the Kiribati 36 Green Nomad.
Being connected on-line, either by means of his SSB, or by wi-fi, he lives one of the most interesting types of life we can imagine to exist. The office is proud of having a mate that joins the pleasures of the cruising life with the challenges of yacht design.
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