11 June, 2012

Satellite Phones and Software - Iridium 9555

Being able to communicate any time and anywhere is a very reassuring thing especially if one is way out on the blue ocean. Sailor of old left dispatches at the last port hoping that another vessel would pick them up and deliver to the destination before they reached their home port. With the invention of the radio it improved the communication although the radio operator on the Titanic did not get through to save the passengers and did go down with the ship. 

The development of the SSB radio again improved the communications between ship and shore but more importantly between ship and ship especially the different nets that have sprung up around the world as yachts start to gather in different places. I enjoyed the Med Net on 8122Mhz every morning while sailing in the Mediterranean. It formed a sort of sailing community indifferent locations. 

The advent of sailmail and the ability to send and receive emails via a ground station and your SSB with a pactor modem again took a large step forward in assisting the communications loop.
With the advent of the satellites and the addition of the Sat phone the communications improved one big step for yachties and mankind. The cost of using the service as is, is very high, so one turns to technology to assist you save a buck or two. Here is where the fun starts. Compression technology is old hat both on disks, phone lines and over the airwaves so developing some software to communicate using a sat phone should be a simple task standing on the shoulders of others in the open source environment.

Just do a search of the web and you are inundated with entries from just one company. It offers a range of tantalising software on various platforms dominated of course by windows but also includes Linux. Well download the software and try and install it according to the obscure reference in the install manual and all you get is an icon on your Linux desktop! X marks the spot for nothing to happen. It wont load using the standard install process. Contact the support help desk and you get initially an email to read the manual and then told to use some outdated installer given away more than three years ago. When challenged why not use a more appropriate modern install all you get it read the manual and a picture of the X software running on a 2008 platform on a virtual machine as the Root user. Well what can one say. Get real and if this is the level of support one gets from a vendor think what it will be like when you really have a problem and your hard earned money is ticking away each second. 

ON THE OTHER HAND an alternative vendor who U all know because it has been around since Adam does respond immediately even on a Sunday night with good advice. So after a few commands and a removal of some offending software the Linux installation of the communication software under Linux works just fine and I can download a GRIB file, send a SMS and email to anyone, any where and any time. 
While I'm still not ecstatic I am now more secure using my Linux Ubuntu in foreign countries sitting in Internet caf├ęs or sending unsecured messages to the web using software and an operating system not often used by the spammers and hackers of the world because of its in built security.

05 June, 2012

Malua's Proposed Route 2012

After the initial dash eastwards during the first year Malua has been cruising Westward.  It is now time to cross the Atlantic.  I have got a great crew together.  We will set off from the Canaries during the second of third week of November before the rabble of the ARC spread across the sea.  Below is the proposed route weather permitting.

More Power to Malua - D400 Wind Generator

While Malua relies on wind to sail to her destinations there is not always sufficient to make the trip either pleasant or safe so we turn to the iron spinnaker – the Yanmar 50 HP engine.  To start it one need power in the form of a starter battery which I always keep well charged.  On the other hand the house batteries are being depleted every hour we are sailing.  I found while sailing in the Pacific where the trips are much longer that on the second day just when the crew was getting tired the power in the main battery bank was down to about 60% - the level they should be charged so the Master engineer switched on the engine to charge the battery and everybody's sleep is disrupted not a good situation.

After returning from cruising in the Pacific I installed an additional 400ah of batteries and separated the electronics from the motor units from the place they dray their power. Motors make a noise on the radio and disturbed the electronic such as chart plotters so separation was the order of the day.  Malua now has two (three with starter battery) banks totalling 1000 amp hours.  Clearly sufficient to drive all the electrics and electronic goodies on the vessel.
Over time the energy does however get used and the batteries have to be recharged.  I have in the past relied on a purpose build 13 HP Kupota diesel engine with a 150 amp Leese Nenille DC alternator.  Now that can charge the batteries through an smart regulator in a few hours.  Because it is independent of the main engine it can fulfill other functions like make water and heat the shower water while not putting extra hours on the main engine.

In addition I have two sets of 75 watt Siemens solar panels generating energy when the sun is shining but as any one knows in the Tropics the sun doesn't always shine and at night the batteries get no charge.  The answer to this problem my friends is a wind generator.  After reading numerous blogs and books the bottom line comment on this source of energy is great, free but very very noisey.  I must say having been in a anchorage down wind of some wind generators I agree.

HOWEVER the technology has advanced and the design of the wind blades has also come a long way.  In the early days to keep the cost down they had two, then three and even four blades.  The one I have chosen has five blades.
The D400 from Eclectic Energy.  I actually purchased it from Electricsonboard a hands-on supplier because they supply a rather sophisticated dual output smart regulator and dump resistor.  They are going to deliver the unit to Malua in France at the start of July.  After years of research both via the web and standing down wind of any types of generator I found to my pleasure the D400 made very little if any noise in moderate and high wind situations.  This freedom from noise comes at a cost (doesn't everything good) That of Pounds and weight.  The later being 17kg which puts it at the top of the tree on both counts.

The challenge now is to design a tower or pole for Malua and have it made in France.  I have emailed three stainless steel manufactures in French asking if they can make my design.  So far no response.  So my next move is to arrive with a fist full of euros (getting bigger every day) and get them to do the job in three weeks.  The design is below but that is only the physically visible side.  The major work is in the wiring and set-up to integrate into my current charging and selection system.  I enjoy that challenge and have created a fail safe regime for all four charging sources able to manually charge the three battery banks.  I don't like electronic switches which have the ability to fail when least wanted and burn some component out.  With this system if I switch the wrong switch I will immediately see the puff of smoke when the second line of defence fails.  Hopefully never.

Now I only need Malua, water and some wind.