Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bahamas bound: updating blog settings

A quick time-out here from my usual posting format, wherein I tell you where we are and what we've been up to, to do some blog and social media housekeeping.

As I have mentioned here previously, we are getting ready to head offshore to the Bahamas, our first destination outside of the US. As exciting as that is, there has been a great deal of work involved, from provisioning food and beverage (we now have some 100+ beers stowed in our bilge, about half of plan), to taking care of maintenance, to putting our taxes, finances, and insurance in order.

One of the checklist items has been to deal with communications and Internet access once we leave the country. We have a multipart strategy on this front, and I've spent several days lining everything up, then configuring and testing the hardware, software, and web services involved.

We do, of course, have both VHF and SSB marine radios aboard, and so we'll never be out of range of help. And the SSB, on a good day, will even allow us to do some very low-bandwidth text-based email and weather. But otherwise, those radios don't really help us to stay in touch with our family, friends, or extended community here on the 'net. Worse, over the last decade we've become accustomed to, perhaps even reliant upon, Internet access to deliver our weather forecasts, world news, and even troubleshooting information for various systems aboard.

We hope to have Internet access occasionally through marinas or other WiFi hotspots ashore. On our cruise around South America a few years ago we became veterans of public Internet kiosks and storefronts, and we'll take advantage of those when available. But in the Bahamas, we expect to mostly be anchored out, away from WiFi signals or even enough civilization for a kiosk.

Our next option is a cell phone from the local provider in the islands, Batelco. My Sprint smart phone has a slot for a GSM "SIM" card and our first attempt will be to pick up a card at the first Batelco office we pass, and see if that works. If not, we'll likely buy a low-end smartphone from that same store. This should get us limited email and web browsing any time we are in range of one of their cell towers.

Even cell towers are few and far between in a nation of 700 mostly tiny islands spread over some 180,000 square miles of ocean. And so we expect we'll go days or sometimes weeks with no access to a working cell signal.

For those days, we've purchase a satellite device that works on the Iridium global satellite network. Rather than buy a traditional phone handset that would require us to be outdoors in open sky (or to use an external antenna) to make or receive calls, we opted for a newer technology, the Iridium Go device. I won't bore you with the details, as you can just click the link, but we can place this device on the boat deck whenever we need to use it and then use our smartphones to make calls, send and receive text messages, get weather reports, and do very limited browsing from the comfort of our salon.

The very limited bandwidth, along with the high cost of satellite air time, necessitated some changes in our social media strategy. For starters, my trademark overly wordy blog posts will mostly have to wait until we have WiFi, or maybe cellular access, on an occasional basis. If there is something to be said of an urgent nature, we do have the ability to post here via email, but that's clunky and still expensive over satellite.

Fortunately, social media is well-suited to brief, one-way status messages of the sort that are easily sent by satellite. In order to take full advantage of this capability, we've created a Twitter account just for the boat. If you use Twitter, you can follow us there at @my_Vector (anyone can see our tweets; you do not need to open an account).

I've pointed our Spot satellite messenger to this new account, as well as to my personal Facebook page, and Spot "check-in" messages will likely dominate this feed. These messages all look alike, with a url-shortened link to our current GPS position followed by "All is well aboard m/y Vector." Spot's advantage is that I can send as many of these messages as I'd like without additional fees. The disadvantage is that, once set from the web, I can't change the message text; only the position coordinates will change. When it's in use, you can access the recent history of all our Spot position reports here.

We've also set the Iridium device up so we can post tweets to this account. I expect we'll do this whenever we have news to report. These posts do not cross-post to Facebook. I can post to Facebook over the satellite, too, but that requires more air time. So if you want the most up-to-date news of our whereabouts or status, check the Twitter feed. Note that we will not see any replies to tweets until we again have access to a higher bandwidth connection.

In order to avoid duplicate posts, I've disconnected the blog from my personal Twitter feed, @slwelsh. So follow @my_Vector if you want to be notified of blog posts via Twitter.

If all goes well, this post will show up on Twitter and Facebook within a day.


  1. Yikes. My head is spinning. Sounds like you have it all figured out. Never knew going off shore could be so daunting. Have a great trip!

  2. I for one will miss your "wordy" post but you guys have a great time out there and we will wait for your return for a detailed account.

  3. Godspeed and watch out for pirates. Arrrrrrrr


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