Weather is an issue that is continuously on a sailor’s mind, especially when there are dark clouds on the horizon. Lately, here at Majuro atoll, we’ve have lots and lots of dark rainy days. You have to close all the hatches and we drop the side curtains around the big outside center cockpit and the result is a damp humid sweltering boat. And while we are inside a lagoon, the lagoon is quite large. The mooring we are on off town is only about 1500 feet from shore but it is in about 125-feet of water. The wind usually blows from the shore side which is east, so we have quite good protection. But when the wind switches around from the usual easterlies to westerlies, we do suddenly have the twenty-plus mile fetch of the entire lagoon and that can make for a very bumpy ride.
A few weeks ago when we had a big nasty storm blow through that switched the winds around to the west, a boat’s mooring broke in the south mooring field. We didn’t have our VHF radio on at the time so we missed all the excitement, we just tossed and turned as our boat hobby-horsed in the swells. The boat that broke loose had his mooring line break well below the surface. He realized he was adrift, started the engine, put it in gear and the trailing mooring line promptly wrapped around his prop and he drifted onto the coral rocky shore. A yacht who runs local fishing charters with a small powerboat tried to pull him off and his boat too got a line wrapped around the prop. Eventually, one of the big net boats off one of the tuna fleet responded to a call for help and the boat was pulled off rocks. Being an older Morgan OI-41, she got off with no hull damage other than scratches, but the owner will have to replace his rudder.
The folks who have been here in Majuro for years are saying that they have not seen weather like this. The wind normally doesn’t switch to the west this much. Who knows if that’s really true, because people tend to think the weather is unique and different when they are tired of it. We humans have short memories when it comes to discomfort. The thing is, I want access to better weather information.
Today we are back out at Eneko on one of the yacht club moorings off the pretty beach, trying again to find a quiet spot with beautiful water. They don’t have the Internet turned on here today, and as I watch the dark clouds gathering, I wish I could get online and check the weather. Also, I don’t know how I will send this blog off to post. I would love to find a connectivity solution that would permit us to get out to the remote locations we love, but allow me to check the weather and to communicate at least via email.
To that end, I’ve been looking closely at the new Iridium GO! satellite device. Because of our location out here in the western Pacific, and our desire to cruise SE Asia in the coming years, the Iridium satellite network is the only one with adequate worldwide coverage for us. Wayne has an Iridium satellite phone that he can connect to his computer to send and receive data allowing him to send emails, and it can pull in some GRIB charts for weather, but last January on our trip down from Fiji, we had lots of difficulty getting connected. We burned through loads of minutes of satellite time just trying to get connected. The big difference with the Iridium GO! is that it offers an unlimited data plan for $125/month (which includes unlimited SMS messages but not phone minutes), and it does not require a contract. You can connect and disconnect your account, but you will pay a $50 reconnect fee each time you restart your account. Since in the future we expect to often make a passage and then stay in a single location during a cyclone season, or to fly back to North America to visit family, it would be nice to be able to stop the monthly fee by suspending the account for a few months.
This device doesn’t make a satellite connection any faster than any other sat phone, and it won’t allow me to go browsing on the Internet looking at web pages. There is a hope in the future for that, though, since Iridium is launching their NEXT satellite in 2015-2017, and when available the Iridium GO! will support 3G data speeds of that new network. However, the GO does create a wifi cloud on your boat allowing one to connect up to five computers or tablets or phones wirelessly. Iridium has two app available for IOS and Android that allow one to send emails, SMS, make phone calls, send messages directly to Facebook and Twitter, etc. directly from a smart phone. As well, they have released a developers’ kit so more apps will be coming. This reviewer on Explorersweb got his hands on a unit, and he had some very positive comments as well as a screen shot of the app interface. Some existing apps on the tablets use data more sparingly and will work on the slow data network the GO provides, and their developers are working to integrate them. For example the app Predict Wind advertises that their website:
The Iridium GO! Integrates with the PredictWind Offshore App
Certified by Iridium
Download and View GRIB files
Run PredictWind Weather Routing
Receive GMDSS forecasts
View Satellite Imagery
Predict Wind also offers a pretty good price package on a unit, and I am interested in their weather subscription services. It’s not cheap, but having access to better weather information is like good anchor gear — I consider it cheap insurance.
Geek that I am I can’t wait to get an Iridium GO! and try it out. I’ll keep you posted when I do. Meanwhile, I’ll go back to glaring at the gray clouds outside and hope that the island turns on the wifi so I can post this blog.