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2012-02-01

Ionosphere, beware!

I now possess the tools to conquer you!


Yes, I will at some point actually open these boxes. Soon, my precioussss...


Not really, but after some delay and misunderstanding, my SSB gear arrived this morning.

Now all I need is a functional boat, with upright mast and working antenna included, in which to put it. Further purchases, labour and tweaking will be involved.

I may attempt "listening only" from home just to get used to the rhythms of amateur radio coverage and fiddling. I can't transmit (legally) from land (I think) or physically (lack of proper antenna, counterpoise or dummy load), but I think I can LISTEN without breaking the warranty, and I have an existing length of copper I can rig as an antenna. Unlike some devices, RTFM is the operating principle here. I don't know what I don't know about putting together a functional amateur radio aboard a boat, but at least I know I don't know. Much study lies ahead.

The role of SSB radio in modern cruising is quite similar to the role of the sextant or even the windvane (see "GPS and autopilot good; old mechanical things bad"). Why, goes the logic, in the days of  satellite phones, widespread wireless and phones of smartness do you need a RADIO? Isn't that a touch retrograde?

Well, no. I did run the numbers on this, and, more trenchantly I think, saw an SSB rig in full functional use on my Atlantic delivery in 2009, and the ability to send and receive voice and e-mails and receive GRIB files offshore is very, very comforting and useful. So are cruisers' nets. A phone call, even via satellite, is point-to-point. If no one answers, or if "the system's down", you are, to use the sailor's term, S.O.L. A radio might be considerably more finicky and subject to vagaries of tuning, sunspots, the state of the ionosphere and so on, but it's essentially broadcast, meaning any number of people can hear you and in the case of the emergency frequencies, will be actively listening. And you've got a very wide spectrum of frequencies from which to choose. And, for the moment, there is still a worldwide community of shortwave radio broadcasts, so the SSB/shortwave set can be a source of information and even entertainment. And education: I will to some extent rely upon the SSB-mediated SailMail service to communicate my son's high school subjects to and from the Toronto school in which he will have a truly virtual presence.

And Herb H. Let's not forget the extremely useful service rendered to the distance cruising community of Herb and his forecasting kin in giving us the "turn left to avoid cyclone" information that keeps us, for the most part, from being the snack bar at the new artificial reef.

Besides, I have expert friends who look out for me and want to save me money (the crew of Silverheels III in Grenada). I have been told that I can install this myself (I built a CB radio system when I was a teenager, so I'm not completely at sea, so to speak, with most of the concepts and avoid licking the contacts, generally). I have also been told that a boat with a nice, cambered steel deck and a nice, tuned antenna suspended between my twin backstays will likely make me an excellent transceiver.

So, ionosphere, you've been warned. Radio Alchemy will at some point in what I hope is the near future be on the air.











6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great newz re your SSB purchase. We love our 802! Your rear-mountes antenna need not be complex or expensive....some stainless dinghy halyard cable works well with minimum windage. Silverheels III

Rhys said...

Well, trust I will be quizzing you at a distance. I have the stainless 1/4" already. The main deal will involve a redo of the aft cabin to put the bed platform athwartships, freeing up an "office space" where I can fit the control head, leaving the black box close to the tuner mounted on the aft bulkhead (the inner side of the stern), but not so close it will interfere with the tight sleeping space, which is tight in the height and length respects, not in the width.

Not a today problem. Today I'm designing an engine gantry that won't kill me. Physics is fun.

Anonymous said...

Marc, 1/8 inch dia 7x19 stainless will suffice. It doesn't need to be heavy cable. Use an inexpensive (Radioworld) plastic dogbone style insulator at the top end, connecting it to the polyester halyard on the mast. Keep the bottom end 7 ft or so above deck which will keep you from electrocuting crew when you're on the air. We use heavy nylon lawn trimmer mono-filament as an insulated down haul from the bottom of the antenna wire to the rail. I used that stuff in Canada for 15 years and it doesn't degrade in UV.

There are a couple of nifty (pronounced expensive,) wire SSB antenna designs for sale. One design utilizes a parallel wire up the backstay in a plastic sleeve, the other is a copper wire inside the core of a polyester rope. Both are quite dear ($$$)...and present considerable windage; and are completely unnecessary.
Silverheels III

Rhys said...

Ken, I mentioned 1/4 7 x 19 SS wire because I have a roll of it I got some years ago cheaply. I was intended to use it to redo the lifelines on Valiente.

For purposes of weight and windage I could easily halve that to 1/8" x 40 odd-feet. I won't suss it out until the mast is actually up and I reposition my "solar panel bimini", which is current in the way of the split backstay.

The rest of your advice is sound. Mr. Anderson of Standsure wanted me to purchase the Dacron-covered copper wire and several other items, but I prefer to follow your economical and equally effective advice. As far as I can tell, the important part I should not skimp on is the deck gland, a drip loop on the coax to the tuner, and a decent SWR meter so I can figure out if I'm sending as well as I'm receiving.

From everything I've learned, if the antenna is properly made up and of a more-or-less close match in terms of quarter-, half- and full-wave suitability to the frequencies used, I should "boom" pretty well, just because the whole deck is a ground plate.

The lawn trimmer idea is great. I have two topping lifts, so I believe I'm OK raising an antenna and stowing it when conditions require I do so.

It's a nice looking piece of kit, as the Brits say. I'm pawing at the manuals before bedtime...it's better than Sominex.

Bill K said...

I don't know what ham radio is like in Canada, but have you considered taking a class and getting your ham radio license ?

Bill Kelleher

Rhys said...

The requirements are a lot less onerous regarding Morse Code/CW than when I first took an interest 35 years ago when I saw what my friend had to learn just to operate a basic Heathkit rig.

There may be no CW requirement at all currently. I did contact last year some local hams but the guys I was able to reach are quite old and no longer really instructing. I have a few more leads I may pursue before we go, but I am already licensed for the SSB frequencies. As I wish to talk on cruisers' nets, receive GRIB files and do a minor amount of "sail mail", this should suffice initially.

I think if I do my own installation, with some guidance, I would be ready to go farther with it. Right now, with no mast or 12 VDC system aboard, there's no point before I actually install the rig.