Communications will change!

The Iridium satellite phone is in Richmond, BC, just south of Vancouver. It should make it by Thursday. Now, given the winds with the current storm (Environment Canada has a gale warning—winds of up to 60mph—posted through tomorrow morning) we might not get it for another day or so.

Over the next couple of days, we will be testing various features of WordPress in conjunction with the Iridium, so that we can keep the blog up to date after we round Cape Caution and cell coverage gets much more spotty. Formatting will not be up to our usual standards, and there will likely be a good bit of editing after you see it in your email, if you’ve subscribed. Also, you will see a new link to a location tracker, driven by the satellite service. I don’t know how frequently it will update, but I’m planning for at least four times a day.

Also, let us know through Walt’s personal email if you would like our Iridium phone number and email. You will normally want to text us and have us pick up email from our gmail box or call you back. We’ll send instructions for how to do this free. If you happen to have only Lorelette’s email, contact her for mine.

When we are on satellite, we can communicate, but it will be slow. Data, even text data which can be highly compressed, maxes out at well less than 500 characters/second. That’s 2.4 thousand bits/second (kbits). A really slow modem, back in the 1980s (remember Compuserve?) was 9.6 kbits, and it was 56 kbits in AOL days in the 1990s. So don’t expect long posts with lots of pictures. Lorelette’s post of last night totals out at about 600 kBytes, which means it would have taken about a half hour to send by Iridium. Now, we’ve got unlimited data, unlimited texts, and 150 minutes of phone on the plan we are using, but unlimited data at 2.4 kbits is actually 32 Mbytes per month—about 15 seconds of Netflix. The other limitation is that while Iridium’s constellation of 66 satellites covers the entire earth 24-7, that coverage is only real if you have horizon-to-horizon visibility of those birds. If we are deep in a fjord (think Indian Arm, Princess Louisa, or a great deal of the terrain we will encounter from now on on this trip), we may have only 10-15 minutes of connection every few hours. So if we don’t get back to you in a timely way, we may just be limited in coverage.

If you want to find us in something like real time and we are (as we will be) out of land station coverage, your best bet is to use the satellite service at marinetraffic.com. A lot of satellites have AIS receivers that connect to services like Marine Traffic, so they aren’t bound by the normal rules of internet and VHF coverage. They do have the same limitation in fjords that Iridium (which is one of the sources for Marine Traffic) does—it doesn’t work if there are no birds that can see us. It’s free for a one week trial if you need it.

Well, enough tech for the moment.

—Walt

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