While stuck in the marina, not being able to do much on the engine room at night, thought I'd do something useful:
Here's is a summary of my findings on means of doing email, receiving weather information, service providers (mostly), that I trawled through. It was hard to pick and chose as I was limited by my computer systems: an old windows 98 labtop (which still runs well and is robust) and a brand new Mac Powerbook. HF will probably be the best and cheapest means of long range communications for the Kuna in the long term but a fast and simple solution was to get an Iridium satellite phone for voice and email. It has the advantage of going with you in case of an emergency though does not let you tune in to get the weatherfax and is NOT cheap! All up a compromise.
Software for the Mac
To be over and done with the Mac topic: Marine Software for Mac is currently being developed actively (charting and email compression software) and even Garmin had their own developers working on “Bobcat” to upload and download GPS data, waypoint, routes, etc.. Useful is all you have is a Mac
http://www.globalmarinenet.net provides a good summary and links of what is available for Mac, and provides the only compression software existing for Mac at this stage (Maxgate, the Mac version of Xgate), though Ed Wilgoose from MailASail is currently developing one.
I am only using the Garmin software on the Mac but seriously considered buying a copy of MacENC (electronic charting for Mac, because it also enables to read grib files (please see further for grib). But no chance of finding the charts for free so far except for the US coast (available from NOAA website
Windows and Hardware
So back to Windows: why am I still on using a windows 98 computer ? Though old, it is robust and also has a SERIAL port. Most more recent computer do not have a serial port anymore and although USB to serial adapters are available, one has to get careful advice on which one to purchase to maintain proper communication when connecting either GPS or Iridium phone to the computer. The installation of a standard windows 19200 kbps modem was sufficient for the iridium and it worked both through the COM1 serial port or the COM4 (USB port equipped with a serial to USB adapter containing a “Prolific” chip, as advized by one of the Iridium email providers. Having the USB port working for the phone enables me to run C-Map with the GPS permanently plugged into the serial port. Nowadays, there are GPS which are specially designed to connect to the labtop via USB but some do not seem to talk to C-Map.
About setting up an Iridium phone for email
1/ First, get a phone. Don’t get it on ebay unless you are absolutely sure of the source and ABSOLUTELY don’t get it from Indonesia. A lot of American reliable ebay stores provide phones for a good price (1100 to 1300 US$) but most are reluctant to send the phone over to Oz due to phones disappearing through customs.
If you are in Australia managing a business in remote area, you may be able to get a 900$ government subsidy for the phone but, BEWARE, the subsidy often ties you up to also buy airtime/plan with the retailer providing the phone and the saving made with the subsidy quickly vanishes. Submit subsidy application early too!
If you want to do email, you’ll need to get a Data Kit for the Iridium. Make sure the data kit corresponds to the phone model you bought (9500, 9505, 9505A), as they are different. The phone capabilities differences between the three phones are minute.
1a/Once you’ve got a phone, get a SIM card. This does not have to be from the same provider as the phone provider (although it often makes it easier as they set up the phone for you). Once getting a SIM, you activate it (by paying then pay for airtime!). Watch SIM activation fee and deactivation delays as they can be quite high!
2/ Get some Airtime. Avoid phone plans, they cost a mint, especially Telstra’s! It is possible to buy some prepaid time, which means 50, 100, 500 minutes to spend over a given period of time (example: 500 minute for 12 months). This proved to be the best approach Kuna’s needs. Iridium airtime is charged in 20 second blocks, but certain Iridium providers charge a minimum of a minute. Currently, with a 500min/12month prepaid airtime , the Iridium minute costs about 1.50$US. The cheapest airtime I found was from a US company called Global Comm (620$US for 500 minutes) but it looked like they were charging 1$ per iridium sms so sms usage is restricted!
3/ Get an internet provider
Like on land, Internet Providers for sat phone email charge a monthly fee gives you access to one or several email addresses/accounts for sending/receiving messages. Filters and forwarding capabilities do vary. Most prefer that you buy Iridium airtime with them, though it is not compulsory, so you can negociate to get more competitive price on airtime. Most also sell an email compression software to improve the transfer time on the very slow Iridium data link.
Here are the main few providers I looked into, ranked. All had very good technical support and offer very similar services
2/This is the provider I ended up selecting:
AST (Applied Satellite Technology)
Wright Technologies Limited in New Zealand.
The Software ASTMail is free and was the only one to install successfully on my OLD win 98, so my choice was done for me! AST mail is just another name for AmosConnect but is not found as freeware on the web. AST also sells their own compression software called ZAP email.
The installation and connection work well, provided one has 5 bars (full signal) on the iridium handset (hard on a moving yacht, and mast antenna, extra 500$ is recommended!) I use the little car Antenna through a hatch but have to be patient. The dial up AST server is located in Holland and works well. Andrew Wilson was excellent support and also showed how to install a connection to the Iridium internet server, to then reach email on the AST server via internet.
The main constraint of the system is that I had to purchase AIRTIME through AST, for the email software to work. It turns out rather costly because the minimum fee is 1 minute but most email connections last no more than 40 seconds. So I have to line up a large pile of emails to make the most of my minute. I did not manage to send and receive a grib weather file within the one connection because AST closes the connection as soon as there is a gap in the receiving. The trick for that is to schedule grib weather reports or use the alternative internet connection which lets you decide when to stop, but that connection proved definitely slower.
1/MailASail: Overall best compromise
tel: +44 20 70432832
Based in the UK, Ed Wildgoose ( Ed Wildgoose <firstname.lastname@example.org>) was extremely helpful but the “Express mail” compression software (included in the package) did not install on my Win 98 computer and he had not released the Mac version yet when I had to get started.
Express Mail works whether you are on Satellite connection or on land with any form of internet connection. It basically compresses your emails and saves you $. The internet provider fee is reasonable about 25 AUD/ months and includes a blog with position mapping and email updates, which other providers make you pay for the as GMN (GlobalMarineNet). The prepaid airtime fee was also reasonable, specially because connections are charged in 20sec block, mo minimum fee, so if email is quick, it’s cheap!
MailAsail server also sends an sms to your iridium phone (free) to notify you of the arrival of mail so you do not connect for nothing.
3/GMN more expensive option but good for Mac users
They were quite competitive with the internet provider fee though you have to buy the Xgate compression software for an extra 60$ and any other extra service such as weather and blog also do cost. They do not support windows 98 anymore and I was not game enough to try connect the Iridium to the Mac because of reported issues.
Saying this, Luis Soltero was an extremely helpful guy (<email@example.com> or firstname.lastname@example.org>) for dealing with technical issues and they ARE the best for Mac. If you need a package deal (sat phone and airtime and internet), their prices are quite competitive. They were also prepared to negociate competitive prepaid airtime price. server also sends an sms to your iridium phone (free) to notify you of the arrival of mail so you do not connect for nothing.
(p) +1 805 534 1425
(f) +1 805 534 9502
American. Their monthly fee was rather high, 30 or 35$$/month for a individual but the service for a group of people for several separate emails adresses was reasonable. Support was also good.
That’s it for tonight! More on weather gribs tomorrow...