July 10, 2008 – Thursday – Using a Sat Phone to Update the Website 101

By Toni Carrell

An important part of this project is sharing it with you, our friends, colleagues, supporters and interested visitors. The big problem when working offshore is getting internet access. Our live aboard has just about every amenity, but internet access is not one of them. That requires a special broadband uplink that can track the geostationary necklace of satellites that encircle the Earth. That is also a very expensive piece of equipment well beyond our budget or that of Explorer Ventures. The only alternative was to rent a sat phone. Reporters use them all the time in far-flung places; so how hard could it be?

When we called Outfitter Satellite Inc. and explained what we were trying to do, they said “Sure, no problem. We have just the right unit, a World Explorer 1000. It’s small and lightweight and we’ve had great success using it.” The only hitch they could foresee would be to keep the satellite communications box aimed in the right direction on a pitching and rocking boat. We thought about this for a little while but Ronnie Veerkamp and I decided between the two of us we could figure it out. So we ordered up the unit and while we were waiting to leave the marina we fired it up.

Ronnie Veerkamp (left)and Toni Carrell(right)using the satellite communications on the bow of the Turks and Caicos Explorer II

Well, it was definitely a case that we had absolutely no clue what we were doing. The instructions were only good up to a point. As soon as we opened the program (after loading a handful of drivers) it asked for a password. Was there a password anywhere to be found? Nope. Could we call the company? Nope, it was the 4th of July and we had no means to call an 800 number from outside the US.

So we sat there and tried to suss it out. The default log in was “Admin” – so after trying the usual “password” and “guest” as passwords, we tried “admin” and we were past the first hurdle. Actually the directions took us right along from that point, but we again hit a wall when trying to log on from the scratch card to the internet. (The scratch card is just what it sounds like, it has a hidden number you get when you scratch off the ink and that number is your log in key. I won’t tell you how long it took me to figure that out, it’s too embarrassing.)

The World Explorer 1000 from Outfitter Satellite Inc.

Anyway, logging on required we keep the com box pointed in the proper direction and at the right angle. It wasn’t until today that we were successful in that aspect. We placed the com box on one of our drawing slates with a compass and Ronnie kept it pointed at the right direction while I tried to log on. She then acted as a “human gimbal” to keep it level. The next stumbling block was the web. Because the connection is somewhat slow, compared to your local DSL or broadband connection, we had to select a “home page” that was not php driven (that’s web talk for the language that some web pages are written in). We tried several alternatives, but finally hit on a solution to go to Google.com and although we couldn’t connect all the way, we could then go to our Admin side for our SlaveShipTrouvadore.com website. A few clicks later, we had uploaded several of our logs. So in hindsight, it wasn’t all that hard, but then the boat wasn’t rocking and rolling. We’ll see what happens when we get to East Caicos.

Post Script: If you’ve been following our daily log, you will know that the World Explorer 1000 unit worked great even off rocking East Caicos. Despite our fumbling around, we were able to log on and update the diary. We greatly appreciate the help from Outfitters Satellite and our trusty sat phone.