Preparation: Communications

Soutpiel Safari
John & Jenny
Fri 29 Oct 2010 21:38
Unlike in our sailing life, we took the view that we would not find sources of WiFi very often. Whilst sailing on the east coast of the USA and Canada, we regularly find unsecured WiFi signals that we can access with our RV/marine WiFi antenna, even in relatively remote anchorages.  Bottom-feeding, they call it! We thought it unlikely that we would find similar sources in West Africa but we have installed the marine WiFi antenna on the Land Rover with a folding mount, so we shall just have to see what we can pick up.
On the boat, we have an email option that connects over the HF radio through a special modem.  This allows us to receive and send emails practically anywhere for a fixed fee of $250 a year, but a similar installation for the Land Rover is not really a practical proposition. However, through the generosity of my sons, we now have an Iridium satellite phone and we propose to use this for sending short email reports to a blog site on a daily basis, as well as using it for urgent voice, SMS and email communications.  We have installed a marine antenna on the roof of the Land Rover so that we can use the phone from the vehicle without getting out, and this of course means we can have it switched on all day, especially as we are not limited by power in the vehicle, unlike on the boat.  The problems that have arisen are in setting up the phone and laptops for email transmission.
Being mariners we were aware of Mailasail and their position in Sat Phone technology and communication software.  After consulting sailing friends who are using Mailasail's services. we elected to open a Mailasail account and to use their Web Dairy services, utilising also their email compression software and Sat Phone connection software.  That was the easy bit!  Mailasail recommended that we should upgrade our laptops from Windows Vista to Windows 7 as the latter operating system allows much more economical transmission of emails over a Sat Phone connection. They emphasised this by describing Vista as "crap" software, which encouraged us to make the change!  Not wishing to risk converting both laptops, we purchased a small netbook computer already installed with Windows 7 and, with a great deal of help from Mailasail staff, we did mange to set up the phone for email transmission, but it took the best part of a day to do so and incurred a huge phone bill.
We then decided to upgrade the operating system on Jenny's laptop and this is where things went badly wrong.  We bought an upgrade package from PC World and arranged for them to do the upgrade. Without going into all the details, it took them 8 days to do the job and in the process they lost all Jenny's emails (about 1500), lost all her Contacts (500) and lost all her photographs - thousands of them. Apart from anything else, this has caused a massive delay in Jenny's editing business and set her back at least two weeks in the work she has to get through before we leave for Africa.
We still need to set up Jenny's laptop for the Sat Phone and she still needs to catch up her editing work before we are ready to go.  Apart from this, are communications are ready and tested!