Sunday, 30 March 2008

Internet Afloat

Many people have asked us for details of the wi-fi system we use to connect to the internet, in marinas and anchorages, so here they are. As you may know, the 2.4ghz wi-fi system is intended for relatively short range network communications, and the service can be quite unreliable if you're more than 30 metres from an antenna site. To make matters worse, our steel hull acts like a Faraday cage, effectively preventing us from using the system from down below.

In Singapore we found a product that solved these problems - a high power wi-fi transceiver that connects by USB cable to the PC. This allows us to put the transceiver and antenna outside the boat, for best performance. The unit is a Senao EUB-362EXT, with removable antenna. Read the technical details here. It comes with a small high gain antenna (see the brochure at the link abaove), and will usually provide much improved performance over the antenna's that are built into the screen housing of most modern laptop computers. For even better performance, we removed the supplied antenna and connected the transceiver box to a waterproof high gain antenna mounted permanently, high on the vessels railing. Note that the cable between the antenna and the transceiver should be kept as short as possible - do not use standard RG.58 coax, instead look for a coaxial cable with low loss at 2.4ghz. We used German manufactured Bedea RG223, purchased from Coastal Electronics in Singapore (details here).

With these elements in place we can usually connect at quite extreme distances - more than a kilometer is quite common. The optimal antenna gain seems to be about 8dbi, allowing for the rock and roll of the vessel in a sloppy anchorage. Other high gain antenna systems that must be "aimed" are less useful for us, as they lose the signal if the boat swings at anchor (which it always does ....). Waterproof external antennas are made by many manufacturers - ours is a CD.2408 made by RFI, and is about 300mm long. If you're in the area, all the necessary parts can be found at Sim Lim Square in Singapore. A most helpful supplier is Media Mart -see the card at left, or click here for complete purchase details in Singapore. External waterproof antenna can be purchased from R1 Trading Pte Ltd at Sim Lim Square.

I note that some folks have had difficulty with the installation of the Senao software - make sure you use the latest drivers, and make sure your internal wi-fi is disabled before installing the Senao product. If you use Windows Vista (you're bolder than we are), the drivers can be downloaded from the Senao Networks site here.

We have many friends in Asia and the USA using this system, and we recommend it highly. Where signal is available we enjoy solid 24x7 internet access, usually at quite low cost. The computer can stay in its permanent position adjacent to the chart table. Transmission speeds on the system are often good enough for high quality Skype calls, and we have seen one or two video calls succeed, though that is asking a bit much !

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Now Its Chill Out Time

After 4 weeks in Australia, Ley and I returned to Thailand yesterday. Arriving at Boat Lagoon Marina, we could not find our boat - Crystal Blues was nowhere to be seen. The marina office was (thankfully) still open, and they calmly advised that "they needed to move it". A little less calmly we suggested it would be nice to seek permission next time, and to let us know where it was. After locating our home we moved back on board and attempted to shift our brains from a speedy Aussie state to a more relaxed Thai chill-out.

The visit home was as hectic as the last - maybe more so. A major Langford family reunion set the pace, followed by the 60th wedding anniversary for Ley's parents Ray and Edie Worrall. Then came son Shaun and Sarah's wedding, which included a buck's party and hen's night. We survived those (just) and were able to spend a beautiful weekend in Hepburn Springs, where the wedding was celebrated. You can see the wedding website here, or link strait to the wedding photo albums here.

Our godson Ethan joined us for two days, which included a visit to "Rovina", the new country property of friends James and Marian Farrell. In between all this we managed a lot of boat shopping and social contact, including three days on the Clarence River in northern NSW with friends Gary, Sue, Rhys and Tyler McAulay. With only months to go to the launching of their new Beale designed cruising boat, the McAulay family is pretty happy, as you can see here. Many thanks to all those who looked after us.

Last night we were tired and very glad to be home - however the ever-quirky cruising community wasn't going to let us rest. Within 10 minutes of arriving we'd met and re-met many of the people that live here - including Bill the retired pilot who's been here for 10 years, Dorine, the lady who walks her parrot down the dock every day, and Maria from the Czech Republic who (believe it or not) designs and manufactures World War II vintage German uniforms for the film industry. You couldn't invent a more interesting crew.

We'll move out of the marina on the high tide tomorrow, and re-anchor in Nai Harn Bay, at the southern end of Phuket Island. There we'll complete the plannning for our refit later this year, re-provision the boat and service the main engine. In a week or so we hope to head south, for Langkawi, Penang and Singapore, before returning to Borneo early in May.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Andaman Islands Information

Cruising in the Andaman Islands requires a little more attention to paperwork than most of us are used to. Its taken us a little while, but we've finally uploaded and linked the Andaman Island clearance forms and letters to this blog site. Whilst we've included as many blank forms as we could obtain, if you're cruising to the Andamans you will need to prepare a range of documents yourself - courtesy letters, declarations and statements. Samples of these (basically .pdf copies of our own letters) are included in the download section in the right hand column. Also included is the excellent and detailed clearance / check-in guide prepared by Jon and Sandra Stonham, S.V Tui Tai. Download it here.

Our initial guide to cruising suppliers and services in the Andamans can be downloaded here.

Document Downloads

The marine service directories have been re-compiled into smaller documents, addressing individual countries and/or regions. This should reduce download times for those who require information for only one country. The server that was hosting our document downloads has become unreliable, so we've moved all of them to a new service, A.Drive. It seems to be working well, though we would appreciate any feedback you can provide. Our apologies to those who experienced any difficulty with the downloads - normal service should now be restored ! More information here.