Considering a sailing adventure to Mexico? Just look at how engrossed that guy is in the book! Grab a copy of the Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico, and you too can find yourself sitting on a Mexican dock with an oversized (but very attractive) hat.

Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico


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Entries in electronics (5)


the roof, the roof, the roof is my office

Perhaps when you think of satellite phones images of Jack Bauer from 24 flash into your head. In fantasy land satellite phones are these go-anywhere tools that allow you to walk around, talking to anyone, generally the President, and always about important things.

The reality is that satellite phones are expensive, fastidious, and at their best provide the audio quality of a mid 1990's cell phone operated from inside a cave. The remote antenna, the little black hockey puck looking thing on the ledge above my backpack, needs a fully unobstructed view of the sky. Obstructed, even with a tree's thin leaves and certainly with a roof will provide either no signal or continual dropped calls.

The only place I've been able to find that works is on the roof of a two story building near where we're staying. In the sun, on the roof, with clouds of mosquitoes. Jack Bauer never had to put up with this shit.

However if you need to talk to people worldwide where there is no cellular coverage (which generally implies no wifi coverage), you have no choice but a satellite phone. I use an Iridium 9555, which is sort of the workhorse model with a long history of performance. Not all satellite phone constellations are truly global, but Iridium is. My plan is $100/month which includes 70-140 minutes, depending on how the call is connected. In general it's reasonable to assume that airtime is $2/minute, and any outbound SMS messages (which allows us to update Twitter) is $1.

Beyond all that, I have a subscription to UUPlus. For another $30/month I manage to have the majority of my work email forwarded, compressed, and available via the incredibly bad 2.6KB/s data connection (with multisecond latency). Likewise, I can reply and unless you inspect the email header it will look like it came from my Outlook client on the corporate network. 

And with UUPlus, I can download NOAA weather fax forecasts to see just exactly how screwed we are.

If you've never tried to do your job in a place that sans electricity, sans cell coverage, and even sans people, this might not really resonate with you. But for those misguided souls that are trying to bridge the chasm between first world professionalism and the third world, this blog post is for you bros.


we're transmitting AIS, i know you're mad jelly

That's right, Rebel Heart is now a leg up on the average sailing boat in that we now are broadcasting an AIS signal. Plenty of nerdy boat owners have had this technology for years now, and it's been required on larger vessels for almost a decade.

So yes, I am gloating. I am lavishing in the joy of appearing on, just like the "real" ships.

In large part I'm celebrating because in nearly all other regards we're not all that electronically sophisticated. We have a klunky radar, no chart plotter, a simple handheld GPS, paper charts, manual plotting tools, current celestial almanacs, and a sextant. 

I've really been happy with our Standard Horizon 2150 VHF radio with built in AIS receiver. After a few thousand miles I've grown to appreciate AIS technology:


  • You'll spot big ships long before they arrive on radar or are in visual range. It depends on your antenna height (and the other vessels'), but in general ~25 miles is normal.
  • Unlike radar, you don't need to hunt and peck through the readout to see what's clutter and what's a vessel.
  • Because you spot ships so much earlier, and when transmitting they spot you earlier, very minor course corrections can be made to provide sufficient passing room.
  • It's not ubiquitous by any means, but it is getting more popular. 
  • Also unlike radar, it requires much less operator interaction.
  • Radar alarms are notoriously sketchy and suspect as where AIS proximity alarms are more much more straight forward.
  • Knowing that a freighter is ten miles away doesn't really matter. Knowing that it's on a collision course, or even something a little too close for comfort, is the important information. Being able to identify that from many of the vessels you'll cross paths with is invaluable. 

Like everything else on a boat, it's not a panacea. There is no piece of gear that removes the risk of collision, but there are some that lower it, and AIS is definitely in that category. Because the Standard Horizon 2150 already has an AIS receiver display, all I wanted was a simple black box transmitter. Defender had the Comnav X2 on closeout so I snagged it when we were back in the USA. Rather than run an additional antenna I went with the new and quite fancy Vesper Marine SP160 splitter. Really low loss, actively powered, provides an AM/FM antenna outlet, and when powered down the VHF still runs through (as does AIS reception since the VHF displays that too).

For any vessels transitting around Baja, the cruise ships and ferries will probably be the spookiest things you encounter as they roll around at 20 knots, crisscrossing through the Sea of Cortez and up the Pacific side of the peninsula. Even if you don't want to go through the hassle of a transmitter you might want to give some serious consideration to an AIS receiver. 


keep us company underway with twitter

Would you like to keep us company underway? We're scheduled to leave Ensenada on Tuesday morning, and if there's one thing we can say about multi-day passages: they can be boring as hell. Lots of water, lots of sky, on repeat.

I found out that Iridium (or satellite phone) actually works with Twitter

When we get a little ways out and could use some social stimulation, we'll make sure to post on twitter. Ask us questions, tell us your thoughts on life, pontificate about the planetary orbits. 

We'll get notifications if you mention us ( @capterickaufman ), or reply to one of our tweets. 

So, if you want to help us, especially if you are an insane night owl (or on another time zone), please follow us and we'll update as soon as we're underway and settled. 



eric over on google+

Just wanted to drop my Google+ URL on my blog for anyone who might be over there.

I believe it's publicly available for everyone, and so far I've been really happy with it. Might even start doing some blogging over there, we'll see!


long range wifi for the boat

No matter how you slice it, wifi is nice to have. And if you're in a harbor with a wifi signal a hundred yards away, you'd really like to be able to use it.

Our new wifi setup kicks ass, and if you're looking for a way to pick up a distant signal, consider what we put together or pieces thereof. 

For starters we opted for the Alfa 1000mw USB wifi adapter. Although the older model from it's new type N counterpart, the Alfa 1000mw receives much higher ratings by users. It comes with two antennas, one small, and one HUGE. We installed the huge one. Both antennas come with the purchase of the Alfa.

For a cable, I wanted something long. We found a 32' USB cable. That's longer than the current recommendation for a USB, but ratings and reviews seemed positive so we went for it. Right now we have the antenna sitting inside the cabin in the butterfly hatch (not outside), but we have plenty enough cable left now to put it on the boom of perhaps halfway to a spreader.

lighter for size referenceWe've had this going for a few days now with terrific results. Signals that before were splotchy at best now come in nearly 90%, and that's without raising the transmitter power (available via the software utility). One of the next things we'll be looking to do is permanently mount it, probably on the exterior, and construct some type of weatherproof housing. Another nice thing about this model is that coming in around $40, I'm not going to feel too bad if it lasts a few years or if we decide to upgrade around then.

But the convenience of having a nice high quality broadband connection is terrific. We certainly don't want to spend the money for fancy satellite based options, but if wifi is available and the lack of a decent antenna and adapter is the only thing preventing it from working, that's just sad.

signal was unreachable beforeSo give it a shot, or at least consider your options for wifi on your boat. Most harbors (including some distant ones in remote areas) now have wifi (even if not always free). A "solid' weatherproof installation might work, but if you want to spend $40-$70 bucks like we did for what's probably going to be several years of good service, make it happen!