Before I jump into the story, I’m going to (against my better judgement) explain something I’m attempting to accomplish. I came across a blogging challenge that sounded fun – and that might be the nerdiest thing I’ve ever said. The goal is to blog for 6 out of 7 days of the week, with each day’s theme representing a letter from the alphabet. Today’s the first day, so we start with letter A. I’m confident that you’re all clever enough to see the pattern so I’ll leave it at that. Wish me luck. Prepare yourselves for quickly written and poorly edited entries.
Even though we have cell phones that can turn into satellite phones, some of the most important technology aboard Small World is her radio equipment. When we are off shore, radios are our only line of communication with the vessels that we may encounter along the way, and the first option for calling for help if we were to ever need it. We carry a VHF (Very High Frequency) radio for communication within line of sight as well as an SSB (Single Side Band) radio for long range communications. Both are important for various reasons, but our VHF radio is the daily workhorse.
Every morning here in Banderas Bay, Craig and I crawl out of bed and turn the VHF, even before we hit the head. At 8:30 sharp the boating version of a conference call starts. “Good morning, this is the Banderas Bay Cruisers Net for Monday April 2nd. This is Katrina with Marina La Cruz and I’ll be the net controller for today. Please make sure your radios are set to high power for the duration of the net. Let’s begin by listening for any emergencies or medical traffic. Please come now.” From there everyone gets a chance to check in, ask questions, or make announcement in prescribed categories. In order to speak you have to say your boat name and have the Net Controller acknowledge you. It’s the audio version of raising your hand and getting called on. Initially I thought it was silly, but now I’m convinced that the structure and formality of it could benefit the corporate world in a real way.
One morning we heard an announcement that a gentleman would be switching channels after the Net to help boaters identify potential issues with their radio gear. At the time, we thought our VHF was great and that our SSB needed help (or we needed help learning how to operate and tune it). As it turns out, Ron decidedly told us that our VHF was working at less than 50% of its capabilities. I sensed an impending addition to the top of the Project List.
Eventually, we were able to coordinate with Gray, a local radio guru who does work for boaters before they all leave Banderas Bay. Many of the boats leaving from here are crossing the Pacific Ocean, aiming for the Marquesas. If you can imagine being on your boat for four weeks and the only communication you have is your radio, then I’m sure you can understand why people are motivated to get their radios in peak operating condition.
Gray braved the windy and bumpy dinghy ride out to the anchorage, AKA “The Splash Zone”, and brought some fancy equipment to test our radio and its antenna. While all of his gadgets seemed impressively nerdy, one in particular reminded me of a tricorder from Star Trek (Next Generation, obviously). It was handheld, it was scanning, and it had pictures on it that I didn’t understand. What I did understand was the confused noises Gray was making when he looked at the read-outs. Generally speaking, when a professional comes to the boat and says, “That’s interesting…” what they really mean is “This should allow me to fund the pool with a swim up bar and a full-time bartender I’ve been dreaming of.”
That day, we decided that Craig should go to the top of the mast, check out the current antenna, and swap it out for a new one that Gray brought with him. Initially it feels like a scam when someone happens to recommend the part they brought with them, but it was obvious that our old antenna was only days away from disintegrating completely. Unfortunately, the cable that connects the radio within the main cabin of the boat and the antenna at the top of the mast was also decaying rapidly. It needed to be replaced.
Replacing a cable sounds easy enough, and in some cases, it actually can be. Replacing this cable should have been a relatively easy pain in the ass. We also should have known better. Here’s how it all went down.
Step 1 – Identify the route the Old Cable takes from the back of the radio to the base of the mast. Realize that it’s a terrible route and the Old Cable is actually zip-tied to the ceiling underneath the headliner that we refuse to take down. Abandon hope of using that route.
Step 2 – Send Craig back up the mast with the New Cable from Gray that we have neatly organized to avoid creating a giant cable knot. Attach one end of the New Cable to the exposed end of the Old Cable. Krystle pulls on the Old Cable from below deck at the base of the mast. The cables separate, and we lose the only messenger line in the mast. Lower Craig back on deck.
Step 3 – Curse.
Step 4 – Repeat Step 3. Add margaritas.
Step 5 – Send Craig back up the mast and attempt to send a new Messenger Line. Spend hours trying to make it work before realizing it will never work. The line is coming down inside the portion of the mast where running rigging lives, and it would be impossible to feed the line into the rather full wire conduit. Lower Craig back on deck.
Step 6 – Repeat step 4.
Step 7 – Tequila Gods send inspiration.
Step 8 – At the base of the mast, detach another wire that runs within the wire conduit up the mast. Attach a Messenger Line to that Other Cable. Send Craig back up the mast with the neatly organized New Cable. Once hoisted 60ft in the air, pull out the Other Cable from the top of the mast. Add New Cable to connection of Other Cable to Messenger Line. Krystle pulls on messenger line while Craig feeds Other Cable and New Cable back through the small hole at the top of the mast.
Step 9 – Premature enthusiasm for progress.
Step 10 – Neatly organized New Cable starts to get tangled. Craig decides to let it drop towards the deck to try and unwind it. New Cable wraps itself around a halyard, shrouds, and spreaders in a matter of seconds. Cursing continues from this step beyond completion of project.
Step 11 – Lower and raise Craig several times as he untangles the mess and we finish feeding cables to the base of the mast.
Step 12 – Revisit Step 1 and figure out a new, more logical route from the mast to the radio.
Step 13 – Spend several hours feeding approximately 50ft of cable, inch by inch, through various nooks and crannies of the boat.
Step 14 – Crash and burn.
Step 15 – Gray comes back to the boat to solder the connector to the end of the New Cable, thereby officially completing the project.
Step 16 – Party in Puerto Vallarta with Casey and Jules. Drown misery in margaritas and craft beer.
Did you skim past all that? Are you looking for the TL;DR? Just trust me that the project was terrible, not fun, and physically uncomfortable for Craig sitting in the bo’sun chair for many hours. The end result is much better reception. Now we hear all of the local fishermen placing their lunch orders. Thank goodness.