Thursday, March 7, 2013

Pactor in the Pacific

I was able to spend a bit of time on the radio during my last voyage. It was a new ship for me, and my third command. The ship is a container carrier named the CAPT STEVEN L BENNETT. She was ending her US Navy charter and I was tasked with bringing her to the shipyard and getting her ready for commercial service. I joined the ship in San Francisco, California and brought her to the yard in Singapore. This would be a voyage of at least four weeks so there would be plenty of time to get on the air. Since I was the captain, I had a nice office near a window just under the bridge. I was able to run coax and a remote tuner control cable out through a pre-existing hole near my porthole and up to the bridge rail. On the rail I mounted my Icom AH-4 remote tuner and ran about 10 meters of wire in a sloping configuration to the top of the INMARSAT dome mast on the starboard side of the ship. I was able to tune from 40 to 6 meters with this wire which was about 25 meters over the water. I grounded both the rig and the tuner directly to the ship's hull, which is about the best ground you can get. My rig consisted of my old standby mobile rig, the now aging Icom 706 MKIIg. I had a small switching power supply and for digital comms I had my Rigblaster NoMic for soundcard modes and my SCS DR-7800 P4 Dragon modem. The latter is THE box for Pactor, outperforming all comers in pactor comms. Most sailors tend to use Pactor solely for moving email over the Winlink 2000 system. I cannot deny that much of my Pactor time was spent moving email to my friends and family via this system. While the INMARSAT system was certainly faster and more reliable, I like using radio and enjoy moving the personal mail over this system. I was able to make links nearly every day first from US West coast stations and then Alaska, and finally China and Russia. I was able to make Pactor III links the entire time, and speedlevels ranged from SL 1 on the weak links to SL 6 when I was fairly close. I had only 1 SL 6 link when I used the PTC-IIe and that was from a very nearby station. With the Dragon, the average link was SL3 (1400 bps) with several miles of distance between myself and the shore station, with several links being SL5 or SL6 (about 3600 bps). The only time I had issues with WL2K was in the South China Sea. While there are several nearby shore stations, I had a devil of a time accessing them as soon as I entered the Sea. This continued all the way to Singapore. I did not only use the Dragon for email however. I was able to work US and Canadian stations on Pactor well West of the Hawaiian islands. I was impressed with the robust nature of pactor. Most of these links were Pactor 2, but I did have some Pactor I and Pactor QSO's as well. We did not tend to move files during these QSO's but rather just text sent in the blocks that happens with the TOR modes. A bit closer to Asia I was able to work a few Japanese stations as well as a gentleman in Thailand. Unfortunately, I was never able to work any Australians on Pactor, and only a couple on SSB. I was also able to get on PSK31 a few days and even worked some 10 meter SSB, although I am not too partial to voice these days. What is really fun is seeing how the change in location (about 350 miles a day) did to propagation. An area you worked yesterday just fine, will no longer be coming in, and a new area you haven't heard yet, will come in no problem. I did try to take a listen and even called CQ on 6 meters, but the band wasn't open, so no joy in the VHF part of the spectrum. It was a good trip as far as radio went, and we will see how it goes next time out there. 73 Jeremy