After circumnavigating with almost no communications, we knew we wanted good services for our high latitude voyage. Friends had spoken highly of OCENS, so we approached them for sponsorship. We only work with companies whose products we would use regardless of sponsorship.
Communications are vital for voyaging in higher latitudes where weather is volatile and can be severe, and where ice conditions can change even faster. Aboard Celeste we’ll need access to good weather forecasts starting upon departure from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. They’ll become even more vital when we cross the Gulf of Alaska and when we enter the Bering Sea. Upon reaching Arctic waters we’ll also need daily ice charts so we can make informed and safe decisions. Thanks to OCENS and MVS we’ll be able to do all that reliably and quickly through OCENS’s excellent weather and e-mail services and through our Iridium Extreme phone and airtime. This newest, most rugged version of Iridium’s phones will hook up to OCENS’s high latitude external antenna (to ensure an unbroken signal) and will talk to our laptops through a firewall/wi-fi router. The firewall is particularly important for blocking unnecessary data traffic, thus keeping airtime use to a minimum.
OCENS has created all the software and services to go with this hardware: WeatherNet, GRIB (Gridded Information Binary) Explorer, MetMapper, and OCENS Mail. WeatherNet provides forecasts of up to 7 days showing wind, waves, surface pressure, and air temperature among other indicators, all accelerated for delivery to your computer. MetMapper enables us to view these forecasts (in animation!) overlaid on an interactive map. If we hook up our GPS to the computer, we even have our vessel position displayed within the weather analysis.
GRIB Explorer does something similar for Gridded Information Binary forecasts, which we’ll obtain through WeatherNet. GRIB files are small, versatile, and contain an amazing amount of information, which makes them perfect for low bandwidth connections like a satellite phone. GRIB Explorer allows us to control exactly what information is displayed, and animates it for us. We’re familiar with GRIBs because we used very basic ones on our circumnavigation over our SSB radio, so we’re excited to have an updated version of something we already know and like.
Equally important is OCENS’s e-mail service and software. In southern Alaska we’ll use this primarily for staying in touch with those back home and for sharing information with fellow sailors. Once in the Arctic, its primary function will be to receive daily ice charts which will help us navigate and help us make decisions. Although some sailors before us—especially Amundsen—have visited the Arctic without any communications, OCENS and MVS have greatly increased our safety margin!