Website Update Log

New Communications Tools for Cruising Europe

© Copyright 2005:  Jack Tyler

These three topics are all pretty new to us. We’ve used two of them with good success and the third one, while in development and not yet available, sounds very promising for some kinds of cruising ‘connectivity’ needs (e.g. those who hope to consult or occasionally do Web-based contract work while cruising).   Perhaps you will find these topics to be of interest, too.


This is a Luxemburg-centered, internet-based telephony system that allows high-audio quality conversations between EITHER two or more on-line parties OR by dialing a conventional phone number while on-line. Cruising friends in Turkey recommended it to us because they were using it to talk with family members back in the States. They were able to do this because, while wintering over, they had wifi service in the marina.  However, there's no reason you couldn't take your laptop to a Cyberhut somewhere and do the same thing. All web-based calls are free.  However, one of its unique features is that it supports calls to conventional phones at a current cost of 1.7 Euro cents (about $.02 USD) no matter where you are calling. The service areas currently supported are North America and virtually all of Europe, although service may stretch even further depending on how you connect to the Internet.  (E.g. we’ve used it to talk with our Navy son in Hawaii, supposedly out of the Skype service area).  One can dial the 800/888/866 toll-free numbers used in North America, something that's often hard to do when outside the U.S. and Canada, and you can arrange conference calling either on-line or by mixing on-line and conventional phone numbers.

The software is free, simple and elegantly intuitive. Download it at  One buys credit to make a landline call by signing up for SkypeOut on line using a VISA credit card, using Pay Pal or by another method they make available. On-line real-time troubleshooting is available if you have a problem, and the system reportedly can be used with dial-up modem speeds above 33K (although that may invite delays between one person's comments and another person's responses). They recommend using a headset/boom mike, which we’ve found to generally be a good idea.  You may find your laptop does not have a built-in mike, in which case a $20 el-cheapo headset/boom mike would make even more sense.  Skype also offers a chat mode that we find to be better than Instant Messenger.

 There are of course usually multiple ways to place a phone call.  Aside from low price, this method saves the cost (and sometimes the effort) of tracking down a phone card and then a convenient, working public phone…that you may wish was better sheltered from the rain.  Skype won't replace the value of carrying a cell phone when that otherwise serves a purpose. But e.g. just yesterday we picking up pointers from friends in Turkey about stern anchoring and their further boat modifications to improve that ability - and it was easy, clear as a bell, and free.

My advice:  Download Skype while you are still on the grid, install it and build the Contact List you think you’ll need before you leave.  Then carry it dormant on your laptop when you shove off.  You may find you are taking a season off to work on the boat and can arrange for Internet service aboard the boat.  And then there are those times when sitting in a corner of some Cyberhut and calling ‘home’ will appeal.  It will never be cheaper when placing on-line calls, and you may find it a far less expensive and perhaps more convenient option than using your AT&T Calling Card to reach conventional phone numbers.


While cruising sailors have much in common, one thing distinguishing one group from the next is how we get our weather information. Over here – by which I mean the English Channel plus the Baltic, North, “Western European” (aka: Eastern Atlantic) and Mediterranean Seas – one finds different boats using a variety of different methods:

What is unique about the option described below – ZipGet – is that it can be used by most of these boats, since it only requires the use of the ubiquitous mobile/cell phone (presuming you have some way to send/receive email with it) and/or can be accessed using SSB-equipped boats that use Winlink or have other ways of receiving attachments via HF email.

ZipGet is the brainchild of Chris Hart, a British sailor who with wife Kerry has sailed ZOSTERA from Britain multiple times down the Atlantic Coast and throughout the Med.  With no SSB transceiver and not always a Navtex receiver, Chris wanted another method of obtaining both wind and wave (height and direction) projections, suitable marine text forecasts for all the regions they planned to sail, and also a way to reach out and grab other web site text info. Being a software developer, he created his own system to be used in conjunction with his GPRS mobile phone. When he saw how well it worked for them, he decided to offer it to everyone. His website with a brief description, samples of the products available, and an invitation to subscribe (£20/year) can be found at  We learned about it because ZOSTERA and WHOOSH wintered together at St. Katharine’s Haven in London in 2004-5.  With Chris’ help, we adapted it to work with the Winlink system as ZipGet otherwise provides .zip files which Winlink currently is blocking for Spam-control reasons.

How It Works:  One first registers as a user with ZipGet although you can first request a trial run for free.  One then sends an email to ZipGet’s mailbox ( with the Lat and Long coordinates on which the forecast is to be centered. In several minutes, one reconnects and downloads the zipped weather files as a single attachment from ZipGet. The file size – and therefore, download time – depends on the products available.

What You Get:  As stated, this depends on the area being forecasted and, consequently, what internet-based products Chris chosen to provide.  See the table below for a product list by sample cruising area.  But in general, one receives a multi-colored, multi-day isobar chart, a multi-day GRIB file of wind projections, multi-day projected wave height (and usually, direction), and a multi-day text forecast (the source depending on the area).  The zipped file size can be quite large by SSB-Pactor methods (e.g. 90K) but Chris offers a simple way to reduce the size of the graphics components at the expense of smaller images.

How Long to Download?  This question is pertinent since it determines the cost of your airtime if using a mobile/cell phone, or the download time using SSB Pactor methods.  And even if using a SSB with TNC at Pactor 3 speeds, you may well choose to handle this download differently than how you collect your other files from the Winlink catalog.  Most of Winlink’s catalog files are relatively small and so fast P3 connection speeds are less necessary.  With ZipGet, you may want to wait until propagation is good and Pactor speeds higher.  But back to the question at hand:  How long to download?  Here are examples of file size for some sample cruising venues along with download speeds for GSM and GPRS cell phones and a P3 speed I find reasonable to expect.

ZipGet File Sizes vs. Cruising Area

Syntax Used:

Products Received:

File Size:

Download Times:

latlon  51'30 N 0'04 W 50% zip.z1p

Location: Thames R. near London (Bogus file extension used for Winlink purposes)

London Area F’cast

Wind F’cast (5 day)

Wave F’cast (4 day)

Isobar Chart (4 day)

BBC Shipping F’cast

BBC Inshore F’cast


(Reduced from approx. 90K by requesting graphics at 50%; see syntax used)

WL2K @ P3 @ 5K: 8+ mins

GSM Cell @ 9.6K: 4+ mins

GPRS Cell @ 40K: 1 min

latlon  38'50 N 10'00 W 50% zip.z1p

Location: Off Portuguese coast

RFI* 3-day F’cast

Wind F’cast (5 day)

Wave F’cast (4 day)

Isobar Chart (4 day)

Coastal F’cast (5 day)


(Reduced by using ‘50%’ command)

WL2K @ P3 @ 5K: 6+ mins

GSM Cell @ 9.6K: 3+ mins

GPRS Cell @ 40K: <1 min

latlon 40'00 N 04'00E 50% zip.z1p

Location: Balearics

RFI 3-day F’cast

Wind F’cast (5 day)

Wave F’cast (4 day)

Isobar Chart (4 day)

Local F’cast (5 day)

DWD# F’cast (4 day)


(Reduced by using ‘50%’ command)

WL2K @ P3 @ 5K: 7+ mins

GSM Cell @ 9.6K: 4 mins

GPRS Cell @ 40K: 1 min

latlon  37'00 N 26'00 E 50% zip.z1p

Location: Cyclades Is., Greece


Wind F’cast (5 day)

Wave F’cast (4 day)

Isobar Chart (4 day)

Local F’cast (5 day)

DWD# F’cast (4 day)


(Reduced by using ‘50%’ command)

WL2K @ P3 @ 5K: 7+ mins

GSM Cell @ 9.6K: 4 mins

GPRS Cell @ 40K: 1 min

* RFI – Radio France International

# DWD – Deutsche Wetter Dienst or German Weather Service

Table Notes:

1.      When downloading using a mobile/cell, you may well wish to omit the 50% command; however, when using Winlink, you will probably need to use it since the file sizes may otherwise exceed Winlink’s limits.

2.      If the download times may seem a bit long, don’t overlook the breadth of the content received.  Sometimes, one can spend a lot of time at the computer and radio to collect a satisfying mix of weather products.  By contrast, this is One-Stop Shopping.

3.      Or…take the opposite approach.  If you are satisfied with receiving the text forecasts and willing to give up the graphics (perhaps you’re seeking an update in the afternoon), use something like “10%” in the subject line, which will shrink the file size dramatically, giving you a much shorter download time.

4.      The DWD forecasts are in German but don’t be scared off by this.  The 4-day wind & sea data, along with corresponding locations, are all numerical.  This forecast is quite accurate by Mediterranean standards and also longer than others you will find available.  Reading the Synopsis, which is in text format, is made easier by using the simple German Weather Terms dictionary you will find in “European Weather Forecasts”, a companion article to this one.


Selecting Your Own Products:  While the products you receive are determined by the ‘latlon’ coordinates you place in your email and the products Chris has chosen to make available for that area, you can also use ‘get’ commands in the body of the email to request your own specific internet text products.  These text products are retrieved, compressed and included in the file being sent, adding very little to the file size to be downloaded.  (As mentioned above, it is the graphics files that comprise most of the bulk of each zipped file).


Command:  “get

Result:  4-day forecast for both the Mediterranean Sea and Bay of Biscay, issued by the DWD

Additional bytes in the one zipped file you download: 3K

Summing Up:  There are many methods to retrieve an almost infinite number of weather products while cruising in Europe.  What this often means for the typical cruising boat is that ‘user friendliness’, minimal expense and the value of the products themselves become the dominant criteria when choosing how to gather one’s weather information.  My impression is that ZipGet meets this combination of criteria well and is useful on boats both with little beyond a cell phone, but also those with the more expensive SSB & TNC hardware (assuming they can receive attachments).

New Internet Access from Inmarsat

There's always been an interest in remote, affordable internet access (plus the other communications benefits it would bring) but to date no system I'm aware of is small enough, cheap enough, power efficient enough and with enough bandwidth to provide useful Web access and fit (physically and financially) on the typical cruising boat.  It now looks like this is about to change…

I attended an Inmarsat seminar at the CA House in London this Spring (2005) wherein they discussed a new family of satellites they are launching this year.  These satellites are pretty big animals, as each one weighs in at roughly 12,000# and is the size of a double-decker London bus while carrying a 100M-wide solar array.  These will permit a number of new services in the megayacht market but the satellites also make possible a new low-end product (not yet named) that will have the following characteristics:

·        passive array; no geostabilized array that requires thirsty 24V power to remain locked on a sat

·        an array size/weight about the same as their Mini C (big grapefruit size with less weight, to my eyeball)

·        12V or 24V powered, the customer’s choice

·        hardware price target of $3K (Inmarsat services & hardware are typically quoted in U.S. dollars)

·        56KBS speed for internet connectivity (as fast as any shore-based dial-up speed)

·        concurrent bandwidth sufficient for voice communications

·        introduction of both hardware and services targeted for mid-2006

As we know, it's always easier for a vendor to promise than to deliver...or to deliver at the promised price point. But for those in the planning stages of equipping a cruising boat, or who are trying to sort out how to remain in a consulting loop or to do contract work via the internet while also cruising, this is pretty spectacular news worthy of reflection.  Inmarsat is unwilling to discuss data rate costs right now but it's my understanding they have always priced their services on time used and/or data passed rather than on mandatory monthly service fees, which would suggest that this cost will be driven by usage levels. In other words, the cruising sailor would have control over the cost of the system's operation and could use more cost-effective shore side connectivity when available while relying on this service when in remote settings.

The first new satellite was to be launched in March 2005 from the Cape; the second launch is scheduled mid-year and the last one near year end.  If interested, I'm told it would be worth monitoring the Inmarsat website ( for new product announcements and progress with their launch schedule.


© Jack Tyler – April, 2005

WHOOSH, departing London for Portugal and Spain