October 10, 2005

Using Wireless Internet - WiFi - While Cruising

Wireless Internet “WiFi” – is becoming available in more and more marinas and anchorages, worldwide.   WiFi adapters are now also a standard feature in many computers.

WiFi can be used not just for email and web surfing, but also for very inexpensive telephone service, using a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service like Skype http://www.skype.com (which we love and highly recommend).

In many of the Marinas we’ve been in, the service is free.  In most, though, you’ll need to signup for the service or pay on a daily basis.  We’re currently cruising the Pacific Northwest and up here a company, Broad Band Express http://www.bbxpress.net/  has wired many of the marinas and anchorages.  So it made sense for us to sign up for their annual plan.

The biggest challenge to successfully using the service has been getting good reception.  WiFi uses radio communications at 2.4 gigahertz, which is quite finicky.  We’ve had little luck using the WiFi adapters built into our PCs, so we’ve found a good solution in a combination WiFi adapter and antenna from Hawking Technology http://www.hawkingtech.com/ their HWU54D.  This unit attaches to your PC via a serial USB cable, which also supplies it’s power.

We bought ours online at http://www.ecost.com for $50 US.

There are also WiFi antennas on the market that you could try,  but there are a couple of issues with external antennas:

1. Most computers have no antenna jack to connect the antenna to, and

2. The cable loss at WiFi frequencies (2.4 Giga Hertz) is so high that the cable loses a lot of power.

You could also buy a marine grade external antenna and a high power PC Card, but this costs a lot more money (well over $100 US).

All our PCs have a built-in WiFi adapter.  We don't use the built-ins when we using the Hawking HWU54D.

It's easy to disable the built-in adapter.  Just right click on "My Network Neighborhood" (in Windows XP), select properties.  All your network adapters will pop up in a window.  Right click on the built-in adapter and select "Disable".  When the adapter is disabled, this menu will allow you to "Enable" it - for when you take your laptop to a hotspot.

When we use the HWU54D, we run in with a 10 foot USB extension cable and put it on top of our boom.  I use a high tech enclosure to weather proof it.... A zip lock baggie  ;-}

I use another baggie and twist tie to weather proof the connection between the two USB cables.

If you need more than 16 feet USB cable length, You’ll need to buy an “Active” USB extension cable.  These amplify the USB signal and will let you cascade cables to extend a greater distance.    

October 8, 2005

On to Victoria!

Hello Everyone!

We've just posted the latest batch of pictures on the website http://raptordance.com

During the last week, it's been very rainy and overcast. We've only had one nice day.  The forecast is for more of the same ;-{

After the last week's boat chores in Sidney, we continued back to Maple Bay and had a lovely afternoon and evening at Rob and Shannon's home in Crofton on Sunday, October 2nd. Also present were Craig and Barbara from Capella along with their friends Pat and Mary Ann. On Monday, we all went over to Capella for a dinner of BBQ pork loin.

Pat and Mary Ann were visiting to get an idea of what the "cruising life" might be like. They expected it to be very slow, lots of lying around and reading. We may not have given them a totally accurate picture. Now they think it involves lots of eating and socializing.

On Tuesday the 4th, we motored back to Port Sidney with Capella and were joined later in the day by Roger and Mona on Cherokee Eagle who came across from their winter slip in Blaine Washington.

Craig, Barbara, Pat, Mary Ann, Mary and I went to "Fish on Fifth" in Sidney for fish and chips. This remains, in our opinion, the best fish and chips place we've found in Canada.

That night we went to the "Maple Palace" for Chinese food with Roger and Mona. This restaurant was excellent.

We all went back on Wednesday for a Chinese lunch feast. That night we gathered on Raptor Dance for a game of Mexican Train dominoes.

On Thursday, we left Capella, who headed back over to Ganges and motored with Cherokee Eagle down to Victoria. We were dressed in full cold weather gear as it was rainy and cold.

We tied up in one of the most scenic anchorages in any downtown harbor, the Docks in front of the Empress Hotel in James Bay in Downtown Victoria. A wonderful little marina, be sure to check out our pictures on the website.  

The docks were almost empty when we arrived on Thursday. This is a long weekend for Canadians... Thanksgiving. So the docks are filling up now.  Also tomorrow is the Royal Victoria Marathon, one of the qualifiers for the Boston Marathon - see: http://www.royalvictoriamarathon.com/

The starting line is nearby and the race passes by on the road between the docks and the Empress Hotel. We'll be rooting them on as they pass right by the marina. The finish line is in front of the Parliament building, just South of the Marina.  

We'll be here in Victoria a week, then head over to Friday Harbor in Washington on Thursday or Friday (weather permitting). After that, we'll be heading for the barn! We should be in Lake Union by the 18th or 19th.

We'll then meet with the water maker repair folks and pack up to head to Sonoma for the winter. We've already hit some of our favorite restaurants and gone for some nice walks in town.

Last night, we saw the premier of the Wallace and Gromit movie, "The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit". Highly Recommended! See: http://www.wandg.com/ and http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051006/REVIEWS/50929001

Tuesday, we have tickets to see the Pacific Opera Victoria production of Tchaikovsky's opera, Eugene Onegin see: http://www.pov.bc.ca/season_onegin.html

One tool we've found that we really like is Google Earth. It's a free satellite photo service. It gives a great view of the world with not quite the resolution of spy satellites. You download and install the Google Earth client on your PC to use the service. Give it a try at http://earth.google.com  

Once you have Google Earth installed try this link: http://raptordance.us/KMZ/EmpressDocks.kmz to see where we currently are docked in Victoria (Save the kmz file to your hard disk, then double click the file to launch Google Earth).

Note, these pictures are up to a year or two old, so you won't see us in the slip! Google Earth gives a much more dynamic presentation than the static satellite maps on our web site's current position page.

That's the latest from Victoria BC!

Warmest Regards,
Bill and Mary