Thursday, February 4, 2016

SSB Antenna Revised

He's going up in the Bosun's chair
Our time in the Bahamas has spoiled us with the ease of accessing wi-fi and data for obtaining weather information.  We have had almost constant connectivity and have become comfortable with that luxury… but things are about to change.

Feeding the antenna wire into the PBC pipe
Some of our time here in Thompsons Bay has been spent in preparing for our future travels when the satellite DeLorme and our SSB radio will be our only means of communication.  Not wanting to leave it up to chance that we could get pertinent weather information when we need it, we subscribed to Chris Parker’s Weather service for the year. 

This provides us with personalized routing weather information by way of daily SSB transmission and transcripts of the weather report by email (for when we have access to email). 

Our SSB has been a dark hole of mystery since we bought the boat.  Yes, we took the classes to get our licenses way back when… but that did nothing to prepare us to actually USE the dang thing!!!  Bruce has been poking around on it and has been able to gain some knowledge about how to work it, but our equipment itself was installed long ago and we’ve found that our transmissions are not strong enough to be reliable. 

Thanks to some helpful hints from Anthony on Magnolia, we were able to do a couple of things that greatly improved our transmission power… the first of which was re-wiring the radio’s power supply with larger wire and proper connectors.  That, we did back in Georgetown.

Today we did the second of Anthony’s suggestions… we revamped the installation of the antennae. 

Cutting the offset pieces with the dremmel tool
Since we got the boat the antenna has been sort of wrapped around our backstay and secured with zip ties.  It had come loose at the top and had been reattached with tape and zip ties before we ever even took the classes.  When Bruce was bringing the boat across the Gulf of Mexico they were able to contact one of the crewmember’s wives ashore but it wasn’t optimal…

With Anthony’s advice and a little bit of research ourselves, we chose this method to offset the antennae from the backstay for reasons I cannot explain intelligibly to you…

We bought a length of small PVC to use to make the  standoffs and to provide some protection for the wire where we commonly use that backstay for handhold support. 

The upper pieces of offset pipe are ready to be spaced and secured
I hoisted Bruce up to the insulator where the wire was attached and he disconnected it all and brought it down to the deck so that we could work on it.  The connector used was NOT the type recommended in our onboard resource “SSB for Dummies” but luckily we actually had the correct bronze fitting in our spares box. 

Wire at the top, old connector on the left and the bronze one now in use on the right
When we examined the connection and the wire, we wondered how we were ever able to transmit at all…  the wire was still covered so that it could not connect with the backstay and the connector was crap.  We stripped and cleaned a new wire end and cleaned up the bronze connector to ensure a solid connection when we reinstalled the wire end above the insulator.

While Bruce worked on the connectors, I got busy with the standoffs.  First we cut a length that would protect the wire from near the deck to just above our heads where we could continue to grab the backstay as a hand-hold.  I slipped the end of the antennae wire through the PVC and then secured the PVC with 1 inch lengths of PVC attached by black zip ties. 

Wire is inside the "hand hold" and offset nicely
I cut all of the standoffs with the dremmel tool.  Once I had enough to make the reachable portion very secure, I continued cutting 1 ½ inch standoffs to continue on up the backstay to the insulator. 

I put them all onto the backstay so that all Bruce would have to do is space them out and pull the zip tie to secure them in place.  I hoisted him back up slowly while he worked on spacing and tightening the zip ties until he got to the top.

Tiny work overhead - not easy
There he had to place a longer offset piece himself, then secure the end of the antennae wire to the backstay above the insulator.  It was difficult work being above his head and with tiny pieces… I had fears of our one bronze fitting dropping to the deck and bouncing off into the Bay… but we had secured it and Bruce was able to get it all up there and tightened down. 

We were happy with our work and even moreso in the morning when we turned on the weather report and could hear much MUCH better… Next… to test transmitting... 

We are so unfamiliar with using the SSB and admittedly a little bit afraid of the thing…  But we were able to transmit to Anthony in another anchorage and since that first test we have done a couple of other transmisions…  Hopefully it will work when we need Chris Parker Weather.
Placing the last offset

Securing the wire to the backstay

Update:  Feb 11th.  We arranged to speak to friends from our Yacht Club back in Texas and were able to send and receive very clearly.  So as long as we pull our heads out of our asses and remember to switch to HIGH POWER… I think we’re calling this a success!

Update to update:  February 15th.  We were able to reach Chris Parker loud and clear!  

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