22/12/2014 at 10:41 am #1273
Brand new member today.
Seeking advice on communications options while cruising the Kimberley.
Would like to be able to download forecasts, emails and limited net surfing.
Have a sat phone but data is too slow.
Appreciate any advice
26/12/2014 at 2:49 pm #1335
Hi Lu Ali,
A good question, but one with many answers I think. The Kimberley Coast is one of the few coastal regions of Australia where mobile phone reception is not available for long stretches of time and distance if you are spending a few months cruising the area. Once you leave Cape Leveque in the west and Wyndham in the east, you can put your mobile phone in a drawer and forget about it. This is very different from cruising across Arnhemland, East Coast cruising, or even down the sparsely populated West Coast, where (mostly Telstra) mobile 3G or 4G voice and internet are often available from aboriginal settlements, mining towns, larger islands etc.
I can share our experience over 8 years cruising the Kimberley, but I’m sure everyone will have their own twist on how to get comms in the Kimberley. Communications on board “R&R” for our first 6 years cruising up and down the Queensland coast, across the top and into the Kimberley was by HF radio for BOM weather schedules, an Iridium satellite phone for voice, and Telstra mobile for voice and data when we could get mobile reception. We often went for 2 months or more without email or internet while sailing the Kimberley coast, which, at the time, I quite enjoyed. If we needed a BOM forecast in a hurry, or the HF reception was bad on the day, we would phone our son on the Iridium and ask him to read it to us off the internet – so there was never a time we could not get a weather forecast. Grandkids changed our circumstances. They are now 3 and 1 year old’s, and my wife insisted on the internet on board for more effective communication with family. Now that I have broadband internet on board all the time, I wonder how I used to cope without it.
If you need effective email and reasonable internet speed in the Kimberley, there is only one option, a satellite system. I installed a KVH TracPhone V3 on our boat about 18 months ago. I researched the alternatives thoroughly, and for what I wanted, this was by far the best system at that time. I haven’t looked at what’s available since then, but KVH were well in front of the rest for data speed, plus data and voice cost, although the upfront capital cost was high at around $21K installed. There are cheaper satellite data and phone systems on the market, but the general rule of thumb seems to be, the cheaper the system, the slower the speed and dearer the cost of data. Data download speed is slightly slower than my broadband at home, but not really noticeably slow. You need to connect the KVH modem to an off the shelf Wi-Fi router, allowing any Wi-Fi device to be used on the internet, such as smart phones, tablets and PC’s.
To keep the data costs down, I set up fairly strict rules about who can use the satellite internet. I don’t give anyone the Wi-Fi router password, and I have a dedicated laptop for the internet with all its auto upgrade and download functions turned off. I’ve also configured Outlook on that laptop to download email headers only, giving me the option of downloading the rest of the email if I want to read it. If we have friends on board who want to get their emails, they need to configure their email client along the same lines, and only use the dedicated laptop to receive and send email.
It comes down to judging how much data you will use for email and internet over the time you will be out of mobile phone range. I have the cheapest data plan KVH have, at $50 per month. It allows for 50MB of data monthly at $1.00 MB included in the plan, then it goes to $2.00 MB. Their next plan is $250 per month. The difference in base cost between the two plans is $2,400 per year. On our recent two seasons in the Kimberley, we’ve used less than $2,400 worth of data over the 6-8 weeks we’ve been out of mobile range each season, so the $50 PM data plan works for us.
Phone calls are a flat $0.49 per minute, with me paying for incoming and outgoing calls. This is very reasonable compared to most suppliers, many of which really sting anyone who rings you on your sat phone. You also get a normal Australian phone number with the area code for your home phone, so people calling you aren’t scared off by the thought of phoning a sat phone number and getting a huge phone bill as a result.
Off the shelf wireless home phones work directly off the KVH modem, allowing the Voice Over IP phone system to be used anywhere on board. The only down side of this phone system is that it only works on, or very close to your boat, therefore you can’t take the phone ashore. For safety, we take the Iridium ashore with us when we are cruising remote areas by ourselves. We didn’t consider this aspect before we cancelled our Iridium phone, and because we were at sea with no way of getting a new SIM card, we ended up paying the Iridium supplier we were using, a $500 reconnection fee on our disconnected SIM. Keep this in mind if you have an existing sat phone!
I think you have some research to do, but I hope this helps.
02/01/2015 at 1:41 pm #1337
Very helpfull info, ties in well and confirms my research to date.
We will be in the Kimberleys in July/August as part of our return trip from Qld.
We are looking for a weather router for the trip and wondered if you could recommend someone.
We have used Bruce Buckley before and he was good.
Thanks and best regards
03/01/2015 at 12:06 pm #1338
Hi Lu Ali,
Are you sailing from Qld to WA, or to Qld from WA and back again? It makes a difference to the weather planning. I don’t know any weather planners, but I’ve done the return trip Qld to Darwin 7 times, and I can’t remember how many times from Darwin to the Kimberley and back.
If you are coming from Qld after the end of the cyclone season, you can expect fairly consistent 20-25 knot east to south easterlies all the way up the Qld coast and across the top end to Darwin. Great sailing weather if your boat likes going down wind. The only dodgy part is crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria from TI to Gove. We’ve spent weeks waiting in Seisia for 30 knot E to SE strong wind warnings to drop off. My advice is wait for a window of weather less than 25 knots, leave Seisia and follow the coast down to around Weipa, then head almost directly west to Gove. If you try sailing directly from TI to Gove, you will likely have the wind and short, steep seas beam on for the whole 300NM. Not ideal in a cat. If its blowing 25 knots, expect 2.5 – 3.0M seas on a 2M swell out in the mid Gulf. OK conditions if it’s stern on, but not much fun beam on in a cat.
West of the Wessel’s, expect 15 – 25 knots most days, mainly east to east south easterlies.
Once you get to the Kimberley, weather planning becomes largely irrelevant, because there are plenty of bolt holes to get out of a good blow. July and August are the best month’s weather wise in the Kimberley once you are west of Cape Bougainville. You can expect most days to be 10 – 20 knots E to SE in the mornings, with an afternoon sea breeze. There will be many days when it will be 5 knots variable. The only stretch of the Kimberley where you need to take advantage of a lull in the SE trade winds, is crossing the Bonaparte Gulf. Don’t tackle it unless it’s below 25 knots, or better still below 15 knots. The “Blownapart” has a reputation for putting sailors off trying it twice, if their first time was in 30 knots. But it’s easy if you are sensible. Just like crossing the G of Carp, it’s sensible to hug the east coast of the Bonaparte down to around Port Keats before turning west to the Berkeley River. But if you get a few days of less than 15 knots, go straight across from Darwin. Some people don’t go to the Berkeley because it’s further south, and head for the King George instead. It’s definitely a mistake to miss the Berkeley River – it’s beautiful.
You can fairly reliably predict the weather yourself up the Qld coast and across the top. The Torres Straights region has some of the most consistent and strongest trade winds in the world, so in that area, it’s easy to predict that you will get 20 – 30 knots east to south easterlies most of the time in the dry season. The wind strength is determined by the weather in the Great Australian Bight. If there is a low approaching the southwest of WA and heading into the Bight, the winds in the north of Australia will drop off as the low crosses the Bight. This knowledge is very handy if you are trying to predict a calmer period up north, up to about 5 – 7 days out. If a high is entering the Bight from WA, the opposite is the case. A high in the middle of the Bight means strong winds up north, and the higher the barometric pressure in the high, the stronger the wind will be up north. It’s really that simple, and I think you would be wasting your money paying a weather planner to tell you exactly the same thing.
I’ve only sailed from Perth to Broome once, so I can’t comment on that part of the route, but I know people who have done it several times, and if you would like to talk to them, I can put you in touch. My understanding of that stretch of coast, is that it’s important to know where you can get out of bad weather, and wait for a good weather window to move on.
All the best,
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