Our Tether

The Tuamotus Diaries #46, Day 88 – August 24th 2016


Communication is an important issue out here in the South Pacific. Being at times weeks away from any fixed or even mobile phone facility, it is important to have a reliable means to send and receive information whenever needed.

Single Side Band radio is a great way to keep connected – basically a special type of long-distance radio which enables 2-ways communications over long distances. And even better, it’s free.
While we do have one of these onboard, I get a bit overwhelmed with its sensitivity to many different factors (from atmospheric conditions to whether or not my fridge is running while we are doing a radio call). The almost permanent background static noise is also an issue for me, making it often very, very difficult to understand English over a cracked voice. Finally, it is very slow for data.

Instead, we have furnished Pesto with a satellite phone. I very rarely use it for voice, mostly data. What I like about it is that it works almost in any weather conditions, and gives me the flexibility to fetch the weather data that I want, when I want it. Of course, it comes at a cost.

For the sake of sharing, I am copying below part of an email I exchanged with a friend about our usage of the SatPhone:

I REALLY like my iridium GO […]

I use prepaid plans, because personally I don’t like to engage on fixed recurring expenses. Having said that, I have never used up all minutes available on the plans I’ve bought, so I can’t tell you if I am getting the absolute best economic value for the minutes I use. Anyway, I don’t have the fixed monthly expense, and that keeps me contented.

For the Pacific season I bought the longest prepaid dataplan available. It is valid for one year, and I believe it gives me one thousand minutes of usage. I paid $750 for it. I remember doing the math, and if we used all 1000 minutes of it, we would get a better unit rate than the fixed monthly plan, but who knows.

I am not keeping track of actual usage, but I can give you a few pointers for an estimate.

On average I download weather files twice per day here. Each time I do it, it takes me between 2 and 5 minutes, depending on connection, file size etc.. Then there are the occasional one-timers. About once a month we end up having to send or receive some large file document to someone, and use anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes in the process.

We have only been able to use 3rd party internet (wifi, hotspots) in Taiohae, Atuona and Fakarava. And all these times, never from the boat – we need to be literally within a few meters of the antenna to get some bandwidth. We bought local phones with local chips, but they have NEVER worked for data anywhere. Point is, we use the satphone a lot.