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Web sites keep the folks informed

Jan 1, 2003
From Ocean Navigator #114 May/June 2001

From Ocean Navigator #114 May/June 2001

A couple of years ago the practice of posting updates to a website while underway was confined to the most determined techies or the big-bucks ocean racer set. But today, thanks to cheaper communications technology, better digital cameras, and user-friendly software, it's more common than one might think-at least among coastal voyagers who sail within cell phone range of shore. For offshore travelers, it is possible to post at least text files via SSB or other technology from offshore, and some cruisers take advantage of shore-side facilities to send e-mail and post updates.

You'll need a laptop computer, a means to send your files from it, and a place to store those files as a web site. Many, if not most, internet service providers will display your personal web page for free. Our service provider gives up to five megabytes of space for non-commercial personal web sites. That's plenty of space for text and photos that take about 20 to 30K of memory. Our entire web site, with more than 70 photos and 25 text entries, had a file size of 3.3 megabytes.

A computer and camera will "capture" your trip in the form of digital information. Just about any recent-model laptop will have enough memory to handle photos. You'll need a means of connecting it to your yacht's 12-volt or 110-volt power system, perhaps with a small inverter from an electronics supply store like Radio Shack or an on-line supplier. Laptops only draw about five amps an hour, so several hours' use won't put too big a dent in your house battery bank's charge. The small inverters plug right into a lighter socket for power.

Digital cameras are less costly than computers but also come in many makes and models, ranging from less than $100 to $400 and right on up. More expensive cameras store more information to increase the resolution and color quality of each image. If you plan only to post images to a web site, you don't need high resolution. In fact, you don't want to put too much information in the form of bits and bytes on your web site because it makes it slow to post to.

To keep file sizes reasonable, adjust photo size to take up about half the computer screen. A camera with a 1,280-by-960-pixel resolution, like the Olympus 1.3 megapixel D360L we used, is more than adequate for most amateur work. This level of resolution will produce a decent paper print for your album and makes great-looking web photos. Cameras come complete with the software you need to manipulate the images and to reduce their size.

To post to a web site you'll need to use html - hypertext mark-up language - or a software package of some sort. My recent version of Microsoft Word has all the basic features to create simple web pages with text and photos. You can either teach yourself web design, or before you take off on your cruise check out the local computer store, community college, or adult-ed programs for a basic web site design class to get started.

After you create a web page on your computer, you must then move its files to the remote server where family and friends can access it. WebPages software will have a "publish" feature to do this, or an additional $20 File Transfer Protocol (FTP) program does the job. Data can be moved either via landline telephone connections available stateside at some libraries or for coastal cruisers in U.S. waters via digital cell phone if you have a flat-rate, no-roving-charges-type payment-plan option. If you plan to use regular telephone lines you will want to check out one of the Internet access plans that has local telephone numbers for many locations in North America and Europe and other developed nations.

Recent-model digital cell phones, like the Motorola Startac we used to create our trip log, plug into the computer's serial port via a special (pricey) cable that we ordered through the cell phone dealer. Connected up this way, the cell phone acts as a modem. Digital cell phone coverage is extensive on the coasts but not universal. During our East Coast trip, for example, there were two or three occasions when the connection was too poor to allow data transmission.

We found that to post text and two or three photos usually took about five minutes of airtime. Occasionally in areas of marginal coverage the connection would fail part way through the transmission, and we would either start over again or wait until we reached an area of better coverage to make a posting.

But overall, keeping a web site for our voyage was, and still is, simple, and fun and an effective way to stay in touch with family and friends.

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