We’re not much into watching TV, except for sports. But sports are important, especially college basketball, so we’ve been carrying a Direct TV system coupled with a “FollowMe TV” antenna tracker. The tracker works well in smooth water at anchor in the mid-latitudes, but it has a harder time maintaining its aim as we get to the fringes of reception. We’re using a 24″ dish and we’ve watched Wildcat basketball as far south in Mexico as Cedros Island. We’ve also watched parts of the NBA finals, in Cordova, Alaska. However, at 61 degrees north, with the dish depressed to the maximum, looking through a forest of steel fishing boats, reception was more off than on.
But now we’re back in Southeast Alaska, and when we cranked up the system in Sitka (56 degrees north) we had good reception. As you can see from the photo above, this is a critical period for watching TV – as long as you’re willing to get up at 0430 Alaska time. But given the excellent job the VS channel is doing with their broadcasts of the America’s Cup, it is worth the pain.
Thus does interject a new factor in how we chose anchorages. We want a clear view of the southern sky, so the dish can see the Direct TV satellite.
We have been using Verizon cell phones, on their North American plan. This year we had coverage a good portion of the time up to 20 miles offshore along the Pacific Coast. Through British Columbia reception was excellent in most of the areas we traversed, as far north as Alert Bay and to the east in Blunden and Alyson harbors. Once north of this area Verizon cell service was history.
We picked up their service again as we neared Ketchikan, Alaska. Coverage was much improved over last year, working about 75% of the time between Ketchikan and Glacier Bay. We maintained coverage to about 20 miles northwest of Cape Spencer. Service picked up again as we neared Seward on the Alaskan Panhandle. We did not have coverage in Cordova, but we are told this is about to change.
Where we had phone service we also had Internet service from Verizon, albeit at somewhat slower speeds than we are used to (at the low end of DSL speed, we’d guess). Still, that is plenty fast for sending e-mail, surfing small web sites, and uploading articles to SetSail.com.
We’ve been using Iridium for e-mail when out of cell range. This is via UUPlus.com (they are a compression service). The UUPlus software is easy to use, and they have great tech support.
Last year we tried to use Globalstar, but they were having problems with their satellites, which they did not admit to us, resulting in much frustration and hassle. We’re told they are about to launch some new satellites to correct the problem. For us, the voice service was useless – too many dropped calls and too long for connection. However, their data service does work, if you are prepared to try multiple times to get connected. The advantage compared to Iridium is four times the connection speed and lower per-minute charges. We spoke to one couple in Sitka who have been using Globalstar for their data the last year and, while not happy with number of tries required to send their data, they figure the cost/speed ratio compared to Iridium makes it worthwhile.
OK, another race in the America’s Cup coming up, so we need to get to bed early…