Wind Horse Ethernet Update

Last spring we set up (with the help of a Best Buy “Geek”) a wireless network on Wind Horse. With a Verizon broadband card on one PC, a printer, and a second PC, this seemed like the right way to go. But then we needed to allow for the Furuno Fax 30 network weatherfax which is connected via an ethernet cable, which forced our Geek into all sorts of contorted computer logic.

Now things are even more complex. We wanted to add a high gain WiFi antenna and amplifier so we could use WiFi at a long distance once we leave the world of Verizon. In addition, we now have an Imac (Apple) computer. This makes six items to connect to the network.

Troy Bethel

Our dock neighbor, friend, and “IT” guy, Troy Bethel (above), has been helping us set up the system. Troy specializes in computer systems on yachts, both cruising and racing, and is a professional sailor and ocean racing navigator, so he is well versed in the options available (modern racing yachts are a wonder of complex IT systems). What we were after is the most reliable, easy to use configuration possible, which just might be an oxymoron given the six items working together.

networking boat computers

Here is what Troy has put together. To begin with, the printer and three computers share a “switch” into which their respective ethernet cables plug. The small blue Linksys box above is the switch (mounted on the larger gray Furuno Fax 30). The device above is an Edgeport serial to USB connector into which the Icom M802 SSB radio and Pactor modem (both for e-mail) connect. In addition, the Iridium data plug is connected here, as well as a GPS.

high-gain WiFi antenna on cruising boat

The high gain (12db) WiFi antenna uses an Alumar low loss coax cable to connect to an “access point” (the access point has a 600 milliwatt booster for the outgoing signal) which in turn is connected by ethernet cable to a router.

Since we have a satellite TV tracking device we could have mounted a directional hi-gain WiFi antenna on the tracker for use at anchor. This would offer even more gain and a reduction in interference from other WiFi signals. We decided not to do this to keep things simple (a joke, we know) and because most of the places we cruise will not have a problem with excess WiFi signals.

Linksys router on boat

The router (above) connects the WiFi antenna to the three computers via the aforementioned switch. There are a couple of extra cables connected for future use.

ethernet cable connector

The photo above is one of the ethernet cable connectors which Troy crimped onto the Cat 6 cables.

It would be nice if the Furuno Fax 30 would also connect to the switch or router, but it demands its own connection to a specific PC. (Memo to Furuno engineers – Wake up over there!)

ethernet-to-USB adaptor

So, Troy installed an ethernet to USB adapter (shown above) to solve this problem. The Fax 30 connects to only one of the PCs.

If this sounds complex, it is. But we do get to share between the three computers, the printer and whatever Internet connection is available (WiFi, Verizon broad band card, and maybe next year, BGAN).

Now an existential question: Do we really need three computers? We used to get away with none, then one, a few years ago two, and now three. One of these is dedicated to navigation. The second is back up for the Nav computer, and the rest of the time is used for communications, word processing, accounting, and design work.

The new Apple Imac is here because we have fallen in love with high-def TV and think some high-def video of the Gulf of Tehuantepec in full force, Greenland, and a nice North Atlantic gale would be cool. All of the professionals with whom we discussed high-def editing said Apple was the only way to go.

And since we want them to be able to share…well, that is where we started this story. Troy has been very patient with our ungeeklike questions, staring over his shoulder trying to get a feel for what is happening.

In actual use all of the above is in the background. As long as the computers are on, they share information and devices. We do nothing, until it is time to change from one Internet source to another. Then there are some screens to go through, for which we have a cheat sheet.

Reading this over it sounds like a lot of complexity. We could have left each computer on its own, and run a long USB cable to whichever needed the printer. And we could have lived with just one of the PCs being connected to the Internet. But then downloading new software, or initializing new programs would have been a real pain. This system is stable so far, and if for some reason it stops working, we can always unplug the items and go with the simple approach.

Posted by Steve Dashew  (April 11, 2008)

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