Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Net Control

Put half a dozen cruising boats in the same vicinity and pretty soon there will be a VHF or SSB radio net. Here we’re under the aegis of the Northwest Caribbean Net, meeting on 6209 USB at 1400 UTC, 0800 local time, covering Isla Mujeres to San Andres and Providencia, and sometimes beyond.

There are people who love the nets. I’m one of them. It’s like getting a local newspaper full of information, business, gossip; and it’s always such a revelation to match the voice personality to the vessel if you do ever come across them.

And there are people who hate the nets. I’m one of them too. Endless holiday greetings and blathering on about restaurants and pets, people who don’t listen and fail to communicate, people whose act is not together. Sometimes I find myself shouting at the radio “That’s not what she said!” or “Pay attention!”

So now, I’m the net controller, the mouth behind the mike myself. Apparently I have the radio signal and the voice for it, and, being, I'm told, a bossy older sister, also the training. Tuesday mornings at 8 you’ll find me at the chart table, which has been cleaned off so everything can be written down, pencils sharpened, script propped before me, mike in hand, and as the GPS ticks to the top of the hour, I introduce myself and ask everyone to listen for emergency or priority traffic. It’s all downhill from there.

Vessels underway check in with position reports– today was busy with 12. Boats are going north to Isla Mujeres, and coming south from there; with a new moon high tide they’re coming out of the Rio Dulce; a break in the weather opens windows out of Providencia and San Andreas, and there are short hops in Belize and the Bay Islands too.
“Any relays for vessels I’m not hearing?”

You wouldn’t think it would be so entertaining to watch these little amoebas gliding off across a microscope slide; maybe it’s more like the weird fascination of watching the Weather Channel. We have one of those too, a cruiser who downloads NOAA and other sources and broadcasts the results to the fleet. He’s the single most popular and effective member of this community, although sometimes the forecast and the actual weather are marching to different drummers.
“Fills needed on the weather? Come now.”

Next comes the section called QSTs – basically: what do you need? Information? Parts? Got something to buy, sell or trade? On my days, this section runs together with general check-ins. ‘Wait to be recognized!’

“Jeff’s selling spare parts from his outboard that was stolen before Christmas. Randy’s got a VHF. Are there markers in that pass? Anyone have a phone number for the shipyard? Bob had a ‘4-foot long thick-bodied snake’ on the anchor when he arrived from mainland Belize to an outer cay.” (This is unusual!)

Next check-in, come now. Okay, I've got Windquest, My Way, and one other, all together. Windquest, go.

“Be aware that the Port Captain in Coxen Hole, Roatan, speaks better English than he lets on. New green channel marker at West End, Roatan. Is my radio better today? Can anyone carry a package from Port Royal to Utila? To Cuba? I don’t think we got an accurate measurement when we got diesel the other day, and it was poor quality. We’re still here in French Harbor, no traffic. I’d like to talk to xxx after the net….”

It goes on like that for half an hour or so, until “one last call for check-ins for the Northwest Caribbean Net”. I like to imagine people "reading the mail" as they drink coffee, wash the dishes, brush their teeth; plotting the course of their day with the net in the background. But on Tuesdays, I hope they're not yelling at the radio, or at least, not at me. I’ve done what I can to "facilitate communications among vessels”, until next week. “Thanks, everyone, for participating. The net is now closed and the frequency available for general use.”

No comments: