Pete Goss has seen technology come and go in his long racing and cruising career. But he thinks Starlink may well be the 'go to' for liveaboard cruisers

Admittedly I’m an old duffer, but it still amazes me how communications have developed over my lifetime. The budget for my first single-handed race couldn’t be described as tight; it simply didn’t exist.

What wasn’t there was squeezed by a rule that required us to have the ability to pick up a weather forecast. Whilst pondering a solution I spied an old radio in the marina skip. To my eternal shame I fitted it to the bulkhead and hoped that a tuning dial that lit up when it was turned on would scrape me through the pre-race scrutiny. The plan was for an electrical wizard of a friend to tickle it
into life before the start.

It turned out that he didn’t have the required spells up his sleeve and the only forecast I received was a local radio station out of Halifax offering a barbecue forecast! The dormant radio burst into life, however, after we fell off a particularly big wave. I nearly jumped out of my skin as it blasted into my Zen-like world at full volume.

Growing budgets and longer races enabled me to climb the tree of technology and its ever-accelerating progress. During the British Steel Challenge we had excellent HF radios which offered the occasional call home and inter-fleet communications. Our rather basic satcom system was expensive so we had a duty yacht to gather fleet positions over the radio.

This was then condensed for satellite transition back to race HQ. For family communication we had a weekly crew newsletter edited by partners at home.

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Things stepped up a notch for the Vendée Globe where we had Argos trackers strapped to the push-pit for automatic position reporting.

A quick-release lever meant it could be taken into the life raft should the need arise. EPIRBs were new and proved to be a godsend although not as good as today, for the position was derived through triangulation from passes of the satellite. As we went further south, so the satellites became lower on the horizon to make the signal progressively worse.

This played a major factor in the difficulties I had in finding Raphaël Dinelli, with his position jumping by as much as 20 miles every couple of hours.

We still had to take HF radios and I used to really enjoy chatting to other competitors and of course calling home once a fortnight. Over a lifetime of these calls I got to know the operators at Portishead Radio and always had a chat before they put me through. One of them, Clive Puttock, played a key role in Raphaël’s rescue. The ionosphere would always play unusual tricks as it bounced signals about. Deep in the southern ocean south of Australia, New York taxi drivers came though as clear as a bell – and what an entertaining bunch they were.

All this leads me to a couple of weeks ago when Tracey and I were contributing to a three-day cruising seminar. One of the visiting speakers was the leading weather router, Christian Dumard.

At last year’s event Starlink wasn’t mentioned and yet here Christian was saying it is absolutely the way to go because it provides full broadband wherever you are. Shortly afterwards I saw a Starlink Marine antenna installed on a Garcia 45 that’s heading off across the Atlantic as I type. It was reassuringly rugged and not as intrusive as I thought it might be.

It seems the way to go for a liveaboard sailor. Particularly as it will save a fortune signing up to numerous providers as you move from country to country.

In addition to Starlink I would add a Garmin InReach as it’s a great little unit to take into a raft or ashore if in remote places.

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