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Yachting blogger plagued by wind, power issues

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Blog One of the things that makes it very easy to spot Americans who are cruising around the Med on sailing boats is the Iridium phones they seem to imagine they need. You only get two or three days to detect them, because they quickly discover that they can buy a Greek SIM card for less than the price of their next ten minutes, and then pretend the Iridium was a toy phone they brought for their children to play with.

Inmarsat, having lent me a BGAN broadband satellite terminal for this trip, said: "By the way, you can use it for simultaneous voice calls you know? Around a dollar a minute."

It sounds like a lot of money, but in fact, compared with the price of GSM roaming, it's pretty good, and so I asked how it works.

"You'll work it out," they said.

Not yet, I haven't. To be fair to Inmarsat, it's not all together their fault that I don't have enough battery power to play around. We're currently anchored off a deserted cove on the east side of the island of Kalamos, where once there was a small fishing village, Porto Leone. I don't know if it ever had electricity; it was abandoned in 1953, after a big earthquake which devastated these islands, in particular, the islands of Ithaca and Kephalonia nearby.

Whether it ever had mains electricity or not, seems to be beside the point - it has nothing at all now. Just an abandoned church. So the plan to try the BGAN phone service last night came to naught.

The main problem, however, was not power or coverage. It was wind. For reasons even an expert meteorologist might find puzzling, the wind comes from literally all directions except from under the sea. I watched Summer Lightning from the road above the cove: a gust literally came vertically down onto the boat, and spread out in a circle. And this played Old Nick with my attempts to align the satellite terminal.

When tied up in a harbour, you have a pair of ropes ("lines") going from the rear of the ship to the dock. The boat doesn't crash into the dock because you have the anchor laid out in front of it, held tight. And after you've been tied up for an hour or so, you'll have company - at least one ship either side, touching yours, and making any movement at all difficult - if the boat is pointing north-west, it stays that way.

Out at anchor, of course, you can't do that. You drop the anchor as normal, but there's no dock; so you have to tie up to the nearest tree. And since the tree is on land, and (typically) the water there is shallow, you obviously want to be a fair way away from the land; so you make a very long rope out of all your short ropes, tied together.

That works. You pull the rope tight, fasten on the rear of the ship, pull the anchor tight at the other end, and (you might imagine) are now nicely aligned in a straight stripe from tree to rope to boat to chain to anchor.

Wrong. You swing around to the rhythm of the sea, and every time I managed to get an Inmarsat signal, I lost it within two minutes as the boat pointed in another direction. A gentler wind, or a more stable direction for the wind, and all would have been well. I could, perhaps, have fired up the Bluetooth Inmarsat phone, and phoned home. At that point, the battery failed.

My crew instructed me to row ashore with my satellite and PC gear in a plastic bag. Suspecting a mutinous plot, I pleaded the need to generate a hangover, and opened a bottle of Retsina wine. I may be some time... ®

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