Fast forward two years. We began having trouble with the headsets about six months ago. The wires from the headset unit to the radio unit are not very robust and we began having static when we moved around. This is a sailboat, remember, so we move around a lot. Also, the plug seemed not to seat well after awhile and so it wouldn't transmit at all or one could talk and the other could hear but not transmit. It became such a huge issue that we realized we had to do something about it, but we couldn't afford new ones at the moment. Hand signals, you say? Can't do it on Kintala because we have a manual windlass. When Tim is working the windlass he is kneeling down and is visually below the level of the dinghy on the deck. I can't see him at all from the helm. With the dodger and the 42 feet factor and the wind and the engine, I can't hear him at all either. We had an immediate need for a solution.
We decided to try something totally new, something we had never seen anyone else do. We have an assortment of safety whistles on board, two of which are the Storm safety whistles from a friend of ours' company that we keep in the ditch bag and at the helm. Two are USCG safety whistles that are tied onto our life jackets, and two are the USCG safety whistles that are the flat plastic type like these >>>>>>
They are easy to wear all day, tuck into our shirts, can be heard through the dodger, around the dinghy and over the wind and engine noise. After a few days of using them we've come up with a reliable signal system and, except for the rare time like the night before last when we had to up anchor and move in the middle of the night, they work really, really well as communicator devices. I'm incredibly grateful to have had the headsets in the first year of cruising because we simply didn't have the experience to gracefully carry out docking and anchoring maneuvers without talking extensively about them first. Now that we have almost two years of it under our belt, though, we mostly anticipate what the other person is requiring and it goes pretty smoothly. So if you happen to be anchored somewhere and we come in to join you, here's what our signals mean.
1 short blow: forward easy
2 short blows: neutral
3 short blows: reverse
4 short blows: anchor is on or off the bottom
1 long blow: forward and to port
2 long blows: forward and to starboard
and of course the universal 5 long blows for danger or stop
We've been using this system now for a couple months and it's working very well for us. In addition we find that having them on all the time is helpful. When you're below using the head on Kintala you can't hear someone in the cockpit even yelling, so if the person driving needs help we use the whistles. You can hear them fine even as far forward as the V-berth.
In defense of Simultalk, I haven't contacted them yet to report the problem and see if there's anything to do to fix them. My guess is that they are long out of warranty and we're just moving on, but I admit to being disappointed that they didn't last more than 18 months. If I'm able to contact them and they respond I'll be sure to post an update. In the meantime, anchoring and docking will be slick as a whistle.