Monday, April 6, 2015

Slick as a whistle

Before we first started out cruising, while we were still on Lake Carlyle in Illinois, we bought a set of headsets more commonly known as "marriage savers". We bought them because once we had the dodger installed we were having trouble either seeing or hearing each other and communication about docking and anchoring was becoming unmanageable. No one in an anchorage or on the dock wants to hear you shouting to each other. We bought the Simultalk 24g headsets because the radio pack was small and light, the clarity was purportedly excellent, they were full duplex so you didn't step on each other and the headsets were light and easy to wear. I can't tell you how helpful they were in learning how to anchor down the ICW, in working though foggy areas with one of us on the bow and the other on the helm, in docking in tricky wind and current situations and, surprisingly, while emptying the holding tank so we could know when to rinse, when to pump without screaming out the porthole.

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.


Mike Boyd said...

Thanks for the info on the radios...we had considered getting some but if they don't hold up well I think I'll pass.

Actually, you may have given me an idea on what to do with the "bonus" emergency whistles that came with our dog's life vests. I always wondered how I could train our dogs to use the whistles anyway. ;-)


Unknown said...

My little girl insited on getting these toy walkie talkies, they were shaped like ponies. They are terrible, staticy as heck and don't transmit the length of the house.
She looked disheartened. Being the softy that I am, I dug out my radios that I have use during hunting season. 2 mile range etc.
Some might call it lazy parenting, I called it an effective use of technology, but all weekend she carried her's around telling me which friend's house she was in, which back yard she was in, and of course every friend had to speak.

What does this have to do with your post? Quality matters.
Welcome Back to the US, provision up and get back out!

Deb said...

@Mike - you still may want to consider purchasing a set, maybe used. The headsets were invaluable in our learning process. I doubt that we would be able to do what we're doing now without first having used the headsets.

@John - I did contact the company and told them about my difficulties. They pretty much admitted that normal wear and tear in the marine environment can cause these problems. They said I could send them in for evaluation, and I may, but I doubt they can do anything for me on these. By the way, Quality and Marine are two terms we have never found we can use in the same sentence with two stark exceptions: the Honda EU2000i generator and the Mantus anchor.