In Pacific Mexico there are several high frequency (HF) cruiser Nets that operate on a daily basis. For the last seven years I have participated in two of them, the Amigo Net and the Sonrisa Net. I have been a Net controller on both Nets and a temporary Net Manager for the Amigo Net during two of the last seven years while in Mexico.
The Nets provide a meeting place for cruisers to check in with their current location and regale others with their recent activities. Additionally, the Nets provide a weather broadcast for the outside of Baja California, the Sea of Cortez and mainland Mexico south to the bay of Tehuantepec. The Nets also provide an avenue to exchange announcements and alert mariners of hazards to navigation such as whale sightings, debris in the water, shoaling at the entrance to harbors and most importantly emergency situations requiring assistance. These Nets do not require any monetary donations and are operated by volunteer cruisers. Because they are based on volunteers, those with the basic equipment, licensing and ability should consider the importance of being a Net Controller. You know, giving back to the community that you belong to as a cruiser. Both Nets are friendly and relaxed and some find it enjoyable to participate. If you can push a button on a microphone and you can read a script provided by the Net Managers you too could start your career in radio broadcasting. All Joking aside, it is not that difficult and it provides a valuable service to likeminded cruisers.
Cruisers participating in the Nets become part of a close-knit group of individuals that rely on each other through communication on the Nets. It also helps build long lasting friendships amongst the cruising community. There are two types of cruisers that participate in these Nets. First are those cruisers that have an HF receive only radio and the second are those that have a two-way HF radio. The second type of cruisers can interact in a two-way conversation if they possess the proper license. Those with receive only capabilities rely on the Nets for current weather information and as a Net Controller it is important to remember that there are individuals who don’t have the ability to answer or ask any clarifying questions. So, reading the complete daily weather for their benefit is critical fact to remember.
There are two different levels of licensing required to operate your HF radio. Some HF radios can be used as a HAM radio, a Single Side Band (SSB) radio or both. Some Nets require a HAM license that is obtained by studying test material to pass a Technician and/or a General HAM licensing test. The SSB radio only requires that you have a Ship’s Station License, which is required and obtained from the FCC. To operate in either communication mode you are required to possess the proper license. In the event of an emergency, however, anyone can grab the microphone and broadcast their emergency.
Enough of the background stuff…there has been a tradition for many years now that started back in circa 1994. An annual perpetual award is presented to an individual who seems to have the gift of gab. It is The Green Shirt. From its beginning each annual recipient has had his or her HAM call sign applied to the shirt. It has gradually morphed into an award presented to those that go above and beyond in their contributions to the HAM/cruising community and the Sonrisa Net. The following URL will provide you with the whole story of The Green Shirt as told by Barbra Campbell. http://sonrisanet.org/The Green T.html
HAMs and non-HAM radio operators are a vital part of the cruising community and without volunteers to step up the plate as Net Controller or participate in the HF Nets the Coconut Telegraph would go the way of the rotary dial telephone. Interaction and being connected gives one a feeling that help is just around the corner. We all feel connected to this community. This community of individuals comes from all walks of life as well as originating from different countries. There are no boat services like Boat US or AAA here in Mexico to run to your assistance when your boat doesn’t work properly. We put out a call to the fleet describing our current need for assistance and the fleet rises to the occasion and responds to your need. We all have a high level of independence, but there occasionally comes a time when the situation requires a special tool or knowledge that is not readily available in our database. So, a request is made to the fleet for assistance. Like the Maytag repairman waiting for a call, someone in the fleet possesses the knowledge or that special tool and is willing to provide assistance.
The Internet is available in Mexico, but it doesn’t work at blazing speeds and is not always available for use. There are many non-Internet areas in the Sea of Cortez. We are not always connected to the world back home and therefore we rely on those participating in these Nets to pass along information. Like weather, welfare checks, overdue boats and sometimes news from back home. It is better than the stone tablet or smoke signals and it is how we stay connected.
One last note, The HF or the VHF radios are not private communication systems. So, like the Jimmy Buffett song regarding the Coconut Telegraph indicates, if you don’t want your neighbors to know your business don’t say it on the radio. The use of Digital Selective Calling or DSC allows you to call another radio station without broadcasting your business. Yes if someone wants to hear your business they could have their radio in the scan mode, but most of us have better things to do than eavesdrop on those trying to make plans for dinner. There are fish to catch, hammocks to catch naps in, long romantic walks along the beach, (did I just say that?), sunsets to admire and drinks with little umbrellas in them to drink while holding your pinkie finger in the air.
Until next time, this is Captain Dan signing off…..73’s to you all!