Iridium GO! + PredictWind for Totem’s Indian Ocean debut

PW5

Note: this post was written after our first passage with the Iridium GO! in conjunction with PredictWind’s Offshore App. It has since been updated with the benefit of a full year of use, across the Indian Ocean. Click here to read the new post!

Not long before leaving Malaysia, we purchased an Iridium GO!. This was somewhat unexpected because Totem has long been a radio centric boat. Since we started cruising in 2008 we’ve relied solely on our HF radio for long distance communications: it has met our needs, we value the community of an informal radio net at sea, and we are grateful the safety net of land-based hams such as the awesome Pacific Seafarers Net.

What changed?

But this past year, paying close attention to the progress of boats along our intended route in the Indian Ocean, we were dismayed to hear how much trouble they were having connecting to land-based stations for the purpose of receiving updated weather data over PACTOR modems- to the point that we know radio-centric boats that relied upon sailing in company with those carrying satellite based systems on board so that they could to receive updated weather forecasts.

Weather data is critical for cruisers.

The waters around the south end of Africa are famous for monstrous wind and wave events. We don’t want to be without current weather data anywhere in the world, but if we had to pick spots we’re especially keen to have weather info on demand- it’s off southern Africa. South Africa has radio nets and hams, but connecting to the land stations for boats coming in from the east was a struggle. It was also difficult for boats heading into the Atlantic after rounding the Cape. Sailmail or Winlink, it didn’t seem to matter- both had issues with station access from that corner of the world.

Time to look beyond HF!

To solve our weather dilemma, for us the best solution is a combination of PredictWind and the Iridium GO!. We’ve used PredictWind for years on Totem, and they have apps designed specifically for working with an Iridium GO!. That’s actually very important: there’s a misconception that the GO! is like having a satellite based wifi-hotspot with you. It’s more complicated than that, because applications must be specifically designed for Iridium GO! to work with the unit. For the most part, these apps are tablet or smartphone based, but PredictWind works with the Iridium on a computer – and I want to be able to see and work with weather info on my bigger screen, not just a mobile one.

Before the passage.

The hardest part of the install was deciding where to put the base unit. Once we had that worked out, the rest was uncomplicated: Jamie mounted the external antenna on the top of our solar arch, and ran the cable back through the conduit already in place for our SilentWind turbine and solar panels. Easy.

PW3

We used the PredictWind Offshore App on a Windows laptop, with a Professional subscription. Prior to departure, Jamie spent time using routing tools in the PredictWind app to analyze our plan and found valuable insights that prompted us to adjust our route. Originally, the plan was to sail pretty close to a rhumb line through the northern Nicobar islands- something like the yellow track above. Based on what he learned thorugh the PredictWind routing algorithm, we decided to go farther south instead–between Sumatra and the south end of the Nicobars, which the routing showed to have a stronger favorable current flow. This had obvious benefits for our overall passage time, and helped us keep up our pace in very light air.

On the way to Sri Lanka

Thankfully, sailing from the Malay peninsula at this time of year is pretty benign. But “weather happens” and we wouldn’t rely on any forecast after a few days, and we expected up to 10 days on this passage.  Going through the PredictWind app, we could download satellite images of the region, text based forecasts, and grib files. There are four different grib file types available (three are GFS based, and two of those are specialized PredictWind algorithms), and you can choose different viewers for the gribs: we like looking at it with a grib plugin on OpenCPN.

PW6

Winds in the Bay of Bengal are light at this time of year, and only get lighter until the end of the NE Monsoon in late March or April. As the forecast evolved during our voyage, the breezes held and we were able to knock three days off our expected time- getting in after seven days and a few hours.

Beyond weather.

The #1 reason we got the GO! is for weather data. But the GO! opens up a world of other features that I’m very happy to have on board.

Email. We used the (free) Iridium email app, and gave the address to a handful of friends and family to reach us while we were at sea. This worked tremendously well. I really liked the easy communication, and with a Bluetooth keyboard, could type as comfortably as at a laptop.

SMS. We tested this with a few friends, and it worked really well. It’s probably going to be the fastest / easiest way to get messages while we’re “out there”: there’s an audible ping from the Iridium when a new message comes in, so we get it much sooner than waiting for the next time we check our email. Happily, several other boats traveling loosely in company with us have recently purchased GO! units as well, so we can text back and forth anytime we want to get immediately in touch.

Twitter. The GO! made it very easy to keep tweeting away, and I had fun sending messages from our passage- and getting notifications for any pings, favorites, and retweets. It’s not set up for photos, just text.

Internet browsing. This only worked marginally for us. We simply found it to be very, very slow. I mean, it IS a satellite connection. We expected slow. But pages often timed out before loading, even with the super stripped down Opera “Mini” app cranked to minimize the pipe and remove images. But I have heard other boats having more success with this, so… well, we’ll keep trying. [Updated, My 2015: Android users aren’t having the same difficulty as iOS users.]

Facebook. [Updated, My 2015] Iridium GO! functionality on Facebook  was one of the features I was really looking forward to using, because we have a fairly active Facebook page for Totem and I enjoy the interaction with friends and followers there. Unfortunately, this no longer works with the GO! apps: they relied upon Facebook’s post-by-email functionality, and Facebook decided to discontinue those without notice. It’s a bummer. The workaround for this is to post through a browser, and in theory, you can use a thin-pipe browser on the GO!… except that we haven’t been able to get it to work. There are issues with iOS, and we use the GO! with an iPad. Android users have an easier time. There should be updates to the GO! firmware and to the app that fix this, but meanwhile… no Facebook and no Web browsing for iOS users of the GO!.

Phone. Yes, you can make phone calls too! We didn’t, because our Unlimited data plan only includes 5 minutes of phone calls through the GO! per month, and we were hanging onto them “just in case.” But I’ll test it out soon. With a few extra bucks for the Unlimited Plus plan, you get 100 minutes. You pay a per-minute rate once you exceed the limit- this can add up fast.

Looking ahead.

PredictWind map

That’s not our track but the cool SY Crystal Blues en route to Sri Lanka.

One of the cool tools that PredictWind offers that we have yet to really take advantage of is a custom web page for tracking your boat, automatically updated with GPS positions from the Iridium GO! Friends and family can use it to follow your every move from afar (it updates every  hour, automatically), and you can embed it into a web page. I’m looking forward to using this, but we won’t start until we’ve cleared the Lloyds London Market Exclusions list (aka, the piracy “High Risk Area”) for yachts. Unfortunately, the HRA box currently includes Maldives and Chagos, our next two destinations- so we’ll hold off on real time tracking for now, and begin using the page designed just for Totem from the Seychelles forward.

You should know:

PredictWind sells the GO! competitively with a cruiser-friendly package. They bundle the base unit with a variety of options we need, from an external antenna and varying lengths of cable to a SIM card. And trust me- you want that external antenna! Below deck, there’s not enough reception to be functional without the outside antenna. And yes, although the device is rugged (e.g., you can take it on deck), you wouldn’t want to leave it exposed to the elements- and we found it to be finicky without a full view of the sky. The GPS antenna on the device is not in the external antenna, however: it’s in the GO! base unit, so do give thought to where you mount it. For satellite visibility, putting the antenna on our solar arch is an easy solution.

Well connected readers know we love it when you read this on the SAILfeed website – thanks for kicking the change in our cruising kitty!

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19 Responses to Iridium GO! + PredictWind for Totem’s Indian Ocean debut

  1. Victor Raymond February 27, 2015 at 11:39 pm #

    Totem Crew,

    Delighted to hear of your success with iGo, PredictWind and OpenCPN as these are the exact three packages I decided on too. I have been playing (still on the hard in Port Angeles) with these products.

    I just love the particle map display on OpenCPN. I really gives some visual clues as to what this wind is doing. I wish they had come up with a different color scheme as red is usually associated with danger and yellow with caution. Maybe the idea is red (little wind) is danger for a sailboat because you will soon run out of propulsion?

    Anyhow delighted with what I have seen so far and glad you have success with it also.

    Thanks for the great review.

    • Behan February 28, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

      I think it’s a winning combination too! I am pretty sure the colors of wind flies are based on settings, which you can change to suit you preference.

  2. Carly Zaniboni March 19, 2015 at 3:50 am #

    How did I miss this post??! I was about to pull the trigger on the GO with another company and now I think I’ll go with predict wind. Still trying to talk Carl into the GO, he’s a handheld type of man and thinks this little hotspot thingy will break. Thanks for the great post.

    • Behan March 23, 2015 at 11:14 am #

      Carly- glad I can help! I’m really glad we went thru PW. It’s very clear and upfront about what you need. And wow, but this device is really rugged- no way is it breaking! I think it’s FAR less susceptible than a handset type device. Let me know if you have any more questions, I’m happy to help!

  3. nex March 23, 2015 at 7:59 pm #

    Hi, please post grib download speeds with and without external antena, if possible. I’m about to buy GO, but not convinced external antena increases speed significantly. Thanks.

    • Behan March 24, 2015 at 1:51 pm #

      We can’t download gribs from below deck without the antenna, so the question is moot! The device is very sensitive to having a full sky view.

  4. John Daubeny March 24, 2015 at 7:40 am #

    Hi Behan

    Day 2 back at my desk in Auckland and I’m poring over your website and wishing ATEA was there with you ! Suspect we will also go down the Iridium path next year but in the meantime I’m following you from my desk and sending best wishes.

    John

    • Behan March 24, 2015 at 11:18 am #

      John, we sure wish you and Kia and the kids were here on ATEA too. But it’s waiting for you and will be just as amazing next year. The Uligan agent’s daughter is about the same age as Ayla- imagine the shenanigans in 2016 with those toddlers! xx

  5. nex April 21, 2015 at 4:12 am #

    Hello, I have got Iridium GO, but have strange problem with GPS data. Maybe you can help and run easy test with your GO. Please drop me an email.

    • Behan April 21, 2015 at 8:02 am #

      sure thing Nex- just dropped you an email.

  6. Steve (Emerald Sea) September 11, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

    Im not so sure I would endorse Predict Wind as a best solution. Not yet. It seems they have rushed this out without any internal quality checks. We also have the same combo of GO and PW (professional package) and its laden with hiccups. Their Offshore program will crash 1 out of 4 times, the newly provided Current data can’t be read on Offshore (PC) and they just figure this out when Ive been liaising with them – will be fixed in the late Sept upgrade. The downloaded Route will not display when zooming in. The ‘Next’ button on the download window did not display. Im not alone, there are a nr of cruisers out there with same and other issues. It does question the reliability (I say this with regard for our own ownership of routing) of their Routing which is why many purchase this package. Simply, they released this too early with too many bugs, not quality control and have lost their reputation.

  7. Jamie September 13, 2015 at 4:15 pm #

    Hey Steve – Your experience is definitely not ours. We’ve not had a single crash and no hiccups as you call them. In fact yours is the first I’ve heard of anyone having problems with Offshore. There are few things I’d like to see in the app, such as the GRIB viewer built in (which I know is due out soon), faster loading when the program opens, and more info posted about updates and file size so I can choose to update or not. That said though, PredictWind has been super responsive and the Offshore program is a nice way to get different types of weather into one place.
    I particularly like the PredictWind weather routing – the download is small and it nicely distills so much data in a way that’s easy to understand. Chagos to Seychelles we stayed further south than felt right, as per the routing software, and it kept us out of the foul current that others got stuck in. We did 1031 miles in less than 6 days. PredictWind models are sometimes better than base GFS models – and sometimes not. Computers interpreting tea leaves are imprecise and prudent sailors know to look at weather from different data sources – Perhaps this is why you were always asking for weather information on the SSB while going to Reunion?
    I do find that the Iridium Go software has much to be improved on. The new firmware update is a nice improvement to connectivity; and the apps are a step in the right direction – but there is much more to improve.

    • Steve (Emerald Sea) September 14, 2015 at 9:54 pm #

      Jamie,
      Im not alone in cruisers that are having issues with PW. You will meet some of them in the anchorage your in now. Near everyone Ive met has some issues, many mirroring mine. Im looking forward to PW’s update later this month and hopefully my confidence in them will be reinstated. And I’ll be the first to report back should this be be a success.
      As for the passage from Chagos to Mauritius, we didn’t have the GO/PW package at this time. During this period my Pactor packed in and hence the good folks on LopTo kept us updated. And fortunately this passages was quite good for us.
      Actually part of my decision to purchase the GO/PW package was the praise you gave it in your blog hence why I have posted my disappointment here ( you may be wondering why). But then I suppose your endorsement of this came with a freebee (?). Mmmm.

      • Behan September 15, 2015 at 12:34 am #

        Hey Steve, bummer you had the Chagos-Maruitius leg without any on-board weather comms- not even a backup plan, hey? That pretty well stinks, as it’s a rough leg, almost all the boats this year seem to have been beaten up to some degree. I know some folks have had issues with the PW+GO!, but it’s my impression that they are overwhelmingly with the Iridium GO! (and generally the software, not the hardware), and not at all with the PW software (save Grib readers as mentioned). We know a number of boats in the anchorage here in Madagascar who have the PW and not one has described anything like your issues. I’m sorry the package hasn’t worked on ES, but seems you’ve had some unique issues (rushed install? sounds like systems issues at your own end- and we’ve found PW support to be gold star, I’m surprised that with time in Mauritius to dial it all in, you’d have any problems before a major passage).

        We are all about getting good info out there, and I think vague accusations are kind of uncool… maybe you want to be specific, or ask others to share their issues directly? That would be more credible. Finally, we’re multi-year paying customers of PW, and paid full retail to PW to purchase the GO package. Mmmmm.

  8. Kirsten November 6, 2015 at 7:41 pm #

    Thanks for the incredibly helpful info!
    We are about to start our 2nd cruising season. Last year our SSB died in the Bahamas and we had some challenges getting weather. I’ve been researching whether to go with HF/Pactor modem or the GO and found your write up very insightful.

    I’m finally getting around to learning about using GRIB files.
    I see you use a laptop with OpenCPN (?) – something new for me to look into.
    We have a MacAir on board … any chance you are also using a mac?

    • Behan November 7, 2015 at 10:43 am #

      Hi Kirsten- sorry, not Mac users here, other than an ipad! We use OpenCPN on a PC. But if you have questions about using PW on a mac, I’d send it to their customer support – they’re responsive and I’m sure you’ll get info back. For guidance on OpenCPN, users on the CruisersForum are pretty active, and they can probably help you with that.

      • Kirsten November 7, 2015 at 5:41 pm #

        Thanks!!

  9. Myron terry January 19, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

    Hello totem, we have been eyeing the iGo since reading this post and have just snapped one up from a friend who has sold his boat. In regards to PW, is their subscription pricing in addition to a monthly or prepaid data plan from a third party service provider for the iGo? Any info would be greatly appreciated, and we enjoy your blog immensely.

    Myron & Samantha
    SV Discovery

    • Behan January 20, 2016 at 9:26 pm #

      Hi Myron & Samantha! PW weather service subscriptions, and I.GO! data plans, are sold independently. You need either Standard or Professional level packages with PredictWind to use their service with the GO. Then, you can get Iridium GO! service plans from a variety of providers, but be cautious…for example, the SIM / service that comes with the I.GO! on Amazon is a plan *appears* to be monthly but the fine print locks buyers into 12 months. If you get your SIM from PredictWind, you’re not locked in like that, and you’ll have access to PW’s support for the GO! (this is significant). PW will also give you a tracking page unique to your boat when you get the SIM/plan through them. Ours is http://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Totem – and it updates hourly, so a great way to show your position underway. Be very cautious of prepaid plans: the minutes go more quickly than you think over a satellite connection. I believe unlimited is far and away a better option. Hope that helps- let me know if you have other questions.

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