Technologica confusicus

12th Apr 2003 This expedition to the Cape Verde Islands had a number of objectives. We hoped to contribute to the knowledge of whales around the islands; investigate possible links between humpback whales occurring around Cape Verde and Ireland and try and raise peoples' awareness of, and interest in, whales in Ireland and our conservation responsibilities. For the latter, good communication is essential !

Most people will not have the opportunity to sail 4000 km south of Ireland, through Portugal, Spain and the Canary Islands to a spot in the Atlantic Ocean, 400km off Senegal. Many would not wish to ! (and some who have may wish they hadn't !).

With modern communications it is possible to send and receive messages anywhere in the world via a network of satellites. We had hoped that by using a satellite phone linked to a laptop we could send daily emails charting our progress as well as live link-ups along the way. This would enable those interested (schools, friends, relatives, creditors) to share the highs and lows, successes and frustrations as the expedition progressed, rather than read or hear a digested account with all the bad bits having been edited.

Getting to Grips with TechnologyOriginally we had planned an extensive schools programme where school visits would have been organised and literature produced prior to the expedition, to stimulate an interest in whales, expeditions and science. Questions could have been sent to the research vessel for the skipper or science team on the logistics of living aboard a small vessel, what had been observed or any other thoughts that may have popped into a young enquiring mind. Although the schools programme had to be shelved through lack of funding, we set up a dedicated email address to be picked up by the vessel. Daily logs would have been posted on the expedition website and digital images sent as obtained. To achieve this, good communication was essential !

We hired a satellite phone for the duration of the expedition at a cost of over 10% of our funding to date. Unfortunately the software we had installed on the laptop was not compatible and it would take another week to order new software and a cable link. We did not have that time as the team were leaving El Rompido in Southern Spain to reach the Cape Verdes in time. Our phone suppliers asked “had we plugged it in correctly ?, installed the software, tested the modem, the port and hardware connections ?”. “Was there any conflicting software ?”. Conflicting software ? Tony had his PictureLight software for grabbing stills of his Digital Video for sending through the email. Was this conflicting software ? We deleted it to find out. No, that didn't solve the problem.

Matthew at the HelmSo before leaving Spain we had lost the ability to send and receive emails and were reliant on voice messages, at $5 per minute ! The phone, though expensive, seemed to work fine on the journey south, but once reaching the Cape Verde, the signal has been very erratic.

Bad signal in Palmeira on Sal, poor signal in Mindelo on Sao Vicente, signal keeps dropping at Sal Rei on Boavista !! Despite our protestations, we were told, there is nothing the suppliers can do. So in a world that can fly monkeys to the moon or watch a Champions League quarter final in a remote village in Cape Verdes, we can't talk with, or send messages to, Ireland and thus one important part of our expedition is compromised. Oh, and we don't have PictureLight on Tony's laptop !!

Simon Berrow