“Forward to the Past”: a return to 12-year old technologies…

Trying to put back together what is left from the Winlink radio station I used from the boat twelve years ago feels like a trip “Forward to the Past”… kind of a reverse from “Back to the Future” (which soon will be “Back to the Past” since the “Future” in “Back to the Future” was, precisely, the year 2015…).

Twelve years ago, when I got my ticket as radio-amateur, I was mainly interested in Winlink 2000, a system for radio-mail communications developed “by sailors and for sailors” for communication from boats cruising the blue waters of the World. Since then much water has gone under the bridges and Winlink has evolved in several directions, mainly as a system for Emergency Communications without the need for local access to telephone and internet. The QRO station I set-up in 2004 included a Toshiba Tecra 8000, an ICOM-706MKIIG transceiver, an SCS PTC IIex Pactor modem (with Pactor 3) and a tiny MFJ-902 manual “travel” tuner. As antenna I mainly used the Buddipole that I deployed from the stern of the boat when moored or at anchor. The test of fire for that station came during a solo sail from Ottawa to Montreal and back along the lower Ottawa River in “Vándor” (a vintage Alberg 22 I owned from 2000 to 2007). During this trip I was able to post in a Yahoo group in “real-time” the daily log of the trip. For this I had created a private Yahoo Group (“Vandorswake”) in which I had registered imy Winlink e-mail address. Friends and relatives who joined the group were able to see on-line or receive as e-mails the messages I was posting from the different anchorages along the way. At that time, cellular phones were at their infancy and Blogs, Facebook and Twitter were unheard of, so it must have been seen as a singular achievement to be able to reach an audience in this manner. The “Great Lakes Alberg Association” (GLAA) certainly seemed to had seen it in that way, since I was eventually awarded the GLAA 2004 Gordon Proctor Memorial Trophy and the GLAA 2004 “Log of the Year Award” for “a sailing log posted in real-time via HF and the Internet”. Click in the picture below to see the trip account and log as published in the Spring 2006 and Summer 2006 issues of the GLAA Newsletter:

GLAA 2004-01 copy

Twelve years after… I became interested in radio-amateur activation of Ontario islands not accessible by land (see previous postings in this blog). I was planning to post QRV and QSX information via APRS radio. Unfortunately, the digipeater serving the Lac Deschènes portion of he Ottawa River had just been immolated to the gods of progress and real estate development. Hence, I was left with no means for broadcasting QSX information during a recent activation of Aylmer Island. I then decided to return to the technology that was available a decade ago. To my surprise I found out that the long neglected “Vandorswake” Yahoo Group still existed, that all the original postings were still there, and that I was still able to readily post to the group from my Winlink e-mail address via the Winlink Webmail (internet) service. However, the question remained as to whether I still had the capability of posting directly to the Yahoo group from the radio, with no direct access to internet.

From the old equipment I used in 2004 all that remains is the SCS PTC IIex modem and the ICOM CI-V Level Converter CT-17. The ICOM 706MKIIG has long been replaced by a QRP ICOM 703+ and the MFJ-902 (which I still have on a shelf), by a miniature Elecraft T1. Also the old Toshiba Tecra 8000 had metamorphosed into an IBM T60 ThinkPad with only USB ports, but with a Type II PC card slot with a PC card with two serial ports. The computer still runs Windows XP and Airmail is also still installed. The first step was then to upgrade Airmail to its latest version (v. 3.4.062, from March 2013 – Airmail is gradually being phased out of Winlink in favour of RMS Express as its preferred client program). The second step was to upgrade the SCS PTC IIex firmware also to its latest version (v. 4.0 from July 2009 – also an indication that the IIex has long been superseded). And the third and last step was to update the list of PMBO Pactor stations. Until September 9 2012 Joost ZS5S had faithfully e-mailed an updated list on the first day of each month, but since then the list of stations in Airmail had remained unchanged. Eventually, I was able to find out that PMBO’s are now called RMS’s and that what I needed was to download the up-to-date “RMSFrequency Listing”. Once transferred to the Airmail Inbox this text file was readily uploaded into Airmail as the new station database. Now I had to find all the cables: a) Radio CI-V Remote Control Jack to CT-17, b) CT-17 to a serial port of the computer, c) Radio ACC 13 pin DIN Accessory Socket to SCS PTC IIex 8 pin DIN socket, d) SCS PTC IIex serial port to a serial port in computer. Plug them and then configure Airmail to properly interface with both the radio and the modem. Amazingly, as far as configuration goes, all that was required was to change the address of the ICOM radio from 58H (the address of the ICOM 706MKIIG) to 68H (the address of the ICOM 703+), and on the very first attempt in 40m I was connected to RMS AJ4GU in McDonough, GA. TU Michael!

The next step will be to use CrossOver to run RMS Express in the Yosemite environment of the MacBook Pro and use WinMor with an external sound card to send Pactor digital audio to the Elecraft KX3… But for the time being, a 12-year old technology still does the trick…

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