Editors note: This is a time-sensitive and volatile subject-area. The following commentary will be out of date when you read it.
The Airmail software is written by Jim Corenman, who together with mate Sue Corenman completed their first circumnavigation in 1991 aboard Heart of Gold, a custom Carl Schumacher designed composite 50-ft sloop. The Corenmans are some of the most savvy sailors that we know. The Airmail software allows a yacht almost anywhere on the planet to communicate by e-mail using an onboard computer, a suitable high-frequency radio and a radio modem. We know a few cruisers who aren’t using Airmail, but not very many! The software is free, which is remarkable considering the quality and enormous development effort behind it. It works, is easy to use, and it doesn’t crash!
Jim’s website has links to the sites of the cadre of amateur radio and computer experts who have developed the software to support amateur radio based e-mail, and who operate the gateway stations around the world. Like Jim these people have made an enormous contribution for no compensation.
While the free Airmail software can be used by licensed ham operators and thus obtain no-cost e-mail at sea service, there is also the nonprofit association SailMail to consider. We have used SailMail for a year now and find it a wonderful service, reliable, and inexpensive. The SailMail site will tell you everything you need to know to evaluate how the service may fit your needs.
Stan Honey WA6IVA organized the SailMail Association, obtained the necessary FCC licenses, begged, borrowed, and bought the necessary equipment, wrote the Internet gateway/multiple-station synchronization software, and assembled the SailMail radio stations. Jim Corenman KE6RK wrote the AirMail program that serves as the e-mail client running on PC’s aboard member vessels and also is used at the SailMail stations to control the radios and HF-modems.
Inmarsat-C and Nebula
Nebula is another software jewel developed by Jim Corenman. If you have a Trimble Galaxy Imarsat-C terminal, and you’re not required to meet the SOLAS/GMDSS requirements, you need to buy this US$50 program! Steve was literally floored when he installed Adagio’s Trimble Galaxy, only to discover that the terminal software required to operate it is a DOS program. And a pretty bad DOS program – it wouldn’t even run on the Toshiba laptop aboard Adagio under MS Windows (a BIOS problem). We think Inmarsat-C is an important asset aboard, for weather information, for comms with our weather router when the chips are down, for medical emergencies, and overall safety of the crew and yacht. When the chips are down we need a tool we can use – especially when tired and maybe not thinking all that sharply. Looking for some alternative to Trimble’s DOS program, we signed up with Stratos as a service provider because they advertise that they have a free Windows 95/98 terminal program. After much wasted effort, we discovered that the Stratos program is also a DOS program!
Jim’s Nebula is a Windows 95/98/NT/2000 program for the Trimble Galaxy Imarsat-C terminal. It is optimized for handling e-mail via Comsat or other service providers, and supports most of the features of the Galaxy unit. It works, it is very easy to use (presenting a user interface similar to Airmail), and it doesn’t crash!
Airmail has a weather fax companion, actually two programs, Getfax and Viewfax, also written by Jim Corenman. What is so pleasant about Getfax/Viewfax is that they utilize the same HF-radio modem as does Airmail, and can be automated to automatically receive weatherfaxes via a schedule that is coordinated with Airmail. You need a supported modem to use the software, either a SCS PTC-IIe, or PCT-II. And to benefit from the full automation you need a supported radio. See the site documentation for the details.
Not surprisingly, the software works, is easy to use, and so far, hasn’t crashed. This software is one of what Jim calls his Mad Science Projects, for which he states that the programs “represent work-in-process and should be handled with care. We’re pretty sure that none of this stuff will destroy your hard drive or melt your display, but that’s about all we can say for sure.” With that disclaimer, Steve has used these Weatherfax programs for about 5 years and has never had a bad experience. Your mileage may vary, but they have been solid workhorses on Adagio running on Windows 98 SE, and 2000.