No. 40 - June 1980

VHF RADIO TELEPHONES

John Charters

 

It wasn't that many years ago that VHF Radio Telephones could be found only on 35' and 40' yachts. It was a rare sight indeed, to see an antenna on a twenty-two footer. Not so anymore: Good VHF sets are now available at prices within the reach of many Tanzer 22 owners, for less than $300.00 (in Canada).

 

Some years ago, I wrote an article on VHF. And on reviewing it the other day, I realized that hardly anything was relevant in it. So we start over: Four years and three VHF sets later:

 

The whys and wherefores, the advantages and uses of VHF, I could discuss on a page or two, but this aspect has been covered most ade­quately by the various sailing magazines. So I'll confine my comments to the sets themselves and their installation.

 

My first VHF, a 25 watt/12 channel model, cost me about $560.00, including the antenna. And it was everything I'd ever hoped for. It did what it was supposed to do, worked the very best. Until, that is, some of the Marine operators applied for, and were given, permission to change their channels to ones I did not have. On the advice of a friend in the radio business, I sold my original set for $350, and bought the following: Horizon (Canada) 50-channel set on special for $480.00. With a bit of luck, I'll have all the channels I'll ever need.

 

However, depending on your cruise area, a standard 12 channel set may very well be more than adequate for your needs.

Keep your eyes open: there are bargains to be had. I have no firm basis for the following, but somehow I feel that the 12-channel crystal­ tuned sets are a touch more reliable than those newer 50(plus) syn­thonized ones. As I say, this view is not at all based on any factual information - just a feeling. I would be interested to hear from others on this subject.

 

If you do decide on a 12 channel set, be sure to order the channels you need for your area, at the same time. Channel crystals usually cost about $20, plus a fee for tuning. If you order them at the time that you purchase the set, you may only have to pay for the crystals. If you order the crystals at a later date, you will most certainly be charged for installation and tuning. Check with others in your area for advice on which channels you will need.

 

This is one do-it-yourself project that requires little, if any, skill. Problem, of course, is where to mount the set. There is not too much spare room on a T22. I ended up mounting mine under the dinette table, as we seldom, if ever, lower the table to make it into a berth. And, of course, IF I ever sell the boat, I can remove the set without leaving any visible holes. I also installed a separate l2-volt battery under the port quarter berth, reserved just for the radio. So much for the easy part:

 

 

ANTENNA: Here is where YOU will have to make a decision! Mast head or transom? Take your choice: there are pros and cons to each. Briefly, Masthead will have a slightly greater range, but if anything goes wrong, not easy to correct while under way. And if you ever lose your mast, you've lost communications, just when you need them the most. Also, masthead antennas really clutter up the top of the mast, get in the way of the wind indicator, burgee, etc., and are more trouble to install. Transom-mounted antennas, on the other hand, have to be pro­tected from damage which might be caused when "unnautical guests" leap aboard. On the other hand, installation is dead easy. Just bolt the antenna bracket to the transom, or use a jubilee-clip to fasten it to the stern pulpit, for those of you who have a stern pulpit. You then route the coaxial cable through that little vent on the port side of the transom. A thirty minutes job, at the most. Masthead installation, naturally, takes a little longer. Quite a bit longer!

 

For those interested, here is how I did mine. Fit a small eye strap on the inside of the mast near the top. (You'll have to remove the mast cap, of course.) When you run the cable down the mast, you are going to tie a knot at the top of the cable, then run the cable through the eye. This means that the weight of the cable is supported by this eye, not by the antenna. Drill the hole for the cable as near to this eye strap as is practicable. Your backstay makes as good a "fish" as you'll ever find. Remove the turnbuckle, tie the cable to the end of the backstay, and feed through the mast. To prevent any cable rattle inside the mast, make a dozen or so "kite tails" and tie them to the coaxial cable every few feet. You'll probably have to tape them into place, to prevent them from slipping. 1X1Xl2 inch poly foam (same foam your deck cushions are made of) does a first-rate job. At the base of the mast, fit a proper connector; "coax" should never be spliced. When you buy your antenna, just make sure that the "coax" is long enough, as some antennas seem to come with only 20 feet or so of cable. You sure as heck don't want a connection somewhere in the middle of the mast. It is sure to fail at the worst possible time! My first antenna came with just a wee bit of cable, so I had to fit a connector right at the antenna, just before the cable entered the mast. It was forever causing trouble: would come unstuck at the least excuse. I finally ended up buying a second antenna and hooked it up to the transom. I still carry this spare one with me on cruises, just in case!

 

The standard antennas are so called "3DB gain antennas". You can also get 6DB, 9DB, and even 12DB gain antennas, at an increased price! All else being equal, the higher the "DB", the greater the range; but, this is as long as your boat does not roll! As the gain increases, the vertical coverage is reduced. Sort of like a narrow beamed flash­light, if the boat is rolling, it will undershoot then overshoot the target. In this case, bigger is not necessarily better!

 

In Canada, you will have to get your "Restricted Radio Telephone

Operator's Certificate". The oral exam given by the Department of Communications will take you about half an hour. There is no charge and it is good for life. You will also have to get your set licensed: that will cost you $20.00 per year. In order to make telephone calls from your boat, you must have a call sign. To get a call sign, you must pass the exam and pay the $20! Anyway, no Tanzer owner would want to run an "illegal set, would he!

 

 

POLELESS SPINNAKERS

These are called "Flashers" or "Drifter-Reacher Spinnakers(DRS)". They are like a very light Genoa, but full as a spinnaker; do not require a pole and related expensive gear; nor do they require any special expertise as does the spinnaker used for racing. Probably, the Class will study this new alternative and decide you may race with one or the other but not both. Keep one eye out for these, or sail with a friend who has one. We'd like to know how you feel about these in reference to class rules. Right now they are illegal! for racing, that is.

 

 

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