Day 17

3rd November 2001

Communications home are not a given. We were warned in our briefings in London that we may not be able to have any communication home for the entire trip. Luckily the Captain said that I could make occasional calls home and I would be billed for them at the end of the trip.

There is no telephone line out here, and so telephone calls are done via a High Frequency (HF) radio link to a land-based station in Iceland called ‘Reykjavik Radio’. It’s not straightforward or without frustration. Anybody within HF range (that’s about half the North Atlantic) can listen in to your call, and since it’s over the radio only one person can speak at a time. As if that isn’t frustrating enough, it’s weather or atmospheric conditions dependant and extortionately expensive so you are aware that every minute passing is costing a fortune.


So tonight, with great anticipation, I made my first attempt at calling home. The bridge was dark except for a dim light over the chart table. All was quiet. The conversation went something like this:

“Reykjavik radio, Reykjavik radio, Reykjavik radio, this is the Santa Maria, Santa Maria, Santa Maria calling, over.” I said.
“Santa Maria, Reykjavik radio, Good evening sir, please go ahead, over.” Came the reply from Iceland. A strong signal, a good start.
“Good evening, I would like to place a call to the United Kingdom, country code zero zero four four, over.”
“Please give your number, over.”
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I repeat One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, over.” I enunciated each number in my best ‘speaking to a non-English speaker’ English.
“Please confirm the number is correct. One, two, four, three, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, over.” Came the reply.
“No, the number is incorrect. I’ll give the number again. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, over.” This time enunciating the words in my ‘speaking to a non-English speaking child’ English.
“Please confirm the number is correct. One, two, three, four, five, six, eight, seven, nine, ten, over.”
“Yes, close enough, please proceed, over.”
“Connecting to One, two, three, four, five, six, eight, seven, nine, ten,”

There is a pregnant pause as somewhere in Iceland a man dials the number and holds the telephone handset up to the radio transceiver (or whatever it is he does to connect a radio to a telephone line).

“Boop, boop, boop, boop, boop” the Icelander interjects “the line is engaged” I could picture Dad at home on the internet, and wished we had a separate line. I remembered the numerous occasions answering the phone to my Nan as soon as the internet was disconnected and the phone line became free again. She is usually so calm and polite, but now would blurt out in a frustrated rage “I’vebeenTRYINGtogethroughALLevening!” “WhereISyourMOTHER!”. Mum would have to spend five minutes speaking calmly and explaining that Dad or I had been on the internet and so the phone line was busy.

“Please re-dial the number and try again.” I said with more optimism than I felt.
“Which country are you calling please?”
“The same one, the United Kingdom.”
“Which country code please?”
Seriously? “The same one, ZERO ZERO FOUR FOUR.” Now speaking in my best ‘speaking to a stupid non-English speaker’ English.
“Which number please?”
GAH! “The same number. One, Two, three, four, five, six seven, eight, nine, ten.”
Hearing my tone the operator decided not to ask for confirmation.
“Connecting to number three, one, two, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.”
Another pause, some static. An immense amount of anticipation. Sweat beading on my brow. Heavy breathing – but not what you think. “Boop, boop, boop, boop, boop, boop. The number is busy.” 

Sounding like my Nan, I managed “ThankyouNOfurthercalls, SantaMariaout.” And so ended my first foray into radio/telephone communication.


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