No, I’m not trying to write a new Beatles song, it’s just that despite being a short working week, it seems to have been a hard slog getting from bank holiday monday to this weekend. It hasn’t helped that I have had a cold/man-flu and that I have had a fair bit of travelling to do. Sue did some “half-term grandchildren visiting” and stll managed to go for a tune up at the pacemaker clinic.
We decided to leave our trip to Braunston until Saturday morning so there was time on Friday evening to deliver a car boot full of pallet blocks to Jim who was moored by Trinity marina, he won’t need to burn many in the coming months (we all hope) but it’ll give him a good start on the autumn.
Saturday morning dawned and I felt that my cold was on the way out, sadly it seems to have found Sue who awoke feeling the effects of the early symptoms. Nevertheless, we stuck a few bits and pieces in the car and were on the road just after nine o’clock. We stopped off in Rugby to do a bit of shopping and then completed our journey by eleven.
We had brought and bought cleaning materials to give Caxton’s paintwork a good going over but neither of us were really in the mood for it, both being a bit under the weather.
We did, however get a couple of other jobs done in the early afternoon. Silicon spray on the brass runners to make the slide glide easily, the Desmo bases removed so that they can be countersunk into the oak floor and a proper mobile internet connection installed. We did this before on Phoenix III but in that case we had a fixed antenna. This time around, we have used an antenna with a magmount so it sticks to the roof. This has saved drilling a hole in the roof and the antenna can be brought safely inside when we are not living on board. The cable was threaded from the lounge to the cratch by attaching it to the end of a redundant tv aerial cable and gently pulling it until it emerged at the front of the boat. Once in place, it was only a matter of connecting the antenna at one end, the Huawei dongle at the other and switching on the TP-Link router. Once activated, I tested the connection and was pleased to see a very healthy 4MB/s download speed.
After clearing up and enjoying a celebratory beer, wine for Sue of course, we went for a stroll around the marina where we dumped the aforementioned redundant cable in the skip before walking up the towpath to the bottom lock. We took a quick look in the chandlers there and then returned to our boat for dinner.
In this article I am going to describe how I set up mobile broadband internet on board nb Phoenix III.
MiFi – The travelling solution
For the last three years we have successfully used a Huwaei E585 MiFi dongle from ‘3’ on a monthly contract. I unlocked it sometime ago so not only has it given us mobile broadband in this country but we have been able to use it when travelling overseas too, with a locally bought sim card of course.
It’s a super bit of kit and I really can’t fault it except that in marginal reception areas it can often prove difficult to pick up a reliable signal so we usually resort to trying to find the best window to hang it in. Battery life after three years is not what it used to be so invariably the MiFi needs to be plugged into a power supply, not great if the best window is not near an outlet.
On the domestic front
We live in a house most of the time and until recently had a fixed telephone line which gave us broadband at home. We came to the conclusion that the line was very rarely used for telephone calls and so I started to think about rationalisation, after all, we had a mobile broadband contract and we only ever needed one connection. On the very rare occasion that we were in different places to each other, smartphone internet access is good enough. The MiFi was the first solution that I tried at home but I found that after extended use plugged in, the device froze and had to be restarted by removing and replacing the battery. It was no more than an inconvenience but it prompted me to look for a better solution.
After a little research I found a wireless router that uses a USB dongle to connect to the internet rather than a fixed telephone line. The TP-Link MR3420 does everything that a fixed line router does, in fact it can connect to a conventional router to give a failsafe connection. Not all USB dongles are compatible but TP-Link have a list on their website.
I bought one and put it on test using an old unlocked vodafone USB Dongle and it worked a treat with the ‘3’ sim card. I conducted tests over three months to make sure that the mobile solution was reliable, the speed was acceptable and that we didn’t exceed the monthly 15GB allowance. We only suffered one loss of service at home, one evening for around four hours – a transmitter fault I think. The speed varied between 2Mb/s and 6Mb/s which compared favourably with the landline constant speed of 3.5Mb/s. We used between 5GB and 8GB per month. So we took the plunge and had the landline disconnected, all we had to do was switch between the TP-Link at home and the MiFi on board Phoenix III.
Broadband on board
I couldn’t resist experimenting with the TP-Link on the boat but of course the problem is that reception in a steel tube is difficult and with the USB dongle plugged into the router, the option to hang it up in the window as we did with the MiFi became even less practical.
The Vodafone K3765 has a secret, it has a socket for an external antenna connection lurking beneath its white shiny exterior so that opened up a new possibility for me. I removed the cover, marked the position of the socket, clipped the two halves back together without the internal circuit board. I then carefully drilled a 6mm hole in the case before reassembling the dongle ready for use.
There are two versions of the vodafone K3765, the Huwaei version and the ZTE version, This article references the Huwaei version only. It’s easy enough to pick one up on Ebay either as K3765 or E1762. They’re generally unlocked but if you have a locked one you can either take it to your local shopping centre and get it unlocked or do it yourself for less than £5 with dc-unlocker which you can download from the website.
I bought the antenna with a CRC9 adapter, the plug that fits the internal socket on the K3765.
This is a panel mount antenna which requires drilling a 12mm hole in the roof of the boat. Not everyone wants to drill a hole in their roof but magnetic mounts are available. I already had a redundant car radio aerial that I wanted to remove so all that I had to do was enlarge the hole and mount the new antenna. The unit is sealed to the panel with a rubber washer but I wasn’t happy with the seal so I dispensed with the washer and applied a bead of silicon inside and underneath before tightening it all up.
All that remained was to consider power for the TP-Link. It is a domestic unit and is supplied with a 3-pin plug transformer which is all very well when plugged into a shoreline but not really practical if you are out in the middle of nowhere and you have to switch your inverter on just to power the router. Of course if you have no inverter then it’s not going to work at all.
Handily enough, the TP-Link has a 12v dc 1A supply but the last thing that you would want to risk is plugging it into your domestic battery bank, particularly when the engine is running. My final purchase was a car adapter designed for tv/lcd monitors. This piece of kit has an input of between 12v and 30v dc with an output of a constant 12v dc at 5A. The TP-Link has a socket which takes a 2.1/5.5mm plug, the car adapter has a 2.5/5.5mm plug but it still works properly.
Summary & Cost
With everything in place I actually bought another TP-Link router so that all that needs to be moved between boat and house is the USB dongle. The system works well and I can recommend the quality of the parts that I used. As for the cost of it all, here’s how it all breaks down.
TP-Link MR3420 router £27.00
K3765 USB Dongle (Ebay price) £20.00 ?
Power Supply £13.00
Prices include P&P, the dongle depends on what is on ebay, I already had one so my estimate is based on what is available on ebay at the time of writing.
I’ve never been any good with knots – ever! I can tie them although I have to confess that I couldn’t tie my school tie until I was fourteen years old. Where I struggle is trying to follow knot tying instructions whether they are written or pictorial. Hitches, half hitches and the like mean nothing to me no matter how much I have tried to understand them. Securing Phoenix III to a mooring has never presented too much of a problem to me, I tie her front and back in exactly the same manner in a way that is quick and easy and one that is just as easy to release in the morning. Don’t ask me to name or describe my knots, I really wouldn’t have a clue but I’m sure that any boy scout would readily identify the knots or their component parts. I was neither a cub or a scout so perhaps that explains my difficulty in translating a two dimensional drawing into a three dimensional knot.
My biggest challenge was finding a way to secure the boat temporarily whilst waiting for a lock. This hadn’t been a problem in our early boating days because we moored on the Ashby canal which not only boasts that it has twenty two miles that are lock free, it is connected to the Coventry canal and then the Oxford at Hawkesbury meaning that if you ignore Suttons stop lock you can go to Atherstone, Coventry and Hillmorton before you need to do any locking. Our move to Braunston had meant that locks were more commonplace and although I had perfected the technique of floating in the pounds as well as toning my triceps and biceps by clinging on to the centre rope from the bank I knew that I needed to learn how to tie a quick and easy securing knot. I had heard about something called a lazy boatman’s hitch but I knew that there was no point in trying to research it, I had to work it out for myself. Well I practised and practised every time that Sue was preparing a lock. I discovered that I could do something that ticked all of the boxes, it was secure, easy to do and easy to release. I won’t even try to describe how I do it because as I said, I am useless at such things. I expect that if I encounter someone that knows about such things, they will tell me exactly what it is called unless of course I have invented some new knot.
The only problem that I have with my new knot is that if I think about it when I am trying to do it, I can’t do it. For any HGG fans it’s a bit like Arthur Dent discovering that he can fly (If you don’t know about Arthur and his flying, google it or ignore it).
Anyway, I reached a point where I felt confident enough with my new knot to show Sue how to do it since she was doing more driving and I was doing more lockwheeling. As soon as I tried to explain what I was doing, I was thinking about what I was doing with the result that I could not for the life of me make the knot! Ten attempts at one lock and still I could not do what I had done ten times already the same day. I stopped explaining, cleared my mind, thought of something completely different and just made the knot. My jubilation was short lived when Sue said, “Oh, it’s just a blanket stitch.”
I didn’t feel deflated for too long, actually I did and realised that it wasn’t being a cub or scout that I had missed out on, I should have joined the Guides and done my needlework badge.