Communications On Board
Hi, Sharon...hope you''re able to enjoy some occasional warmth there in St. Simons!
You will find MANY boats using some form of HF email (your choices are a for-profit service like MarineNet or CruiseEmail, the non-profit commercial Sailmail service and/or the ham Winlink service). The others have charges for their service while Winlink is free (once you get to the point of getting the pieces in place and have your license).
Shop a bit and you''re likely to find an SCS PTC IIe Pactor modem for less than $650. If you know someone who''s visiting Europe, they can pick one up for you at much less cost (SCS is in Germany). However, your SSB needs to be capable of handling Pactor operation (meaning long transmit periods while you are sending email, and also quick switching as the ''packets'' of data are exchanged). You can get more info on suitable SSB radios at the airmail and sailmail sites (both software programs are written by the same fellow, and these are what run on your laptop - they are referred to as ''client software''. Airmail is for the ham system; Sailmail for the Marine SSB services).
If you''re somewhat into radio, perhaps have some friends who can get you up to speed, then just dig in. There''s a learning curve that takes some effort. OTOH if you want email but aren''t sure where to start and what you''ll need vs. what you have, then a good commercial provider can be a big help. HF Radio (www.hfradio.com, I think) gets good reviews and the fact they are on the West Coast shouldn''t be a problem.
Good luck. Oh, and a Sat Phone is very simple and a great emergency communication tool but it won''t connect you to any of your cruising buddies; SSB is the way to go for cruisers, even in this era.