The SSB setup we opted for was:

This is all a pretty basic setup, except the modem; we decided to spend a little extra, to get the pro, which allows the PC to tune the radio (great for weatherfax and email), and the Pactor III upgrade, which makes it 5 times faster -- meaning we can do more email every day. However, it was expensive -- $4000 almost exactly, including the backstay and about $500 of ancilliaries, such as the copper grounding foil, cables, connectors, etc.

The actual installation was a huge project. First, we had a new backstay made up, with insulators near the top and bottom, which makes part of the backstay into an electrically isolated piece of wire -- this becomes our antenna, about 35 feet long. You can use a separate whip antenna, but this is a neater solution, albeit expensive. We couldn't just have our old one modified, as it was a twin, and in any case was getting close to needing replacement -- and with a new backstay, we will have all-new standing rigging barring the lower shrouds, which are in OK condition.

We first measured -- as accurately as possible -- the length of our old backstay, so that we could order the new one in advance -- this involved climbing the mast in the rock-and-roll San Diego cruiser's anchorage, a really hair-raising experience! I spent a lot of the time aloft riding out wakes with my arms and legs firmly wrapped around the mast.

Once the new backstay was ready, we pulled into the police dock to install it, which was much easier in that sheltered location, despite a pretty brisk wind. We simply rigged a temporary backstay using the main halyard, and set the running backstays; then just disconnected the old backstay, went aloft, swapped the new backstay in at the top, then came back down and connected the bottom end. All that was left was to set the tension to the same as the old twin backstays. The whole job took a couple of hours or so.

Behind the electrical panel

With that done, we ran the wires from the radio's new location to the back of the boat -- an awkward job, which involves opening up all the electrical panels and conduits, and then jamming more wires through holes in bulkheads which are already well stuffed with cables.

The next thing was to upgrade the brand-new DC panel to handle 40 amps, since the radio itself is rated at 30. Fortunately, the wiring to the panel was -- just -- capable of handling the load, so this amounted to changing some breakers, and adding a new 50-amp ammeter. In the process, I hauled out about 14 feet of redundant wiring, which will eliminate some unwanted voltage drop.

The nav station as it was

Having done this, we got the radio, antenna tuner and modem, and started thinking about where exactly to put them. One problem is that an SSB radio is huge -- we were planning to fit it next to the VHF, logically, but this would have required us to cut the chart table lid in two in order to get it open without hitting the SSB.

We finally decided to put the SSB where the radar was, move the radar to the left, where the old depth sounder and GPS are, move the GPS down closer to the chart table, and ditch the old depth sounder altogether (we still have the new one in the cockpit, which has the bonus feature that it actually works).

The nav desk with the SSB

When you're transmitting 150 watts of power, and trying to get a signal out over thousands of miles, a simple telescopic aerial doesn't do the job -- not only do you need a good antenna, but this has to be coupled with a good ground for the signal to "jump off" from. Unfortunately, in a plastic boat, getting a good ground is tricky. So, the next job was to pull the floor up and remove both water tanks (which, with some foresight, we had run to empty). In the floor of the bilge we laid two parallel 2-inch copper ground straps, to act as a counterpoise for the antenna. These were greased with anhydrous lanolin, to keep them from corroding; this was an unbelievably disgusting job. While the floor was up, we emptied both starboard sofa lockers to feed through some extra slack in the radar cable, in order to allow us to move it.

At the forward end, both strips were connected to a small dynaplate which the boat came with for some unknown reason; this is a sintered bronze plate on the outside of the hull, which makes a good connection to the ocean for grounding. Midway back, we ran both of them up under the floor of the wet locker to the instruments shelf, and up through a slot (which we had to cut) to the radio's position. Then, one strip ran back to the back of the engine room -- this made a total of about 60 feet of ground strapping.

The back of the SSB. Note the ground strap on the left.

Here we installed the antenna tuner -- a device which automatically, under control from the radio, adjusts the antenna for whatever frequency we're using. This was connected to the grounding strip, and to the signal and control cables from the radio; and then to the backstay antenna. One nasty job was installing a line isolator in-line with the signal cable, right in the back of the quarter-berth, which was extremely cramped.

Finally, we screwed the radio and radar in place, and mounted the GPS in its new location. We had to extend the power and GPS data cables to the radar, but the GPS move was no problem. The modem, which is very light, is simply held to the top of the radio by a bungee loop. The most satisfying part of the job was making the last connections -- power, ground, antenna, and the tuner control to the radio, and control and audio cables from the radio to the modem.

The SSB; modem on top

With that all set up, we turned on the radio, and success -- we got the time signal on 10 MHz! We fired up the laptop, plugged it into the modem, and got our first weatherfax, with the PC tuning the radio via the modem. We also managed to get email out, after our Sailmail account was set up, so that was it. Note that doing email from within a city, and particularly a marina, is extremely difficult -- the signal is far better away from civilisation; so don't be discouraged if you have no luck from your marina slip.

Even without the email etc., I'd strongly recommend a good weatherfax setup for anyone heading off cruising. For those who want weatherfax without the expense, a receive-only setup should be almost as good, and a lot cheaper. Just don't try the Grundig Yachtboy -- it's not capable of getting weatherfax (from what I've heard, old versions of it were, but no more, sadly). Icom make a PC-controlled "black box" receiver about which I've heard good reports.