Thursday, September 22, 2011

Way to go Mom! (where some of my nerdy comes from)

Woman becomes radio expert to stay in touch with seafaring hubby
Tamara Cunningham, Daily News
Published: Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An antique radio is the only link Donna Sweeney has to her seafaring husband as he sails across the Pacific. David Vincent left Nanaimo more than a year ago to island-hop across the South Pacific. He is living his dream - and Sweeney is keeping track of every detail through her home radio. She searches frequencies each morning for news he's OK. Sailing the open sea can be dangerous when you're travelling it alone.

"This is VA7DSW," she says Tuesday morning, listing her call name to an operator at the Nanaimo Amateur Radio Association. "Did you hear from David last night? Go ahead."

A voice crackles over the radio: "All is well. He couldn't talk for long, but he's making his way through the islands and will reach his destination within a couple hours. Go ahead."

Donna Sweeney earned her ham radio operator licence so she could track her husband during his high seas adventure.

Donna Sweeney earned her ham radio
operator licence so she could track her
husband during his high seas adventure.

Tamara Cunningham/Daily News
Sweeney smiles and turns the radio off, relieved. If she doesn't hear from her husband, she can count on one of the local ham radio operators to make contact. She joined the network two years ago when her husband announced the trip, becoming one of the handful of women trained in amateur radio. It's the only link to people travelling by sea. Even e-mail has to be sent through ham radio operators.

"Talking over radio is a huge peace of mind," she said. "I look forward to hearing about his adventures and knowing he is OK."

Sweeney and Vincent met 35 years ago at the University of British Columbia as teenage science students. His imagination had been captured then by sailing tales of people like Sir Francis Chichester, who travelled the globe in nine months. He had the fever, Sweeney said, "but we got married and had children and he never talked about it again. I didn't think it was ever on his mind."

Two years ago when her husband retired, he announced he was going on an adventure. He'd head to San Diego with one of their daughters and then go solo towards Fiji and New Zealand.
"It was the first time in 35 years he mentioned it. I was shocked," Sweeney said.

She wasn't sure she understood the need to go, but realized he wouldn't be happy until he did.

He invited her to on the trip, but she has never sailed well on the open sea. She prefers staying close to shore. She spent eight weeks earning her radio licence, so they could talk throughout the trip. She also joined the NARA, a local network of 88 radio operators.

Her husband left Sept. 11, 2010, touching base nearly every night to update her about his travels.

The couple has a communications room in their garage, where Sweeney tracks the voyage.

"He is going wherever the wind takes him and having the time of his life," she said, He swam with a pod of humpback whales, snorkelled with sharks and explored "third-world like" communities on remote islands. His adventure is being blogged by his daughter.

Vincent is on the Tonga Islands and expects to be in New Zealand within the next two weeks.

The trip has no end date, but Sweeney expects it will be soon. He's starting to sound homesick, she said.

TCunningham@nanaimodailynews.com 250-729-4230