Skipper’s Tips #11 – VHF & DSC

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As an SRC (Short Range Certificate) assessor, this tip has particular significance for me.

I often hear people using VHF radio when I’m out on the water and in my experience it’s possible to post these radio users into three quite distinct categories.

  • Category one – all the people who clearly know what they are doing and operate their radio set in the manner for which it was intended
  • Category two – these guys put a smile on my face.  They are obviously new to VHF radio and not that relaxed with talking to a microphone. However, they are sticking rigidly to procedure and importantly, they are doing everything properly – big pat on the back for you
  • Category three – you are the people who who have decided that you are somehow above the rest of us, you don’t need to take any training or a test and you really don’t know how to use your VHF radio correctly. You are breaking the law and potentially putting lives at risk.  The SRC course takes less than one day and costs very little money in the big scheme of things, go and do it!

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Anyone who uses a boat will surely be familiar with VHF radio, even if they haven’t actually had occasion to use it themselves. Unfortunately, all too often, people seem to be unaware of the obligations that come with utilising this equipment in the public forum. It’s not hard to imagine that there will be rules and obligations that go with using any equipment that transmits a signal and allows you to interact with other people.  Therefore, as this system is designed primarily for safety, it makes sense that it’s use should be governed.

So here are some of the rules for you to consider:

  • The equipment must be licensed and comply with approved manufacturers standards (CE marked)
  • The user must have an operator’s licence or be in the company of a licence holder
  • The use of the VHF/DSC equipment is limited to emergency, safety or navigational purposes only
  • Correct procedures should be followed at all time

There are only 59 channels available to maritime VHF radio users and literally hundreds of thousands of users, so it makes sense that there should be a structure to the way radios are operated. The system of procedural words and the use of the phonetic alphabet both contribute to efficient communication, which frankly, can be a little bit ‘hit and miss’ sometimes. The VHF signal can often be weak and broken, so having a structure to what we say makes it easier to fill in the gaps.

Before going out to sea, many people like to test their VHF to see that it is still operational.  This is most commendable, especially if you have not used your boat for a while or you have recently been working on the boat. However, it is more appropriate to call another vessel or the harbourmaster to make a radio check, than it is to call the coastguard.  Especially on a busy Bank Holiday, when the coastguard will not appreciate hundreds of people calling on channel 16 (Safety and calling channel) for a radio check – if you really must speak to the coastguard, it would be better to use channel 67 (Solent Coastguard) or whatever the channel for the coastguard is in your locality.

The most important of calls is, of course, the Distress Call.  You can assume that a situation can be classed as ‘Distress’ if there is ‘Grave and imminent danger to a person, ship, aircraft or other vehicle requiring immediate assistance.’

The ‘Distress Call’ procedure should be memorised or at the very least displayed by the VHF radio equipment, so that every person on board is in a position to send the call if necessary. Since I first learned to use VHF radio there have been some changes and the most recent of these changes is to the Distress calling procedure.  It is now appropriate to make an initial ‘Distress Call’ and then make a second, follow up call, with the details of your situation.  Personally, I think this is wasting time and the call should stay combined.  Perhaps this is appropriate for a large ship, which will have a number of crew doing different roles and will therefore have the time to make these two calls but on a small vessel with only two people on board, having to make two calls, whilst watching the water level in the cockpit get higher and higher, is not appropriate to my mind – make one call and get back to pumping out the water or putting out the fire or getting off the boat.

I’m sure someone will take issue with me on this and if you do, write to me and we will discuss it.

But, before you do, consider this.  Over the years, all the rules and regulations we use today, which keep us safe and help to prevent accidents, have been learned from experience.  For the most part, these rules and regs are sensible and logical. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that most of you read through my Skipper’s Tips and say to yourselves, “I knew that!”  But the fact of the matter is, these guidelines have been created by human beings like you and me – generally, someone with some considerable experience of boating has said let’s do it like this and because everyone else has said, “OK”, that’s how we do things now. Does that mean this is the best way to do these things? I don’t think it necessarily is.  I suspect that, one day, someone else will come along and say, “Let’s do it this way now” and we will all change to the new method.  What I’m driving at here is, that these rules and regs are, for the most part, a guide. There is some legislation which we have to follow but a lot of what you learn when you take up boating is a guide and it is up to you to use and adapt that information to suit yourself.  If you are happy with what you’ve learned and it works for you, great.  If you’ve adapted what you’ve learned and that works better for you, great.

Let’s come back to VHF Distress Calling procedure.  Once, many years ago, I attended a talk in Seaton, Devon being delivered by a member of the local coastguard to the sailing club.  At the moment I walked in, the coastguard was talking about the procedure for sending a Distress Call.  Having explained the correct procedure he then went on to say, “Frankly, if someone picks up the mic and shouts, ‘HELP’, we will respond and it’s better that they do something rather than worrying about not doing it properly!”

Can you see how utterly sensible that approach is, I can?  If your boat is on fire and you have your wife and children on there with you, are you really going to stick rigidly to procedure? Do it properly if you can but don’t worry if you get it wrong, it’s not the end of the world!

So, if you take issue with what I’ve said write to me, let me know what you think and we can discuss it.

Until next time,

Captain Corbett

2015 London Boat Show

Good morning all.  Just a quick note about my visit to the London Boat Show yesterday.

It was definitely good to go to the show, if only to catch up with some ex-Sealine colleagues and some of my other industry friends and acquaintances but one thing that really struck me was how small the show is now.  I remember when the show moved from Earl’s Court to Excel.  That first year both of the halls were packed to the gunwales with all things boating and if memory serves, the south hall was almost entirely given over to motor boats – how different it is now, shame.

The industry powerhouses, Sunseeker and Princess dominated the show.  Sadly the Sealine stand looked a little forlorn, a shadow of our heyday but nevertheless, it was good that they were there at all. What did surprise me was the Fairline stand; running along the end wall, with some lovely boats on show but again, not a patch on previous years stands – gone are the days of Fort Fairline then…a sensible belt tightening exercise in these difficult times I suspect.

The busiest area was, of course, the usual array of chandlers, sea schools and paraphernalia stands. Squirreled away amongst all this lot, was one particularly pleasing find, Motorboat Owner.  Neale and Claire, who some of you will know from their MBM days have set up a digital magazine aimed squarely at motor boaters.  This new offering is designed to bring insight and comment for all practical aspects of running a motor boat.  What’s more, it appears to be absolutely free – how could you resist not signing up?

All in all a worthwhile visit and an enjoyable day out – if you have the chance to go, do.  The industry is for you, the boaters of this world and if you don’t support it you will lose the flexibility and choice that come from having a buoyant (excuse the pun) industry.  If you don’t believe me, consider the high street shops that we all used to use…

Captain Corbett

The next time you doubt your ability to do something…

Little Tommy Morrissey loves to play golf and he’s not going to let something like not having a complete right arm to get in his way.

I was sent this video recently and could barely believe what I saw when I played it.  This courageous young lad should be an inspiration to us all.

The next time you begin to doubt your ability to accomplish something, think about Tommy’s approach to difficult situations and then think again how you can overcome your own self-doubt.

Watch and be amazed…

http://player.theplatform.com/p/BxmELC/gc_player/select/I_6m3VpqoakQ

Skipper’s Tips #10 – Sound Signals

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Happy New Year everyone!  Let’s hope 2015 turns out to be a great year for us all and certainly better than the last few years.  The current economic crisis has put a bit of a downer on a lot of people’s boating but the signs are that things are starting to get better; cheaper fuel is one good sign, keep your fingers crossed for less demanding times ahead…

For those of you who know me well, you’ll be aware that like everyone else I’ve had my own issues to deal with in the last few years.  Going from being fully employed to working freelance again has been a bit of a wrench but I recently had some good fortune come my way in the form of an ongoing contract to run a medium sized motor yacht in the Mediterranean. This certainly takes the pressure off financially and will, I’m sure, prove to be a bit of a hoot too!

Needless to say, you can expect many exciting adventures to come and naturally, my personal thoughts on a whole list of new anchorages and restaurants!

In the mean time, I think a new Skipper’s Tip is long overdue.  Given that it’s winter and we are, yet again, in the grips of some pretty fluffy weather I’ll consider some of the theoretical side to boating…

Sound Signals:

It has to be obvious to those of you who operate boats and are also car drivers that, for the most part, we do not travel down clearly laid out tracks, we are not all going the same way and we do not have brake lights and indicators to make other ‘drivers’ aware of our intentions.  So, how do we let other water users know what we are going to do next?

Clearly, if we are in an open stretch of water, with plenty of distance between ourselves and nearby boaters we can generally see what people are up to by studying their track over periods of 5 or 10 minute intervals – most boats tend to hold a steady course for the duration of their passages, only making turns as they avoid hazards or navigate down narrow channels and a significant alteration of course in an open water situation is quite easy to spot and allow for.  In fact, if you want to make your intentions clear to another vessel, making a bold turn in good time is by far the best approach to safe navigation – everyone can see what’s going on and there should be no need for last minute, panic manoeuvres.

However, we need to take a different approach when in sight of other vessels and in situations that don’t allow for ‘bold manoeuvres’, such as in a narrow channel, in a marina or in a harbour.  This is where sound signals take the place of vehicle indicators. Learning the various sound and light signals that vessels make is vitally important.  Although, as with all the rules of the road, it’s not enough to simply know what lights you are required to exhibit or what sound signals you might have to make, you must also be aware of the signals other shipping may show/sound and what action you should subsequently take.

Though often misused by friends signalling jovially to each other across the water, the horn is an essential navigational and safety tool, that is not to be used indiscriminately. A toot to your buddy could easily be misinterpreted by another craft as an intention to turn…

During periods of reduced visibility or whenever a vessel needs to signal its intentions or position, a horn is essential. There are different meanings attached to different sound sequences and to further complicate matters, some vessels will sound different sequences when in reduced visibility situations.

These sound signals are formed by both the length of blast and the number of blasts in a sequence.

By the way, a ‘Short blast’ = 1 second, and a ‘Long blast’ = 3 to 5 seconds or 4 to 6 seconds, depending on which book you read.

Some manoeuvring sound signals that you should already be familiar with are:

  • 1 short blast – I am turning to starboard
  • 2 short blasts – I am turning to port
  • 3 short blasts – My engines are going astern
  • 5 short blasts – I do not understand your intentions
  • 1 long last – I am coming (normally at a blind bend in a river)

Incidentally, a good way to remember the manoeuvring signals is to think of the word SPA, as in the spring water baths that we get in some UK towns like Harrogate, Bath and Leamington.

In other words, Starboard is 1 short blast, Port is 2 short blasts and Astern is 3 short blasts.

In fog/reduced visibility when we are not in sight of other vessels we use a different series of signals to let other water users know that we are about. Normal power driven vessels, not hampered in any way, will sound 1 long blast every two minutes.  Everyone else and this means sailing vessels and anyone who is hampered in some way will sound 1 long blast, followed immediately by 2 short blasts.  This second group, the sailing vessels and those hampered in some way, are sometimes affectionately known as the ‘Lame Ducks’.  There is a hierarchy into which these vessels fit, determining who ranks highest in terms of expecting other water users to give way to them. Starting at the bottom and working up to the vessels that can reasonably expect everyone to keep clear we have: sailing vessels, fishing vessels, towing vessels, vessels constrained by their draught, vessels restricted in their ability to manoeuvre and lastly, vessels not under command.

Of these ‘Lame Ducks’ the two that probably need some explanation are those that are restricted in their ability to manoeuvre and those NUC (not under command).  Some examples of the type of vessel that could be restricted in ability to manoeuvre would be; a towing vessel with a large or awkward tow (this outranks the ‘normal’ towing vessel, a vessel surveying, a vessel dredging and a vessel with a towed underwater array.  NUC (not under command), is a term used to describe a vessel that has lost all or some of its propulsion or ability to steer.  Clearly, this vessel is unable to comply with the normal avoidance procedures laid down in the COLREGS and therefore all other vessels must make every effort not to impede the safe passage of such a vessel.

So, your bedtime reading over the winter months might include a bit of revision on the Collision Regulations and it really ought to include learning, off by heart, the full list of sound signals.

On a more practical note, it’s worth keeping a portable air horn on your boat, in case the boat’s fixed horn fails.

Lastly, here’s one more sound signal for you to consider.  One long blast, followed by three short blasts. Look it up and let me know what it’s for…

Happy boating folks.  Keep looking in for new adventures and skipper’s tips. Don’t forget, you can always post any questions you have in the comments section of the blog and I’ll answer it as soon as I can.

Captain Corbett

Skipper’s Tips #9 – Passage Making

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As you might imagine, I have made a few passages in my time on the water and in some ways I’m ashamed to say that I put an increasing reliance on electronic navigation.  Conventional wisdom has always been to use tried and trusted, traditional methods of navigation, i.e. paper charts but things are changing. Over the last decade advances in technology have made navigating so much easier and after years of implementation and usage in all sorts of maritime arenas, we can be reasonably confident in the accuracy and reliability of these electronic navigational aids.  In fact, we should learn to embrace change, especially when it adds to our personal safety and well being. That said, if we are to get the best from our equipment, we must still be able to navigate ‘longhand’.  Planning your route on paper charts, showing the whole crew where we are going and keeping your position marked on the chart as the journey progresses, is still the safest approach.

Personally, I like to plan my passages one or two days before I set off.  This has two distinct advantages.  Firstly, of course, you will have the most up-to-date and accurate weather information.  Secondly, by planning your journey at home, in the comfort of your living room, you will be more relaxed and less likely to make silly errors. 

  • Plan your routes on paper charts before putting the waypoints into your electronic plotter
  • Check arrival time constraints and work backwards to establish departure time
  • Weather forecasts are most accurate within 24 hours of departure
  • You might consider the following internet sites, Windguru and National Data Buoy Center as possible sources of weather and wave height information
  • Allow for the fact that weather constraints may affect your speed and therefore your arrival time.
  • Make sure you have planned ‘bolt holes’ that are protected from the weather
  • Check your boat is fully operational and capable of making the journey
  • Think about your crew; your decision to ‘go for it’ should be based on whether the weakest member of your crew will cope with the journey
  • Check that, if possible, you run with wind and tide going the same way – remember that old adage, ‘Wind over Tide equals Lunch over the side!’
  • Use the tidal ‘chartlets’ in your Almanac to help with time, distance and tide direction planning

When planning a long distance cruise, you will get a better overall picture of your route by planning the passage on a paper chart; there is less likelihood that you will miss something this way.  Once you have your route planned you can transfer the waypoints to your chart plotter and check the resulting route once again for errors.  This system of double-checking will help prevent mishaps and silly errors. I know a few skippers who do the planning together with their partners – planning the route independently and then comparing notes is surely one of the best ways to find out if you’ve made an error.

If you don’t consider your crew and the prevailing weather, you could end up short-handed, slowing down because of worsening weather, with the prospect of arriving in the dark.  There is no good reason to set off into bad weather and put people’s lives at risk.  If you are nearing the end of your journey and you simply have to get home because you have a meeting to get to or it’s someone’s birthday or whatever, then it would be better to leave the boat in the marina and find a commercial means of transport to get you back – you can always complete your trip at a later stage when the weather has improved.

Some other things to consider before setting off on a voyage might be;

  • Is your boat fit to make the journey?
  • Have you checked all your safety equipment?
  • When was your life-raft last serviced?
  • Have you filled the boat with fuel and water?
  • Do you have enough food on board for at least two extra days?
  • Have you considered letting the Coastguard know of your intended departure and arrival times?

In the SOLAS (Safety of Lives at Sea) regulations, Regulation 34 states that it is mandatory for all ships to create a plan before going to see.  This is not something you can ignore.  How detailed your plan is, is up to you as the skipper and is often determined by the size of vessel, the number of passengers and the length of the intended trip.

I strongly advise that you read and inwardly digest this information (click on the link below) and also have a look at the accompanying links, so that you are fully conversant with your obligations as a skipper.

SOLAS Regulation 34

P.S. Your Almanac has a section devoted to safety and things like the Distress Signals are listed there…

 

Sheiken, not stirred…

© Richard Corbett 2014

 El Gouna

As we stepped off the plane at Hurghada airport in Egypt, a hot wind hit us full in the face.  Imagine the heat that comes from beneath your car when you step out of it on a boiling hot day and you will have some idea of what I’m talking about.  El Gouna, which is where the Predator 53 called Skyfall lived, was only a half hour drive away and it wasn’t long before we were ensconced in our rooms.

I had it in my mind that we would leave the next morning for Suez, make our way up the Canal the following day and whiz across to Limassol the day after; how wrong can a man be?  In Egypt, there is a very particular way of doing things and this mostly revolves around paperwork but also involves helping some of the aforementioned countrymen who seem to have very dry palms, which need constant lubrication – I guess it’s the sun, it was awfully hot! Oh well, when in Rome…

The weather played a huge part in our quest to get this boat to Cyprus too.  Our first attempt was thwarted by some huge waves, which bore no relation to the amount of wind.  Admittedly, it was gusting over 30 knots but these waves were massive.  After 30 miles of determined but very slow progress we had to accept the fact that returning to El Gouna was our only option.  There is definitely a lesson to be learned here.  Boating is not a good way to show off how ‘manly’ you are.  If the conditions are too bad then turn the boat around and go back, this is the most intelligent thing to do.

© Richard Corbett 2014

Skyfall being refuelled

Fortunately, our second attempt proved to be more successful but not without it’s own troubles, I would add.  Again, we had massive waves, which also were far bigger than the wind would normally cause.  Nevertheless, we plodded on, falling off wave after wave even at the very conservative speed of 6 knots that we were forced to run at.  This time, however, we had smartened up and managed to find a ship to hide behind.  Once we were in his wake the journey was much easier and we were now able to make 11 knots.

The trip from El Gouna to Port Suez is 160nm.  Yep, that’s 16 hours at the speed we were travelling at!  We desperately, needed a faster ship to follow if were to avoid spending a huge chunk of our lives looking at the stern of a not very pretty ship. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief when, in the distance, we spotted a tiny speck that gradually got bigger and bigger.  This was the answer to our prayers, a large ship catching us up meant that we could ‘jump ship’ and tuck in behind a faster vessel.  I took a picture and by zooming in could see the name of this ship, ‘Atlas Leader’. Then I was able to call them up on the VHF, requesting permission to sit on their tail.

© Richard Corbett 2014

 

At this point, I would like to say a huge thank you to the Captain of Atlas Leader out of Tokyo who, bless him, even offered to slow down and come across to us.  If it wasn’t for this man’s generosity, I reckon we would still be trying to get to Port Suez behind that other vessel (OK, slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean).

Finally, at around 8pm that evening, just as it had gone dark, we made our way up the channel that leads to the Canal and into the marina in which we were to stay overnight.  A very enthusiastic man came out to us and guided us in to our berth and then proceeded to fuel us up from his boat which was berthed on the opposite pontoon.  Not your average fuel barge this one – more of a cabin cruiser with the guts taken out and a huge fuel tank inserted in their place.  It wasn’t until the following morning that I noticed the two large, grey plastic pipes poking out of the cockpit sole at a jaunty angle – enterprising lot, these Egyptians.

© Richard Corbett 2014

Skyfall in Port Suez – can you see the grey tubes poking skywards on the ‘fuel barge’ behind us?

Another day’s worth of hanging around whilst the bureaucratic wheels turned and more dry palms were lubricated was our prize for pulling in here.  But Sunday morning soon came and the first of two Suez Canal pilots appeared.  After plenty of shaking hands and exchanging big smiles we were off on the next leg of our journey.  In order to make it through the Canal in one day, we had to meet up with the second pilot at the half way point before 13:00, so we took off like a ‘Bat out of Hell’.  I thought we would only be allowed to do 10 knots but then, what do I know?  What was really worrying me now, was the fact that I had only fuelled for 90 miles at 10 knots. No matter how much I tried to impress upon the pilot and our Egyptian captain that consuming fuel at 300 litres an hour might be good fun and it definitely wasn’t likely to last the whole 90 miles, they had an agenda and that was that…

© Richard Corbett 2014

Trying to get to the midpoint before 13:00 – yikes!

As it happened, the second pilot was much more sensible and the last leg of the Canal was made at a much more sensible 10 knots. There was even time to look at the scenery and snap some shots of other Canal users too.  For those of you who have not transited the Suez Canal, it is quite a broad stretch of water, with a couple of areas that open out, around the middle section, one of which appears to be like a rather large lake.  Lots of huge freighters and tankers loiter here whilst waiting to make the next leg.  It was quite something to see all these massive ships congregating like this.

There was a very noticeable military presence along the canal and a number of areas set up with what appeared to be floating bridges ready to launch at a moments notice.  I guess this is a hugely important conduit from the Med to the Red Sea and a massive asset to the Egyptian nation, hence the fact that it is so closely guarded.  My heart went out to the poor guys standing sentry duty in little concrete huts, spaced regularly along the length of the Canal – they must have been quite miserable standing with their weapons across their chests in this most mercilessly hot environment.  With the exception of guards and a few outposts along the route, there seemed to be nothing except mile after mile of desert, stretching away from both sides of the waterway – these must be very special people to live in an environment such as this.

© Richard Corbett 2014

© Richard Corbett 2014

 Finally, we made it to Port Said just as the sun was setting.

© Richard Corbett 2014

Our berth, euphemistically called ‘The Yacht Club’ was a ghastly place, in which we bounced up and down all night.  Huge rubber bumpers all along the dock walls were clearly designed for much larger and heavier built vessels than ourselves.  The fenders I placed to protect the boat from the bumpers, were black as soot in the morning!

© Richard Corbett 2014

The fuel barge arrived just after 8pm.  As a special treat for us, they had liberally painted the hose with old diesel – lovely!  Guess what?  Yes, these guys had dry palms too!!!

The next day, we were up early and after getting permission to depart, we were on our way by about 6am.  We bimbled out of the port at 6 knots and then once clear opened her up.  200 nm lay ahead of us and we had enough fuel to do 220 nm if we took it steady.  So, I set the throttles for 170 litres per hour, which gave us an average of 20 knots and at 4pm, almost to the minute, we arrived at Limassol.

I would caution against making a trip like that with so little reserve, unless you know precisely what weather conditions you are going to get and that these conditions are perfect and also that you are completely certain that the fuel consumption and available fuel is exactly as anticipated.

We were absolutely certain of our calculations and as it was proved, we were spot on.  Nevertheless, there was a noticeable levity in the air as we tied alongside in Cyprus – relief is probably what you’d call it…

© Richard Corbett 2014

The next day was consumed with more paperwork, Greek style, and preparations for getting to the dock and getting the boat onto a ship.

© Richard Corbett 2014

© Richard Corbett 2014

Once out of the water and tied to the trailer, my work was done.  All that was left for me to do now was fly home… oh, and put some more cream on the blasted mosquito bites!

I hope you all enjoyed my latest adventure.  Keep popping in to see where I’m off to next or to catch up on the latest skipper’s tip.

Happy sailing,

Capt. Corbett

Scilly Adventure

St Mary's harbour, IOS

St Mary’s harbour, IOS

Ever since I took the brand new Sealine F46 to the Isles of Scilly for a photo-shoot, I’ve had a hankering to go back.  These beautiful islands, just off the tip of Cornwall, are about 3 hours away from Falmouth if you get a favourable sea and you’re in a boat that can happily cruise at 20 knots.  Finally, a few years now since my first visit, the opportunity arose to go again.  So it was, that we set off from Guernsey, aboard a Sealine F42, on a fresh but not too lumpy Sunday morning, to make our initial passage to Falmouth.

Isn’t it disappointing when you look at a weather forecast and it says the wind is going to be light and the sun will shine all day but it doesn’t?  Well, that’s what we got.  By the time we arrived in Falmouth the wind had really freshened, the sun had been replaced by clouds and the rain was building up to lash down the moment we stepped ashore with the mooring lines.  Even worse, the near perfect conditions for the rest of the week had now become two days worth of lightish winds and F6 to F7 thereafter.  In fairness, the rain never arrived and the sun did come back out for a while but our plans to stay a couple of days in IOS (Isles of Scilly) had to be adapted.

The view across Falmouth harbour from Mylor

The view across Falmouth harbour from Mylor

The next morning, after a superb evening spent eating fine food and quaffing even finer ales in Castaways, we were up early, fuelled up and on our way.  As we nosed out of the harbour and moved up to speed, Falmouth coastguard gave a message out on the VHF, alerting everyone to the fact that there was some unexploded ordinance in an exclusion zone, which we had to keep away from and worse still, in my opinion, a large swathe of fishing net floating around, abandoned.  What joy!  Just what you don’t want to hear when your headed away from the Cornish coast in the general direction of America.  OK, so I’m exaggerating, the IOS were in between.

An hour from the Lizard and we swept past White Rock.  Actually, I’m exaggerating again.  It was a little lumpy, with a F3 to F4 on the nose and we were actually only making about 17 knots but it was comfortable at that speed and by the time we got to White Rock lighthouse we were over half way.

White Rock lighthouse, with Land's End in the background

White Rock lighthouse, with Land’s End in the background

There are absolutely loads of little bays and beaches amongst the IOS but other than picking up a mooring buoy in St Mary’s harbour, nowhere even comes close to being in a marina.  So, if it’s protection from the elements, somewhere to plug into, running water and the ability to walk ashore you are after, forget it.  This is a real adventure, for real adventurers and real adventures, so it turns out, involve getting a rib on and off a bathing platform that is going up and down like a whores drawers, spending the night rocking and rolling on a mooring buoy and waking up the next morning feeling like you’ve gone 3 rounds with Bruno!  Do you remember the comment about weather not turning out to be what was forecast?  Well, this, it seems, is what happened for the second time to us.  We were supposed to be protected from the wind, waves and swell by the harbour wall.  We’d laughed off the cautionary note about the harbour being awful in NW winds, on the basis that the forecast had it coming from the WSW.  How were we to know it was going to move around to the North during the night?  Do you know what was even more annoying? As we set off to return to Falmouth, the wind moved back around to the South!!

Calm before the storm - looking out from the mooring we took for our night in St Mary's

Calm before the storm – looking out from the mooring we took for our night in St Mary’s

In actual fact, when we first arrived it was quite calm, as you can see from the shot of the Lifeboat above.  We couldn’t wait to get ashore and as soon as the rib was off the back of the boat we wiggled our way through the moored boats and tied up in the dinghy park.  Walking around the streets of the ‘town’ felt like going back in time.  Everything was so ‘quaint’ and even ‘naive’.  I saw a sign attached to the harbour railings and simply had to take a picture of it.  Does anyone remember going around to friends for an exciting evening spent looking at holiday slides?

Slideshow!!!

Slideshow!!!

and this was a delightful moment captured, as someone walked up and leant their bike against the shop window…

Take no notice of the notice, it's only a notice!

Take no notice of the notice, it’s only a notice!

The following day we were up early again and soon on our way.  It wasn’t all that bad really and with the wind behind us we were whizzing along on our way back to Falmouth, the previous bumpy, sleepless night fast becoming a distant memory.  It seemed like no time at all before we were ‘tip-toeing’ our way through the minefield of fishing buoys which appear to have been purposely laid on the track of any vessel navigating from the Lizard to Falmouth.  Tied alongside in Mylor once again, we broke out the umbrellas and headed ashore for some lunch.

During the remainder of the day we relaxed and faffed about, as you do when you’ve got a little time to yourselves.  After all, this was supposed to be a holiday.  As most of you will have gathered by now, I’m a bit of a one for taking pictures, so I set to recording some shots of Mylor (one of my favourite stopping off spots) and the amazing calm we were experiencing.  Worryingly, this calm suggested that we were likely to be in for something quite different the next day and this was to be the day we were heading off on our next leg to Dartmouth…

Mylor

Mylor

Mylor

Mylor

Moored boats, outside Mylor

Moored boats, outside Mylor

Yes, I’ve got a bit of a Black & White thing going on at the moment.  I think it highlights the moody weather quite nicely, don’t you?

Wednesday morning turns up and the wind came with it.  Happily, the sun put in an appearance as well and this was our chance to prove the theory that lumpy, sunny days are easier to deal with than less lumpy miserable days.  One crew member disappeared off to catch a flight and Philip and I were left in charge of getting the boat to Dartmouth.  Having refuelled the boat and having had a hearty breakfast ourselves, we nosed out of Falmouth for a second time and headed East for Dartmouth.  It appeared that the abandoned fishing net was no longer a threat and the unexploded ordinance had been exploded, so our only concern was the frisky F6.  On the basis that it was going to be from the North and therefore coming off the land, we anticipated hugging the coast and ducking into Plymouth if we felt it was too bad.  However, once we got going, the ride was quite comfy and the biggest difficulty turned out to be climbing up the back of the larger rollers. You know, it did feel better with the sun out!

Eddystone Rocks lighthouse

Eddystone Rocks lighthouse

A bit bumpy around Start Point but then Dartmouth soon came into view and what a lovely sight it was.  I do like Dartmouth: so much history and so picturesque.  This really is a wonderful place to keep a boat.

Entering the Dart

Entering the Dart

We chose to go for Dart Marina, on the basis that the wind had some North in it and this would give us a flatter night on the berth but you know the way our luck has been running?  The wind howled down the river, funnelled by the high sides to the river valley and as we approached the mooring someone turned the ‘full blast’ switch on.  Good job we had IPS that’s all I can say at this point.  Scarcely believable but true nevertheless, the moment we tied the lines to the dock the sun came out and the wind turned into a whisper.  If I hadn’t been there myself I wouldn’t have believed it.

Kingswear

Kingswear

We had a lovely fish dinner that evening, in a place right on the front called Rockfish.  Give it a try, I can recommend it.  Strolling back I was moved to take this shot of a rather calm and serene River Dart – simply beautiful.

Calm evening on the Dart

Calm evening on the Dart

The next morning we left the boat, caught the ferry across the river and made for the train station – our Scilly Adventure complete, we now have to figure out where we’re going next.  Keep checking in for Skipper’s Tips and soon I’ll be telling you what happens on the next leg of our journey.

Our ferry awaits

Our ferry awaits

Keep your eye on those dodgy weather forecasts shipmates,

Captain Corbett

 

Skipper’s Tips #8 – Documentation

Plotter picture

I can’t stress enough, the importance of carrying the correct documentation on your boat and following the correct procedures for transiting from one country to the next.  For those who spend their time mooching around local waters this is not something that is ever consider at any great length and that is probably the reason some of us have come unstuck in the past – setting off on our first adventures to foreign climes, blissfully ignorant of just how zealous certain foreign officials can be when determining ownership and VAT status of your vessel.

During my early years as Principal of Sealine Sea School, I have to admit that I fell foul of this myself.  The school boat was on a ‘Cruise in Company’ to France and the Channel Islands. They turned up in Cherbourg, on the first leg of the trip, only to be met by a ‘Penalisation’ of French customs officials. The school boat carried a complete set of documentation but photocopies not originals, as there was always the possibility they could be damaged or lost.  Normally I would have put the originals on board for cross-Channel trips but on this occasion I had forgotten to do so. The customs officials swooped on the boat, almost as though they’d been tipped off and in short order handed out a 1500 fine for not having an original registration document on the boat.

So, my tip today is:

Carry all the relevant documentation (originals), both for the boat and for yourselves

If your boat is registered on either the small ships registry or the Lloyds part one registry; you will need to display the registration number in a prominent position on your vessel.

When leaving EU waters, you are required to post page 1 of the HM Customs form (C1331) in the HM Customs post-box at your marina and on your return post page 2.

When arriving back from a non EU country you must fly your yellow ‘Q’ flag and telephone HM Customs National Yachtline when you get back into UK waters to gain clearance (0845 723 1110). You must not leave your vessel (unless it is to telephone HM Customs) or take anything off your vessel until HM Customs has cleared you to do so.

Take the time to check the local regulations for the area you intend to cruise in, as they may have additional requirements, such as requiring you to have fitted and use a holding tank for black waste.

If you are intending to make or start making regular extended passages it is worth going online and filling in a CG66, registering your vessel with the coastguard. http://www.mcga.gov.uk

The documentation and procedures for going on longer cruises, especially when travelling outside EU waters may seem tiresome and bureaucratic, but if you ensure you have the correct paperwork with you at all times and comply with HM Customs regulations then this aspect of your cruising need not be too painful.

The sort of paperwork required is documentation showing ownership, VAT status, insurance and certificates of competence: these must all be originals.

If you are intending to use inland waterways such as the French or Dutch canals, then you will need to have a CEVNI endorsement on your ICC (International Certificate of Competence).

Manhattan in Turkey

 

© Richard Corbett 2014

I arrived in KaŞ, in the Antalya region of Turkey, just as the guys were finishing the technical handover on Wild Thyme Too.  My role was to get Stewart, the new owner, signed off for an ICC and to lend a helping hand as everyone got used to using their new luxury motor yacht.

Crystal clear water, clear blue skies, not a breath of wind and a brand new Sunseeker – now that’s a combination made in heaven.

With the technical handover complete, it was now up to me to add the finishing touches to the new boat experience.  Firstly, this meant an afternoon of drawing on charts and trying to remember the rules of the road.  Poor Stewart, after all the information he’d had to absorb during the handover, I really did wonder if it was all going to be too much but we were soon through the theoretical part of the test and looking forward to our trip the following day.

At 8am the next morning we’d all gathered as arranged and set-to with preparing to go to sea. This meant covers off, engine checks, safety brief and a plan for leaving the dock.  Unfortunately, my plans for testing Stewart on his departure from the dock were interrupted by the marina staff, who insisted on taking control of the lines on departure and as I found out later, on arrival too!  It seems that you just have to get the boat close to your berth and they do the rest.

Is this the height of laziness or a service that every marina should adopt – answers on a postcard please?

© Richard Corbett 2014

Captain Ergun and his first mate Merve (his wife), who run Boat Trip Turkey, are going to help Stewart and his family to make sure their times on Wild Thyme Too are always wonderful and hassle free.  It was Ergun’s idea for us to go around to Simena & Kekova for lunch and I have to concede that as we nipped around the coast, slipped between two islands into a protected lagoon and tied up at a jetty with a delightful restaurant attached to it, I realised that Stewart has found himself a very handy man to know.

© Richard Corbett 2014

There must be literally thousands of amazing bays and inlets and restaurants and beaches and all manner of places to explore on this coastline; this lovely family are going to have many years of incredible boating on their Manhattan 55…

By the time we’d returned to the marina the practical section of the test was complete and Stewart had passed with flying colours. Everyone was feeling really comfortable with the boat; my time here was done and it was time for me to leave.  I said my goodbyes and headed off for the airport but I just couldn’t resist one more look at this boating Utopia.

© Richard Corbett 2014

 

Skipper’s Tips #7 – Chart Plotter Rules, OK?

Hello all!

Please excuse my prolonged absence, I’ve been rather preoccupied with work lately and everything else has had to take a back seat.  However, I have finally managed to find the time to sit down and post a new Skipper’s Tip.

I do hope you enjoy this tip and also that you find it informative.  If you have any questions or are at all confused by what I write, then please contact me and I will try to explain.  

This tip is all about paper charts and the tool we use to extract navigational heading information from them. Electronic chart plotters are amazing pieces of technology these days and they hardly ever go wrong.  Nevertheless, we must not forget that as good as these pieces of equipment have become, they are still no substitute for knowing how to navigate ‘manually’.  You should always plan on a paper chart and always keep a paper chart with you when you are on your passage and you should make a regular note on the paper chart of your position.

The single best tip I can give you regarding navigation, is to know exactly where you are, at all times!

The Chart Plotter

When you first see a paper chart and start looking carefully at the detail, it can be a little awe-inspiring. Imagine all the work that went into collating that information.  Especially impressive, is the fact that charts have changed very little since the world was first mapped.  I have a mental image of a couple of men in naval uniform in a small boat with a long piece of string and a heavy weight, a big pad of paper and infinite patience.  Today, we take for granted the effort that must have gone into making the world’s seas and coastlines appear in 2D, so that we can safely navigate in our boats. However, if it weren’t for the efforts of these determined explorers we wouldn’t stray very far from home would we.

To use a chart effectively you need to understand a few basic rules.

  • Always measure distances from the side of the chart nearest to where you are planning to sail
  • Look at the compass rose shown on your chart to determine what the allowance for variation must be
  • All the numbers peppered across the chart are ‘charted depths’ or ‘drying heights’ and as such make no allowance for tidal height
  • These depths or drying heights could be in feet, fathoms or metres and you need to look at the key for the chart to know what you are dealing with
  • Make sure the chart is designed to be used with GPS, if that is how you intend to navigate
  • The squiggles, lights, lines, abbreviations, etc. are all explained in the Admiralty publication ’Chart 5011’
  • The tide stream data will be referred to one specific port and will be listed as ‘true’
  • In fact, everything shown on the chart is ‘true’ not ‘magnetic’
  • Pay particular attention to the scale of the chart

In order to work out which way to point the boat or indeed, to describe a line on the chart to show where we have been, we will need to employ an accurate process.

Enter the ‘chart plotter’.

There are many incarnations of the modern chart plotter, a great improvement I have to say on the ‘parallel rules’ of the past. Essentially, the one I am going to describe using in this example looks like a very large and wide rule with, in the centre, a dial that you can swivel.

There are two key things to remember with ’chart plotters’. Firstly that whenever you place the plotter on your chart, the centre dial, which spins, must always have ’N’ (North) pointing to and aligned accurately with, true North on your chart.  The second rule is that the big arrow at one end of the plotter will always indicate the direction or heading of the bearing.

If you are trying to draw a line in an easterly direction, i.e. 090 degrees and yet the arrow on the plotter is pointing west (270 degrees), then you have it upside down…  It will be really helpful if you try to think of these numbers as directions, rather than just random numbers.  000/360 is North, 090 is East, 180 is South and 270 is West.

So, the way it works, is that you lie the plotter on the chart, parallel to a line which you want to know the bearing of, spin the dial until the ‘N’ at the top aligns with North on your chart and then read the bearing figure from the dial, which lines up with the large arrow at the end of the plotter.  This will tell you the ‘true’ bearing of that line or indeed, the bearing between two points on your chart.  The next thing you will need to do, of course, is to convert this ‘true’ bearing to a ‘magnetic’ or even ‘compass’ bearing, so that you can use it with the ship’s fixed compass to navigate your course.

If you are using the chart plotter to show your course travelled on the chart, in the way you might if you were showing your passage as part of your log, then you will need to do all this is reverse. Firstly, assuming you know the direction you have been travelling in, convert that direction from compass or magnetic back to true. Then align this number with the chart plotter dial and the large direction arrow.  Lastly, place the chart plotter on the chart, being careful not to turn the dial and align the whole plotter with true North (use the N on the dial for alignment; DON’T TURN THE DIAL, TURN THE WHOLE PLOTTER) and then draw a line down the length of the plotter to show your track.

I have to say, trying to describe this process in words is not easy.  It is much easier to actual show someone this but if you sit down with my explanation, your chart plotter and a chart you will soon get the idea I’m sure.

I think my next Skipper’s Tip had better be about True, Magnetic and Compass bearings!

Until then,

Happy Boating!