Skipper’s Tips #20 – Jack Speak

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Happy New Year everyone!

So, I’m feeling frivolous today. Despite being the easy-going fellow you all know and love, I’m going to get on my high-horse and spout off about something.  I don’t know why I get gripped by this sudden urge to make myself heard, probably a sense of seamanship or the like, but when I hear the Union flag – our national flag – referred to as the ‘Union Jack’, I just have to speak up. It’s right up there with the word ‘Like’ being liberally sprinkled throughout certain people’s sentences. Also, when the word ‘Something’ (with a ‘g’ on the end) somehow becomes ‘Sumfink’ and horror of horrors, the letter ‘h’ (spelt and pronounced ‘aitch’, look it up in a dictionary if you don’t believe me) is childishly pronounced ‘hay-ch’.

Anyway, I digress, that’s a totally different hobby-horse altogether.

OK, let’s get something straight right now, there is no such thing as a Union Jack!

The Union flag, when flown from the front of a Royal Naval vessel, is flown on a Jack Staff.  This, I think, is where the confusion comes from.  Private vessels may fly a Union flag on the bow but only in the form of a Pilot Jack – a Union flag with a white border around it.

It sounds pedantic, I know, but using the correct terminology can save an awful lot of heartache and or embarrassment.  For example, when approaching a navigational mark, which is round and therefore doesn’t have a side, it would be much clearer to tell the helmsman to, ‘leave the mark to our port side’, rather than the ‘right side’ of the buoy. There is only one ‘port side’ and one ‘starboard side’ on a boat so, by using the correct terminology there cannot be any confusion as to which course the boat should take.

Using ‘jargon’ will help both you and your crew when instructions are being issued, especially in the heat of the moment.  The last thing any boat owner wants is to come alongside a solid, GRP scrapping pontoon without any fenders hanging down the side of the boat.  If you shout, “Throw the fenders out”, to an ill-informed crew, there is every possibility you will get a trail of white, plastic, sausage-shaped balloons floating behind you as you approach your berth – clearly, this is not what you had in mind and you would only have yourself to blame, for the last minute change of plan to that mooring manoeuvre you’ve been fretting about ever since leaving the previous mooring.

And by the way, they are ‘Charts’, not ‘Maps’ and ‘Port side to’ does not mean two fenders on the port side!

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not in the office dreaming about delivering a boat or teaching Yachtmaster and Day Skipper courses then I’m probably off somewhere exotic on holiday!  Whichever it is, I will still be adding my adventures and skipper’s tips so click follow and you will never miss another update.

 

Circumnavigation – last legs

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Where did the summer go?  It’s September and I’ve already heard the ‘C’ word mentioned at least twice now and yet its more than 100 days to go.  I have been unbelievably busy this summer and that is my excuse for not putting any posts up for ages.  Anyway, I’m here now and I thought this post ought to be an update on the Circumnavigation of the British Isles, which started back in May.

Well, despite a couple of weeks of being stuck in harbour due to bad weather, the Botnia Targa arrived in Neyland Yacht Haven at the end of June – that is a pretty quick circumnavigation if you ask me!

I took the picture above as we left Neyland Yacht Haven on the leg to Padstow.  It would have been possible to get from Milford Haven to Falmouth in one hit but we both wanted to take a peek at PadStein and both the timings and weather were perfect to go for this option.  The harbour at Padstow has a lock and the Doom Bar in the estuary of the Camel River can get pretty treacherous in strong westerlies, so the light northerly which pushed us along and a latest arrival time of 4pm, meant we were definitely heading for a Rick Stein supper!

This next shot is us departing Milford Haven with St Ann’s Head in the distance and Thorn Island to left of centre:

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We had a lovely run down, with a slight to moderate sea and a light following wind. Wall to wall sunshine simply added to the enjoyment – I even enjoyed my supermarket sandwiches, which on a grey day would surely have tasted of cardboard!

You know, I can’t remember how long it took us to get down there but we arrived so early that we had to wait for the tide to come up before we could get into the harbour. With this in mind, we slowed right down as we approached the river mouth and pootled along enjoying the scenery – it really is very pretty.

Approaching the Camel River:

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In the estuary:

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… I wonder which came first, the Bar or the Beer?

and here’s Padstow Harbour in all it’s prettiness, with us tied up on the left of centre.

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A trawler which came in shortly after we had finished tying up:

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and here’s the restaurant we ate at – couldn’t get into a Rick Stein restaurant after all 😦

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The next day, we were up with the gulls and headed off on the penultimate leg of the circumnavigation – Falmouth.

We were so lucky with the weather; even lighter winds and more sunshine.  It was going to be a long day but with such good conditions how could we possibly complain?

Running south along the North Cornish coastline, we could see Lundy in the distance. Sadly, too far in the distance for my iThingy to get a decent picture but I did manage to get some footage of dolphins chasing the boat! I’m sorry it’s not brilliant footage but I was so excited I could barely hold the phone steady.

I guess the ensuing chatter about the dolphins helped us forget the miles but whatever it was, Land’s End soon came into view.  After a peek at the chart and a quick discussion we took the decision to go ‘inside’ rather than ‘outside’.  This meant going between Kettle’s Bottom and Dr Johnson’s Head, the promontory upon which the visitor centre is perched.

Here’s the approach:

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and here’s what it looks like from the other side:

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So, Land’s End rounded,  just the Lizard to go round and then a straight run into Falmouth:

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Approaching Falmouth, we had a great view down the south coast to the East:

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What a lovely couple of days we’d had.  Superb boating conditions, great scenery, dolphins, fabulous food and of course, great company!  Before we knew it we were motoring gently through the harbour and up the river towards Falmouth Marina:

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Sadly, I wasn’t able to do the last leg across to Jersey but within the week the Circumnavigation of the British Isles was complete!

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

 

 

 

Skipper’s Tips #15 – Whether the weather is hot…

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This subject is truly extensive.  There are a huge number of books that have been written about weather and there are many, many people far more knowledgeable than I, who can wax lyrical about world weather systems.  That said, I do know some of the pertinent bits and that’s what I hope to pass on to you today. 

It goes without saying that it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the weather.  Nobody wants to be caught out in bad weather and frankly, with so much good quality forecasting these days, it’s almost inexcusable.  Weather forecasts can be found in newspapers, on the radio and on the television, on regular VHF broadcasts, on the internet, but even easier than all these options, try using ‘Mk 1 eyeball’; stick your head out of the window!

Essentially, as boaters, the weather we need to know about falls into three categories.

  1. Depressions
  2. Sea breezes
  3. Fog

Depressions occur when warm, wet wind crossing the Atlantic, picking up moisture as it goes, comes into contact with the Polar Front, which lies generally to the north of our latitudes.  The cold Polar winds will get underneath these rising, warm, wet winds from the southwest and set up an anti-clockwise, upwards spiral of wind.  As the warm, wet winds rise, they cool. Cold air isn’t capable of carrying as much moisture as warm air and so eventually, the moisture is released as precipitation – that’s rain to you and me.  The difference in air pressure from the outer edge of the depression to the inner centre varies hugely over relatively short distances – we can see this when we look at synoptic weather charts showing the clustering of isobars around the centre of the depression. These tightly packed isobars indicate the large pressures gradients involved, which to you and me essentially means strong winds.  In fact, the closer together the isobars, the stronger the winds.  If you can get hold of a print out of a synoptic chart, there should be a scale on it, which will allow you to measure the precise wind speeds.

Here’s something to consider the next time you get a chance to look at a synoptic chart. In the Northern Hemisphere, the wind cycles anti-clockwise around a low and clockwise around a high.  So, if you get a High and a Low next to each other the wind is likely to be great where they meet as you will have two wind systems effectively going in the same direction.  However, when you get two Low’s next to each other, they cancel each other out at the point at which they meet.  The resulting wind, at this point, will most likely be light and variable in direction.

If we know what to look for we should be able to spot a weather system coming and this will allow us to make an informed decision on whether to go to sea or not.  So, what does an approaching depression look like and what are the clues?

The classic timeline of a depression moving through is as follows:

  • Falling barometer
  • Lowering cloud base
  • Rain
  • Reducing visibility
  • Complete cloud cover
  • Veering (clockwise) change in wind direction as the warm front arrives
  • Steadying barometer
  • Easing of the rain to a continuous lighter rain or drizzle, in the warm sector
  • Rising barometer, as the cold front arrives
  • Thunder clouds, often with the thunder
  • Gusty winds
  • Showery rain
  • Veering wind direction
  • Crystal clear skies, with fluffy white clouds
  • Excellent visibility

Keep your eye on the barometer.  Make a regular note of the readings when you fill in your deck log and you will instantly notice a change.  A fall of 6mb in a two-hour period means head for port; there’s some bad weather due soon.

Clearly, given the basic level of our weather forecasting skills (up to Yachtmaster level), I would still recommend that you also compare what the traditional weather sources are telling you with your new found skill of being able to spot a depression – the weather we experience in and around the UK is very varied and subject to quick changes. Weather systems continually speed up and slow down, often arriving early or not at all.  

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Sea breezes occur on sunny, summer days, when rapidly rising air, which has been warmed by the land heating up, sucks in air from the sea, producing the onshore breeze.  The rising air eventually cools, falling back down over the sea and so the process continues until the evening when the sun goes in.

Katabatic wind is the wind that blows out to sea from the land. As the land, which during the day was hot, cools down, it cools the air above it. This, now heavy, cool air tumbles down the hillsides and coastal cliffs, rushing out to sea.  This wind effect doesn’t last particularly long and personally, I’ve only experienced this in the Med. 

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Fog is caused when warm, wet air gets chilled revealing the moisture content as fog. The classic example of this is in coastal UK waters in Spring, we call this Advection Fog or more affectionately, Sea Fog . The waters around the UK are at their coldest at this time. As the warm, moist air coming across the Atlantic meets the cold waters around the UK, the chilling effect reveals the moisture as fog.  It can often burn off by mid-afternoon but occasionally it can hang around for a few days until the wind direction changes and the temperature differential changes.  I’ve seen waves of fog plague islands in the early Summer months and even in August on Jersey one time when I was delivering a new boat to a customer and got fog-bound myself. 

Radiation Fog or Land Fog, as some call it, happens mostly in the Autumn months. After a warm, sunny September day, the land, which has been warming up during the day, will chill down quickly under clear skies.  This chilling cools the air lying over the ground, which in a Katabatic Wind style, tumbles down into valleys and estuaries where it meets warm, moist air lying over streams and rivers.  The chilling effect of this cold air produces the fog – which gives us those romantic looking photographs that people like me love to capture.

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Please don’t base your boating plans on a forecast you had five days ago – 12 to 24 hour forecasts are going to be the most accurate and this is what you should be looking at before you decide to head down to your boat. Then, before setting off on your journey, get the latest forecast as published by the marina.  Remember too, that the weather you’re feeling inside the marina will often bear no relation to what’s actually going on at sea.

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

 

Breaking news: Sea captain turns hunter gatherer!

Saturday evening, I was round at a friends’ house enjoying a lovely Fabada which I’d made and adapted à la Captain Corbett and suddenly David said, “How do you fancy coming with me tomorrow and emptying the crab pots?”. How could I say no?

So this is us leaving Gorey Harbour on a sunny but slightly fresh Sunday morning at the end of May – I love living on this island!

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David was telling me a while back how he makes his own pots and how he’s been catching crabs and lobsters for years.  I was absolutely fascinated, especially as I’m normally cursing the pesky things when I’m out on a motor cruiser, with eyes peeled, trying to avoid the floats – the fishermen around here call them ‘buffs’; excuse the spelling if I’ve got it wrong! For all I know, they may call them ‘buffs’ everywhere, I ought to find out…

Anyway, David’s pots are less than a mile out of the harbour so we were soon upon them and lifting the first pot.

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I could scarcely believe it, the pot was full of Spider Crabs!  David and I suspect all the other local guys, who put pots out for personal use rather than for commercial reasons, adopt a conservational tactic of only taking the males and then, only the ones over 12cm long.

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Once the pot is cleared, it is re-baited and tossed back into the sea.

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When all the pots had been lifted, emptied and re-baited we headed in. Our total catch was five Spider Crabs, which were going to make a lovely supper with some garlic mayonnaise, some crusty bread, a little salad and some nice red wine.

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Back on the berth in Gorey Harbour – isn’t it pretty?

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What a splendid way to spend a Sunday and free dinner too!

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

Circumnavigating the British Isles

This is going to be an epic trip, without any shadow of doubt.  Sadly, I’m only going to be able to make some of the legs but nevertheless, I’m going to chronicle the passages I do make and probably comment on notable happenings from the ones that I’m not on.  The last time I made a journey of similar magnitude was down the east coast of America, some of you may remember the Grand East Coast Tour. I think this is going to be just as exciting, if not more!  In order to protect the privacy of the owner of the boat, I’m not going to mention any names, including the name of the boat but I can tell you that the boat is a Botnia Targa. Whenever I’ve spoken with people in the industry about these boats I always get the impression they are the marine equivalent to the Camel Trophy Land Rovers – it appears that people who own these boats seem to wait until it gets rough and then go out!! Fortunately, not everyone who owns a Botnia Targa is loopy-loo and I suspect the ride around England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales will be a very pleasant and calm affair – at least I hope it will be when I’m on board.

So, the first thing to do is get the boat from Jersey to Southampton and that’s just what we did yesterday.  A suitable day appeared out of nowhere and after making some quick plans on Saturday, we were off at 08:45 Sunday morning.

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Flat enough it may have been but it was also wet and pretty miserable as we left Jersey and headed north for the Alderney Race.  Tripping along at 22 knots, we were soon at the race and swept through at 28 knot SOG with a handy bit of tide under us.  The Channel was absolutely empty.  We didn’t have to change course once to avoid ships and we only saw four in the shipping lanes anyway – the breaks in the conversation were getting longer at this stage.  I reckon there’s only so much you can talk about before it starts to become prying.  Maybe it was time for a game of I-spy…

“Hang on a moment, that’s not a freighter and it’s not going the same way as the other ship in the south bound lane either…I know what that looks like, it’s a forces vessel and it’s headed our way!”

Sure enough, they tucked into our wake as we sailed past and kept pace with us for a short while.  Nothing came over the VHF, so we carried on, assuming they would have seen our name and the AIS signature and done all the checks they wanted without having to stop us…

WRONG!

The next thing we see, they slowed the cutter right down and launched a RIB, which hammered through the sea after us.  Still no call on the VHF and I was beginning to wonder if it was working and at the same time dreading the, “Why didn’t you stop?” conversation that was bound to happen once they boarded us.  So, we thought it might be prudent, at this point, to slow down and let them come alongside.

In no time at all they were upon us and three large and slightly intimidating ‘blokes in black’ got on the boat.  They were Border Force and simply wanted to know who we were, where we’d come from and where we were going.  Actually, they were really nice guys, very polite and we had an interesting chat.  Right up until the point when they spotted the table.  It’s not a particularly remarkable table really, save for the fact that it is suspended by a stainless steel shaft which is attached both at the floor and on the ceiling of the cabin. When ‘underway’, the table is slid all the way to the top of the post in order that it is out of the way and nobody can hurt themselves by striking it when the boat rocks about in a sea. Clearly, this leaves a tall stainless steel post as the centre of attention in the saloon area of the pilot house – yes, it does look as though it is there for ‘pole-dancing’ purposes!  When the Border Force guys spotted it and asked what it was for, they and I found out, at the same time, that it was for me to practice my ‘pole-dancing’ skills on!  Now this came as a shock to me, as you might imagine.  After all, anyone who knows me will instantly testify to the fact that my sheer bulk alone would prevent me from completing any sort of manoeuvre on a pole upside down or otherwise, not that I wouldn’t have given it a go; I’m always up for learning new skills!

Apparently, as the Border Force guys left the boat, they were giggling and I had gone a shocking shade of scarlet – I will get my own back at some stage, of that I’m certain.  Drat and double drat!

Once the ‘giggling’ Border Force had disappeared and we were on our way again, I put all scary thoughts of ‘pole-dancing’ to one side (I could always pick them up again later) and we concentrated on the last leg of the journey.  It wasn’t long before the south coast of the UK appeared in the form of the white cliffs by the Needles on the Isle of Wight. The weather was improving all the time and the sun even put in an appearance.

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We were soon through the Needles and as we went through, we made the call to get clearance on the HM Customs National Yachtline.  N.B. you must let HMRC know when you leave and enter the EU on your boat. It’s a short call, nothing onerous, so no reason not to.  It would pay to have your SSR or other registration numbers to hand.

A short while later and we were threading our way through boats off Calshot Spit, heading for the Hamble.  At this point we called up Solent Coastguard on the Small Ships Safety Channel VHF67 and asked them to let Jersey Coastguard know that we had arrived safely.

As soon as we’d tied alongside and tidied up, I bade farewell to my crew-mate and toddled off to start my journey back to Jersey.  Over the next few months there will be more instalments from the trip. If you enjoyed reading this post and don’t want to miss any of the new posts I will make in the future, simply click on the link to Follow the Blog and you will get notified whenever I post a new entry.

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

New Beginnings

On a sunny Tuesday in May, I was back to Italy one last time, to complete the handover of the boat I’d been skippering for the previous year.  It was absolute chaos, as the refurbishment had started and there were people, equipment, tools, food, shoes and plans scattered everywhere.  In the middle of all this madness I was trying to remember what needed work doing to it, what needed replacing and all the time I was showing the new owner how his new toy worked.

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Here’s Gary doing his bit with some of the water pipes that had perished.

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And here’s the remnants of the food shopping to be put away and also the impromptu office where we were going through the work details and the handover – the only bit of free space on the boat it seems.

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As most of you will know, I’m a tad anal about keeping things tidy but at the same time as I was stressing about the carnage, it was wonderful to see the boat getting a new lease of life.  When the work is complete she will be back to her former magnificence and ready for the coming season.

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What I certainly wasn’t expecting, was the new owner’s two friends who came along for a spot of sun and to spend some time practising their musical skills.  I had no idea what a treat we were in for when Kim and Billy walked out of arrivals at Naples airport with a guitar each.

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Here they are, giving it plenty on the flybridge!

Time to say goodbye…

It wasn’t long before my visit was over and I was heading back. I just had to get a couple of snaps of the Alps as we flew over and if you ask Dan I’m sure he’ll confirm that you have to get one or more Obligatory Wing Shots whenever you fly somewhere!

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It’ll be sad not being on the boat in Italy this summer but I’ve already got some exciting adventures lined up for the coming season, not least, assisting one of my customers to circumnavigate the UK in his Botnia Targa, now that will be worth reading about, surely?

Skipper’s Tips #12 – Fog

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The first time I encountered fog on a boat was in the early days of my teaching career.  We were on the school boat Alpha, just having passed Calshot Spit in the Solent.  I could see the fog ahead of us and determined that we should continue towards our destination; fully expecting it to be a narrow bank of mist which we would soon pop out of as we approached Cowes.  Behind us was brilliant sunshine and in my naivety I wasn’t prepared for just how dense and disorientating it was going to be.  We all had life-jackets on, the radar was working and as we entered the fog bank we slowed down to tick-over.   Despite following the correct procedures I have to hold my hands up and admit that I found myself in a very uncomfortable position.  Everyone on board was relying on my experience and skill to navigate us safely through the fog to Cowes and yet my stomaching was churning – I couldn’t see a blinking thing and all I could hear was the engines of the Red Funnel fast-cat, seemingly headed directly towards us.

My training kicked in and after a sustained squint at the chart plotter it soon became apparent that the fast-cat was actually a mile to the south of us and not on a collision course after all.  With no particular reason to go to Cowes that day and glorious sunshine behind us I made the decision to retreat and we were soon out of the fog and heading for Southampton Water to do some Man Over Board practice instead.

 

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No matter where you do your boating, fog or reduced visibility situations will arise at some time or another.  Don’t forget, that a heavy rain shower or even snow can make it exceedingly difficult to see and truly disorientating, so it is supremely important that as you approach an area of reduced visibility, you make an accurate note of your position and indicate this on your chart: all your subsequent navigation will be based upon this position fix so get it right.

Big shipping, the kind you really don’t want appearing out of the gloom directly in front of you, will be staying to the main shipping channels, it therefore makes sense for you to run outside these channels but only if it is safe to do so, obviously you must check your position on the chart before moving to the shallows.

A really handy tip is to follow a suitable contour line around the coast until you come to a safe harbour. Once you are within 100 yards of the entrance you can normally make out the entry channel markers; get yourselves safely tied up and wait for the visibility to improve.

For those of you with radar on board, the processes of navigating in reduced visibility and avoiding other vessels are that much easier.  However, you are obliged to know how to correctly decipher the information presented to you by your radar screen; if you were to have an accident based on this information and you had misinterpreted what you had seen on the radar screen, you could be found liable for the accident.

 

Here are some of the procedures you might employ when heading into an area of reduced visibility:

  • As soon as you see the weather deteriorating, take a fix
  • Make a note in the ‘Deck Log’ and on your chart of your position
  • Slow down and move outside the main channel if you can
  • Turn on your navigation lights and navigation equipment
  • Make sure everyone is wearing a life-jacket and the life-raft is ready to deploy
  • Sound the appropriate signal for your vessel every two minutes
  • Keep alert for the sound of approaching vessels

Over the years I’ve found myself enveloped in varying degrees of fog, walls of rain and snow storms.  I have to tell you it’s not much fun.  You have to put a lot of reliance on your equipment and if you’re not that confident with using radar this can leave you very dry mouthed.  If you keep your head and follow the procedures listed above you will, most likely, be fine.  I would encourage you to attend a radar course when you get a chance as there have been many instances of people misinterpreting their radar and ending up colliding with other vessels.  Remember that some of what you learn in the COLREGS is based around vessels being in sight of each other – when you are in reduced visibility you are no longer in sight of other vessels.  In situations like this your immediate reaction to avoiding a collision might not be to turn to starboard but to turn to port instead! 

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

 

 

 

 

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.

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

Offshore in the Channel Islands

Offshore, in the Channel Islands

As we zigzagged and rattled our way down the runway at Southampton I looked around at my fellow passengers and wondered if they were feeling the same sense of apprehension I was.  There were only 10 of us on the flight and that meant we were almost at capacity.  The curtain into the cockpit was held aside, so I had an excellent view of what was happening up front; finally I stopped panicking and instead I started wondering how different navigating through the air is to finding your way around on the sea.

Guernsey was wet and windy and as we walked across to the terminal it occurred to me that our first day of training, tomorrow, was going to be a little exciting.  Thankfully, the forecast from earlier in the week had changed somewhat, as it usually does, and the 30 knot winds had been replaced by much less worrying 16 knot winds.  Nevertheless, it was still going to make us think about how we approached our close quarters work.

After lots of cheery ‘hellos’ and swift, manly hugs, we headed off to the boat to dump my stuff and then on to dinner.  There are hosts of lovely restaurants surrounding the harbours in Guernsey. If you ever choose to cross the Channel, and I would heartily recommend you do, this island is definitely worth a visit. For all sorts of reasons of course but mostly, in my opinion, for the food.  The fish dishes are magnificent and the French influence is plain to see.

It wasn’t long before we had convinced ourselves that the wind, being from the North, wouldn’t be that bad after all and as long as we made sure we set off when the tide and wind were going in the same direction, we would be fine – besides which, the forecast for the following day was zero wind and cloudless skies, so getting back from St Malo would be a breeze…

The next morning the wind had changed direction and was now going to be completely in the wrong direction.  ‘Wind over tide, lunch over the side’, one of my students said to me once. It was definitely going to be lumpy out there and St Malo had become a non-starter.  So, plan B came into effect and as soon as we’d had breakfast and completed all our checks we set off for a bumpy ride around Herm.

Drawing on some expert local knowledge – Ross has been navigating around these islands ever since he was a young lad – we wove our way through some narrow channels, with some ever so jagged looking rocks sticking up on either side of us.

Actually, the channels were really well marked and once we’d made it through it wasn’t such a drama after all.

Out of the wind it was a superb day.  There were barely any clouds in the sky and in places it was quite calm.  So we decided to head for a sheltered bay to anchor off for a spot of lunch – on the east coast of Guernsey, just below St Peter Port, is a lovely spot called Fermain Bay.

There were plenty of transits to line up on but the wind was so light in the bay, as it was supremely sheltered from the North Westerly wind, that we needn’t have worried about the anchor dragging.  We were soon anchored up and munching our way through a light lunch; must save space for dinner!  Incidentally, if you do find yourself in a situation whereby you’ve set the anchor but it then starts to drag, before you go about pulling it up and starting again, try letting another ten metres of chain out.  Also remember, never anchor on a ‘Lee shore’.  This is a shore which the wind is blowing on to.  Clearly, letting out more anchor chain in a situation such as that would just put you closer to the shore and you would run the risk of grounding on the shoreline.

After lunch we headed back to the marina.  Being a very tidal area and the marina having a sill, we needed to get back into the marina before the tide level dropped too low.  Once inside I thought it would be a good opportunity to practice some close quarters work.  We created quite a stir, not only the mud at the bottom of the marina but also from some bemused onlookers, who’d obviously never seen a 42 foot, fly-bridge motor cruiser going sideways down a channel before – we meant to do that!

Finally, we moored alongside the berth and set about planning our next great adventure.  Two mugs of very welcome tea later, it had been decided that we should go to France for lunch – our destination was to be Dielette.

The next morning it was completely calm and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Ross and I got up early to move the boat out of the marina before the tide dropped too far and put her on the waiting pontoon in the other harbour.  Once we had all showered and dressed we set about getting the tender off the back so that we could go ashore and get some… breakfast!

As soon as we were back on the boat we fired up the engines, let go of the lines and headed out to sea.  The plan was to head across to Sark and have a nosey round the island whilst we waited for the tide to come back up – heading into Dielette at low water can be a little exciting as it gets quite shallow…

Sark is gorgeous from the water, it must be even better on land.  Did you know that there are no cars on Sark, just horses, carts and a couple of tractors?

Look at the tide flowing through channel in front of the lighthouse in the shot below.

This next picture shows the harbour in the middle of the shot, with the road winding its way up the hill – an energetic walk or a ride on the tractor drawn trailer; you decide!

An hour and a half of perfectly flat sea later, Dielette harbour appeared in front of us and we headed in.  I made certain we had all the relevant documents on board, as a good sea school captain should do, especially since I have been asked for every bit of paperwork imaginable on previous occasions but the harbour master was kindness exemplified! Not only did he waive the mooring charge – we were only staying for lunch – but he telephoned a local restaurant and booked us in.  What a nice fellow.  Even better, the lady who owned the restaurant looked after us personally and sang a delightful song under her breath as she served us.  I’m certain it was delightful, even though my French is a little sparse, as she wore a lovely smile the whole time.

Go to Dielette, it’s a brilliant place!

Full from a sunny lunch in France, we jumped aboard and whizzed back to Guernsey.

As we made our way back to the marina I reflected on the last couple of days.

This is truly a magnificent way for friends and family to spend time relaxing together.  A spell of nice weather, an open sea, and a passage plan make up the ingredients for a smashing day out.

Keep a look out for my next big adventure which will be from Lake Windermere in Cumbria – by for now shipmates!

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventure.