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.

 

Here we go again…

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Just before Christmas 2013, Lynn, my chief number one crew and I headed off to a small island off the Brittany coast. We were going to tackle the obviously impossible task of moving a boat up the Bay of Biscay in a tiny gap in the disastrous weather we’d been suffering for weeks. When I wrote about the trip I entitled it, ‘What price a life?’ as it made me think very seriously about the merits of going out to sea when it is rough.  Well, would you believe it, here I am again to tell you about the same route, the same model of boat but much, much better weather?

One of the things I learned about this trip the last time I made it, was that accessibility to this section of the French coast line is not easy using public transport. I don’t think I’ve ever used so many coaches and trains getting back and forth from a boat.  Fortunately, this time it was quite straight forward but still, more involved than just getting into a car and driving to the marina. I set off on Friday evening, on the ferry to St Malo.  Staying overnight in a hotel opposite the station made it easy to stroll across the road the next morning and virtually walk straight onto the waiting train without so much as adjusting the speed of my step. Less than an hour later and I was in Rennes. The next train got me to Nantes and then a coach took me the rest of the way to Noirmoutier.  Not bad really but when you consider I started travelling on Friday evening at 18:30 and it was now 16:30 the following day, it does seem like a long journey for such a short distance across the globe, especially when we keep getting told how small the world is these days.

So, Bill, the owner of the new Swift Trawler 50, was waiting to greet me when I arrived. As we walked to the boat, we discussed the plan and the weather and came to an amicable agreement that we would go ‘balls out’, given the favourable weather conditions, to get to Guernsey on the second day to collect Bill’s wife.  Jane was planning to come across on the ferry from Poole and complete the last leg with us.  Personally, given the distances involved, I would have preferred to have split the trip into three legs, allowing a day for each but Bill was on a mission and as long as it’s not dangerous, I’m happy to help.

The following morning, at 06:20 sharp, we left the marina on the first leg of our trip.  It was supposed to be 06:00 sharp but neither of us had had much sleep – new boats don’t come with bedding and pillows and rolling clothes up to make a pillow is only slightly successful. It started off fairly flat but as we got a couple of miles off we encountered the standard swell from the SW that plagues Atlantic facing shores and what was left of the previous few days wind blowing at a slight angle across the top of the swell.  This made it slightly lumpy but the semi-displacement keel on the Swift Trawler kept it comfortable.  Our target was Roscoff and if we could keep up a steady 12-15 knots this was going to take us about 12 hours – long day, especially after a night of very little sleep.  As it happened, we had patches of extremely smooth water and made the Raz de Sein just after 13:30.

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Lighthouse & West Cardinal marker at the Raz de Sein

Skimming across the water at 18 knots and over the ground at 15 knots was a little disappointing but we’d had a good run so far and it was inevitable we’d hit some foul tide at some stage. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before we’d passed in front of Brest and made our way around the westerly tip of Finistère. We were now on the home run into Roscoff.  By the time we got in, the sea was like a mill pond and what wind there had been, had subsided. At this time of year, this really should have been a clue…

A tip for any motor yachts thinking of staying over in Roscoff – the diesel pump will only dispense €300 worth of diesel in one go.  We had to go through the process for refuelling eight times before we had filled the boat up!

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Sat on the fuel berth after our lengthy filling up session

Roscoff seemed to be a sleepy little marina – quite clean and contemporary looking but nobody about.  The restaurant stopped serving early so we had no choice but to stroll into town.  In fairness, it was only the 20 minutes the restaurant owner said it was.

Over the hill and down towards the town centre is a lovely and clearly affluent street of houses, punctuated by something I’ve not seen growing in such neatly aligned rows and in such quantities before – a field of Artichokes!

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Past the artichokes and a little further towards the ‘centre ville’ and the vista opens up to reveal the old port (drying) and the town tucked behind it. Here’s a couple of shots of the entrance to the old port.

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The next day we woke up to pea-soup fog! Advection Fog is common at this time of year. The warm, moist winds coming across the Atlantic are chilled as they encounter the waters around northern France and the UK which are still cold from the winter.  (Water takes a long time to change temperature and is at it’s coldest in the early months of the year, not warming up properly until September, October).

In busy commercial waters I would be very hesitant about setting sail in thick fog but this was a week day now and the only craft we were likely to meet were the local fishermen.  We had radar, AIS and two huge plotters to view it all on – off we jolly well went.  I reckon we were the only boat blowing it’s horn out there but it made us feel righteous. After an hour, we drove out of the fog and left it hanging in the air behind us. We had popped out into a sunny day of cloudless blue skies and flat calm waters; how lovely, Guernsey here we come.

Sadly, Jane couldn’t make it in the end, which was probably just as well as it got really lumpy going around the Les Casquets . The tide would have been against us going through the Alderney Race and with a slight wind over tide effect it would have been pretty rough there too, so we chose the Casquets route but honestly, it was rough enough to slow us down to 7 knots at one point and I seriously wonder if the Race might have been a better option.

Once we’d crossed the shipping lanes and made it to half way across the Channel it smoothed off enough for us to get back up to 18 knots.  From there on in it was pretty uneventful and so, just after 16:30 we arrived in Poole. A successful , speedy, slightly foggy crossing and one very happy owner!

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.

 

Giving you confidence

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So, my contract in Italy on the 76 footer has finally come to an end and I am now back on Jersey full time.

Operating as a true freelance captain and RYA instructor again, I am now fully available to offer a whole range of skipper services to anyone who needs help building the confidence you need to safely take your friends and family out boating with you.

  • If you want to brush up on some rusty skills or you simply want a skipper to handle the boat while you enjoy the ride, then I’m your man
  • If you are studying the theory and it’s not making sense, then I’m your man
  • If you need an ICC (International Certificate of Competence) assessment, then I’m your man
  • If you need your boat delivering somewhere, then I’m your man
  • If you want to take clients out to give them a good time, then I’m your man

I’ve recently taught two separate Yachtmaster Theory candidates who were taking distance learning courses and they both tell me that they truly benefited from spending a few days on a one to one basis with me prior to taking their exams.  So whether that’s you or you’d just prefer to learn about the theory behind navigation, safety and etiquette on the water, give me a call and we can discuss times to suit you.

With summer truly on the way, it’s time to get the boat washed off and start planning those trips.  However, if it’s been a while since you were last out on the water, you might be feeling a little low in the confidence stakes.  Spend a few days buzzing around the marina with me and your confidence will come racing back and you’ll be good to go.  If you are intending to visit France this summer and you don’t have an ICC, then I can take you through the requirements and assess you as we go – much easier than taking a test I’m sure!

Perhaps you just want to sit back and let someone else take the strain.  Leave the driving to me and you can enjoy the time relaxing with your family and friends instead of worrying about tide times, mooring on an unfamiliar berth or going to that marina you’ve never been to before.  Impress your clients with a trip out on your boat and let a professional captain and crew make it work seamlessly for you.

I have many, many years of world wide cruising experience and teaching under my belt – let me share this with you and give you the confidence to properly enjoy your boating.

Sarky Sunday!

OK, so it’s Sunday, there’s a gentle breeze wafting across the island from the south, it’s a little over cast but the forecast is for sun later, what do you do next? Well, let me tell you – you get on a boat with seven other people and you go to Sark for lunch of course!

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It was a little lumpy on the way up to Corbiere but nothing we couldn’t cope with and then, once we turned the corner it was an easy run straight up to Havre Gosselin.  This is a super little bay on the West coast of Sark, just at the point where Sark and Brecqhou meet (actually, there’s a small channel that separates them but you know what I mean).

Picking up the mooring buoy was a breeze, as was getting ashore on the jet-rib but climbing up the zig-zag path to the Pilcher Monument at the top was not such a breeze, especially if you are as unfit as me it seems! It is definitely not the sort of hike to be attempted if you have heart issues but most people could make it to the top with a few stops to get their breath back I’m sure.

From the moment it flattened out, we broke into a brisk walk, enjoying the peace and tranquillity of an island devoid of mechanised transport (except for the tractors of course). In fact, we reckon the most noise came from our footsteps and the wind – how delightful.

It’s only a ten minute walk to the high street which, compared to previous visits, was looking a tad quiet.  Mind you, it was early May, so perhaps it’ll pick up later in the season.

There’s a visitor centre just before you get to town and Mandy simply couldn’t resist looking down the barrel of the canon…

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There’s always one who has to do this, isn’t there?

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We also needed a comfort break by now.  If ever you go to Sark and you need the loo, they are this way…

After a brief stroll down the high street, we headed for the hotel where we were meeting for lunch.  The Stocks Hotel is an oasis in the centre of the island, providing top notch accommodation and exquisite food to go with it.

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We tried the locally caught lobster and enjoyed every single mouthful. Sitting in the afternoon sun, sipping Sancerre and chatting with some lovely friends, has to be the most wonderful way to spend a Sunday.  Anyway, all good things eventually come to an end, so we took a leisurely stroll back towards the boat.

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Here’s a tower we saw en route.

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and here’s a cat!

At the monument, we started our decent and it’s at this time, every time I visit Sark by this route in fact, that I’m glad the return journey is down hill and not up!

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That’s the boat we came on – the one in the bay there, next to the other ones… long way down isn’t it?

Once we’d all got back to the boat, we strapped the rib on the back, untied the mooring line and we were off.  An hour later and we pulled onto the berth in Elizabeth Marina and that was us back in Jersey.

The next time you’re wondering what to do on Sunday…

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.

 

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.