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.

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 #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. However, conventional wisdom is having to adapt to the march of technology and therefore, change is becoming inevitable.  We are all gradually being encouraged to take advantage of these advancements in navigation and in fairness, they do make life easier and importantly also improve safety levels, especially when passage making in unfamiliar or busy waters.  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 you are going and keeping your position marked on the chart as the journey progresses, is by far the safest way to go.

Personally, I like to plan my passages one or two days in advance; 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.

So, lets think of some bullet points to remember:

  • 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 weather sites Windguru and The Met Office  as possible sources of weather 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 you run with wind and tide going the same way; ‘wind over tide, lunch over the side’ (motor yachts) and with the tide (sailing yachts)
  • Use the tidal chartlets in your Almanac to help with time, distance and tide direction planning for an overview of the whole passage

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.

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 have to get home, leave the boat in the marina and take the ferry.

Your boat must be fit to make the journey.  Check all your safety equipment; when was your life-raft last serviced?  Fill the boat with fuel and water.  Make sure you have enough food on board for at least two extra days. 

 

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…

Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

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.