Skipper’s Tips #17 – Magnetic or True

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I’m sure most boaters or walkers or anyone who navigates their way around using charts or maps will have come across the situation where their compass is pointing one way and their maps or charts are pointing in a slightly different direction.

The reason for this, in simple terms, is that the molten core of the earth, which is constantly moving, is what compasses point at.  However, when you look at the globe from a human perspective, it has been drawn with the North Pole at the top and the South Pole at the bottom, a slightly skewed axis and to add insult to injury, the beautifully drawn land masses are not quite in the position that our trusty new GPS gadgetry now correctly indicates.   Here’s an interesting observation to chew on; if you went out into space and looked at the world, how would you know which way is up? Is the North Pole actually at the top?

I digress…

Obviously, if we are to sail around without bumping into things we need to work out how to work on the same page as the compasses we are utilising.  What we do, is allow for the difference in opinion (Variation) and once applied to the (True) or unadjusted heading, we end up with a (Magnetic) heading figure.  The story doesn’t end there though.  Stick a compass on a boat and all the electronic and magnetic forces on the boat will have a further effect on the compass, confusing the ‘poor dear’ even more, this we call (Deviation).  Making an allowance for the Deviation inaccuracy of the compass gives us the most accurate heading and is called a (Compass) heading.

Do not despair. When you buy a new boat, a compass adjuster will get on board and eradicate as much of the Deviation as possible.  The bit that’s left will be listed on a compass Deviation card so you can allow for it when navigating.  Beware though.  If you change any electronic equipment, or bring items onto your boat that have any electronic or magnetic properties, they will have an effect on the compass and it will have to be ‘swung’ again!

By now you must be starting to wonder how you’ve managed to navigate safely between ports without bumping into rocks and chunks of unexpected land. The answer, of course, is that we all readily use the chart-plotter/GPS equipment that’s become almost as intrinsic as the hull!  The chance of this equipment failing is remote and I have touched on this in another tip but if it were to fail or cease to operate correctly we will have to deal with Variation and Deviation before we can start to steer a course by the boat’s compass.

So, how do we work with Variation and Deviation?  Importantly, you must remember to make these ‘allowances’ in a specific order.  Allow for Variation first and then Deviation. You will also need to decide how you apply the correction.  When dealing with Variation this correction is essentially adding or subtracting the appropriate amount of degrees difference between what the compass is indicating and what the local Variation is shown to be on your chart as either degrees (West) or degrees (East)

Doc 3 Sep 2017, 12-37This is an example of a compass rose on a chart.  The Magnetic Variation shown is 2 degrees, 45 minutes West, correct in 2006.  Each year, this ‘error’ is decreasing by 8 minutes.  There are 60 minutes in a degree, so for 2017 – 11 years on – that’s a reduction of 1 degree and 28 minutes.  Therefore the Magnetic Variation in 2017 is 1 degree and 17 minutes West. Yes, there will come a point when the error disappears completely and then starts to become an East Magnetic Variation.  When I first started teaching, the Variation in parts of the Med was just under 2 degrees West and the last I saw it was almost zero – Point & Go!

N.B. Please remember, Magnetic Variation is nothing to do with whether you are going in a Westerly or Easterly direction, it is actually about your position on the globe relative to that molten core of the Earth which we spoke about earlier.

The question now is, how do we know whether to add or subtract these degrees of Variation or Deviation?  I don’t doubt that there are many different ‘aide memoirs’ but the one I favour, naturally, is the one I made up myself.  If you are calculating from True (shown on the chart) to Compass (the heading you are going to steer to by the ship’s compass) then any Variation or Deviation you allow for that is West must be added.  In other words True To Compass Add West – TTCAW.  It therefore follows, that any Variation or Deviation that you encounter when going from True to Compass that is East must be subtracted; the opposite, see?

Furthermore, when you are calculating from Compass to True, as you might when taking a Magnetic bearing with a hand-bearing compass, you would add East and subtract West. Clear as mud isn’t it?  Have a look at the table below, which has some examples.

Just to reiterate, don’t fall into the trap of thinking the direction you are pointing your boat in determines whether the Variation or Deviation is West or East.  The Variation figure comes from the compass rose on your chart and the Deviation figure from your boat’s deviation card.

True    Variation        Magnetic       Deviation      Compass

231        6 W                  237                  2 W                  239                             add West

079        3 E                   076                    0                     076                             subtract East

147       4 W                  151                   1 E                   150

013       2 E                    011                   2 W                 013

348       2 W                   350                  1 E                   349

To remember the order try,  ‘True Virgins Make Dull Companions’.  Alternatively, if that’s too racy for you, remember the reverse order with,  ‘Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Very Tasty’.

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.

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.

 

Skipper’s Tips #8 – Documentation

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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).

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 #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!

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 #1 – Anchoring

I wrote my ‘Skipper’s Tips’ some years ago and now that I have my very own blog I think it is about time we get to see them again.  These tips have proved very popular in the past so I will be publishing them on a regular basis alongside my adventures and my pictures.

I’m not sure what made me choose anchoring as the first of my ‘Skipper’s Tips’. Maybe it was because I had three separate anchoring tips to share and that fact alone made tips for anchoring seem somewhat important.  Having given this some thought,  I’m also aware that anchoring is the subject I get asked about more than any other boating technique.  For some reason it seems to scare the pants off people, and in fairness, the first time I anchored overnight I was more than a little apprehensive – I was crewing on a delivery trip from Ellos in Sweden to Cowes on a Hallberg-Rassy 39.  We had decided to pass through the top of Denmark, rather than run the gauntlet of the Skagarrak Strait, which lies between Norway and Denmark’s Jutland peninsula, this body of water is notorious for its potential ferocity.  This magical inland waterway has stopping off points set at ideal distances apart, which make for a leisurely three or four day run through to the North Sea.  All except for one leg that is and this is where we had to ride at anchor for the night. If memory serves, it took me rather a long time to get to sleep that night but the next morning we were in exactly the same position and I’ve been happy to sit at anchor ever since.

Anchoring #1

Anchoring is seen by some to be a ‘black art’, but it needn’t be. During the RYA Day Skipper course we go through anchoring in detail but here are a few tips to get you going and alleviate some of your fears.

  • When underway, attach a lanyard from the anchor to the boat/winch to stop the anchor deploying accidentally
  • If you have an electric windlass, only turn the windlass switch on when you are ready to anchor
  • Operate the anchor from the bow where you can see the anchor going up and down
  • For boats without a windlass, flake the chain out on deck before you put the anchor down, so that you can put out the correct amount of chain
  • Lay out a minimum of four times the depth of water for chain only
  • Lay out a minimum of six times the depth of water for a chain and warp mixture
  • As the tide rises and falls adjust the amount of chain/warp you have out
  • If your anchor drags put out more chain (If in doubt, let it out)
  • Never anchor on a lee shore – wind blowing on shore

Check your chart for the nature of the sea-bed; mud or sand offers better holding than weed, and unless you have a tripping line attached to the back of your anchor, you may lose it in rocks.

When you are ready to anchor, turn the boat into the wind/tide and stop (You should be pointing in the same direction as other boats anchored nearby). Let the anchor out until it touches the bottom and then drift gently backwards, laying the rest of the chain out as you go.

Use transits (two objects in a line) forward and on the beam to check that you are not dragging your anchor. If your anchor does drag, then lay out more chain/warp – this is why you should not anchor on a ‘lee’ shore.

 

The first time you decide to spend the night at anchor it can be very daunting but do try and summon the courage to try it.  Waking up in a sheltered bay, to a gorgeous sunrise and the gentle lapping of the sea on the hull is something quite wonderful…

 

My next tip will be Close Quarters Manoeuvring, don’t miss these upcoming words of wisdom!

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.