Archive for April, 2009

Local Knowledge – Fog

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

I’ve just been reading about two French sailors whose yacht was hit by a merchant ship in heavy fog 15 miles off the Lizard in the English Channel earlier this year. With visibility down to 300 metres, the Channel was not a sensible place to be.


If the Frenchmen had talked to the Falmouth Coastguard before setting out, they would have been advised to delay their voyage and wait for better weather conditions.


As it happened, the merchant vessel had just three minutes to try to avoid the collision. After the impact, the French crew sent out a mayday, but later discovered that their 34 ft yacht was not sinking so the rescue was called off and they were able to return to safety of Falmouth.


Fortunately, no one was injured.

Cockroaches – an age-old problem at sea

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

A few years ago now, I was skipper of a yacht cruising to New Caledonia crewed by a group of sailors who belonged to a club.


While loading provisions for the 12 day voyage, one of the crew stopped his mate from passing a cardboard carton of food onto the yacht. He demanded that the contents be unpacked and re-stowed in one or more plastic bags. Why? From his experienced he knew that this form of packaging was a ‘cockroach Hilton’.


Once cockroaches have found their way on board your yacht, it is extremely difficult to get rid of them. And it’s not a new problem.


Thomas Huxley*, Assistant Surgeon on HMS Rattlesnake**, reported in his diary:


“I wonder if it is possible for the mind to conceive anything more degradingly offensive than the condition of us 150 men, shut up in this wooden box, being watered with hot water, as we are now. It’s too hot to sleep, and my sole amusement consists in watching the cockroaches, which are in a state of intense excitement and happiness.”


To rid the vessel of its infestation, the crew sank it for two days. When they raised it, they discovered that the cockroaches had only been stunned. Finally, by sinking the ship for a week they achieved their aim. The sailors saw the cockroaches swimming ashore in a black cloud and later had to clear away dead ones by the bucket load.


* Thomas Huxley was made a Fellow of the Royal Society at the age of 25 and later became known as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ in recognition of his support for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.


** HMS Rattlesnake, with Owen Stanley as captain, explored northern Australia, Torres Strait and New Guinea in the years 1846 to 1850.

When you might want to turn your navigation lights off

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Writing the other day about AIS and pirate attacks on shipping reminded me of a yacht delivery I made some years ago.


After leaving Esperance, Western Australia and heading east, we found one night that there were many vessels nearby that were unlit, although we could see their silhouettes. We didn’t know whether they were fishing boats, nor did we know if their activities were legal. The darkness that surrounded them discouraged us from wanting to find out!


A discussion followed as to what we should do. As we were totally vulnerable, our decision was to turn our lights off and proceed with caution.

AIS – The pirates’ favourite tool

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Yesterday’s post by Tillerman on his blog, Proper Course, alerted me to the possibility of pirate vessels tracking their victims using AIS (Automatic Identification System). Before I go into that, I’d better explain…


What is AIS?


Since December 2004 all ships over 300 tons have been required to use an AIS. This mechanism transmits information about the ship – its name, position, course, speed and destination. Nearby ships receive the information and track each vessel around them. This allows skippers to change course to avoid close encounters and makes shipping movements much safer.


It does not, however, replace the need to keep a lookout.


See for yourself. The following site shows shipping movements worldwide.



AIS and pirates


It’s not hard to see that, if pirates have the technology to track AIS data from ships in their vicinity, they can pick and choose which to attack.


It’s been suggested that ships be allowed to ‘go silent’ when passing Somalia and other known pirate haunts but international laws would have to be changed to make that action legal.


How many pirate attacks will take place before such amendments can be enacted?

Learning to sail

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Yesterday my granddaughter had her first sail. I’m pleased to say that she thoroughly enjoyed it and wants to learn to sail properly. Much as I would love to be the person teaching her, we live 1.75 hours apart which makes weekly sailing lessons well nigh impossible.

So I have taken on the job of finding a suitable sailing course. As you can imagine, this involves a number of considerations and decisions.

Should she learn to sail:
• through a sailing school or yacht club?
• on dinghies or larger keelboats?
• through a school holiday program for beginner sailors?
• on a yacht crewed by experienced sailors?

Personally, I believe it will be best for her to start on a dinghy, where she will learn about the wind, its speed, direction and gusts. A school holiday sailing program seems a good venue for her as she will be able to meet and make friends with lots of other young people who all want to have fun and learn to sail. Such programs are well supported by on-the-water instructors and rescue boats.

A mate sails in the Three Peaks Race

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

I’ve sailed three or four Sydney-Hobart races with ‘Fletch’ (Peter Fletcher) among the crew so I know how good a sailor he is. This weekend he is lining up for his 11th Tasmanian Three Peaks Race from which he’s notched up an impressive and unbeaten seven wins. He will be competing as a sailor this year but he has also competed in the running side of the race.

One thing about Fletch is that he’s incredibly fit. Another that he can sniff out chocolate or any sort of energy food, wherever you think you’ve hidden it!

The Three Peaks race starts in the Tamar River, near Launceston. The first sailing leg is to Lady Barron on Flinders Island. Two runners per team then set out for the top of Mount Strzelecki and return.

The second sailing leg is to Coles Bay where the runners disembark to run to and up Mount Freycinet and back. This takes them along Wineglass Bay and over The Hazards.

The final sailing leg is to Hobart. Yachts have to decide whether to sail, row or pedal through the Dunalley Canal or take the longer route around Tasman Peninsula. The runners are then set ashore to ascend Mount Wellington and return to the finish line.

Read more details of the Three Peaks Race as it unfolds.

Losing the keel led to loss of life

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Nearly seven years after four people died when the keel fell off the racing yacht Excalibur, the owner of the company that built the yacht has been found guilty on four charges of manslaughter.


The families of the four victims, in the light of the verdict, have said there should be mandatory standards for the construction of racing yachts.


Having been involved in a similar situation, where two people lost their lives, I am convinced there are sufficient regulations in place which the honest builder will observe and the dishonest, or sloppy, will disregard.


The usual motives for underbuilding are to save on materials and labour, or to avoid expensive quality control or administrative costs.


Since such sordid motives can, and have, resulted in deaths of innocent people it is only proper that they attract criminal charges.


The situation I was involved in has not been put to legal, adversarial test yet. I hope it is, and with a just result.


PS: In a recent Newsletter I wrote about the frightening experience of being aboard a yacht that has lost its keel.