35. Message In A Bottle

I don’t think this is a form of communication used very often these days. Instead, to bring us into the modern world, John and I attended a VHF course on 20th July at Hamble School of Yachting. The School was bought by Clipper at the beginning of this year but courses are open to anyone. For me Hamble was a bit of a trip down memory lane as I used to have a boyfriend who was training to be a BA pilot down there. All gone now. The only place I recognised was The Bugle, a pub on the river.

The official title of the course is “RYA SRC Radio Operators Course and Exam”. The last word rather put me off, I’ve not done an exam since our wine making course, which wasn’t a life or death situation. The TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) stand for Royal Yacht Association and Short Range Certificate. We received a very smart book so that we could learn about it before we attended the course. We were expected to read this and also make sure we knew the Phonetic Alphabet (A alpha, B bravo, C Charlie, D delta etc) and the distress calls Mayday and PanPan. These are both based on French “m’aidez” as in “help me” and “panne” meaning “breakdown”. Other French terms used are “Seelonce”, “Seelonce feenee” and “Prudonce” which I hope need no translation (say them aloud).

Our Bible for the Day

There were seven of us in a very narrow room with our tutor. There should have been eight but maybe that person was put off by the dreaded E word. I provided diversity in that everyone else (including the tutor Dave and our examiner James) were white and male. Other than John and I, all the others either already had their own boats or were thinking of getting one. There was an Italian who could not believe that in this country anyone can go out and buy a boat and set off with no qualifications. In Italy you and the boat need papers and you can expect to be asked to produce them. Over here, it’s only when chartering a boat that you’re likely to have to show you know what you’re doing (in theory if not in reality).

Having introduced ourselves and made sure we had coffee it was down to business. In front of each pair was a radio, but before we could play with that we had some serious learning to address. A lot of abbreviations such as GMDSS and many others that I won’t bore you with. (Global Marine Distress and Safety System, as you asked). We only learnt about VHF as that’s what’s used by small craft, and even then we only need to know about a dozen channels. For ease of remembering, instead of using the actual frequency such as 156.050 MHz, all relevant channels have a designation from 01 to 28 then 60 to 88. All new radios have DSC (digital selective calling) so that you can send with a single press of the button, which transmits on Channel 70. We learnt how to calculate how far a signal would reach: it depends on the height of your aerial above sea level, so the longer that is the better. Most boats will have the aerial at the top of their mast for this reason. There are different types of antenna but I’m not planning on taking you through too much technical stuff, if you want to know more it’s only a one-day course (with some reading beforehand).

Although we may think of using a radio to send out a distress message, most of the time we should be using it to communicate with other vessels or a marina when we want to stop for the night. There is an etiquette to all of this which we needed to know. Simple things like don’t chatter endlessly to your mates on another boat, don’t transmit music, no bad language, make sure the Skipper has approved the use of the radio etc. We were reminded that “broadcast” means that everyone in hearing distance will pick you up. You need to identify yourself every time you talk and say “over” when you want the other person to reply. “Out” means you’re signing off. “Over and out” means you watched too many TV programmes as this is a meaningless phrase and indicates that you don’t know what you’re doing. Channel 16 is the main one that is used to send out an initial signal: if you’re calling a specific boat then you’ll agree to use a different channel to leave 16 free as quickly as possible. Everyone will be listening on this for any distress calls.

There are two certificates that are important: the Radio Licence for the boat and the Authority to Operate which means you have learnt how to use the radio.

Now the exciting part, operating the radio. There are five types of DSC alert: distress (“grave or imminent danger to life or vessel”), urgency (we have a problem but it’s not life threatening), safety (more often used by the coastguard for e.g. a weather or navigational warning), routine (ship-to-ship) and group (usually temporary for a race or other event). We practiced them all. The first, distress, is what we know as Mayday and anyone in hearing range should respond, but wait for a short while to see if the coastguard pick it up, before speeding to the rescue of the distressed boat. If you want to help identify what problem you have, the radio has “designated” issues which are abandoning ship, piracy, man over board (MOB), fire, flooding, collision, grounding, listing, sinking and adrift. All sound pretty worrying.You make the distress call (Mayday and who you are, in brief) then the distress message. Each radio will have a laminated card or similar with the information you need to give, but just in case it’s not there we learnt the nonsense word MIPDANIO as shown in a picture above. SO: “Mayday”, Identification, Position of the vessel, type of Distress you’re in, “Assistance required immediately”, Number of people on board (so they can all be found), any other useful Information, “Over”.


If you’ve picked up a Mayday and no-one else has responded, you can send a Mayday Relay, as an urgency alert (it’s not you in immediate danger). This urgency is also used for PanPan where, for example, you may have steering problems or a medical issue that you don’t know how to treat.

John and I shared a radio and our “vessel” was named Old Gaffer. No comment. (Another was Hot Stuff, someone had fun choosing the names!). Every radio will have a call sign and a MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity number, effectively your mobile number). We had to use these to call each other and either arrange a meeting and transmit a distress or urgency message, having decided what the issue was (someone overboard versus engine failure for example).

Definite Piracy!

After lots of practice and lunch, we then had the exam in two parts. The first was a lot of questions where we had to score 16/25 to pass. In the past, I’ve galloped through these then gone back to see which I’d got wrong. Unfortunately I usually suffer doubts and alter them needlessly. This time I finished and handed my paper over to James so I couldn’t think any more about it. Then three of us went out of the room whilst the others sent messages on the radios. We could hear James asking questions such as “Would you really say that? How many times should you say Mayday? Which channel should you have used then?” All of which were a bit nerve-wracking, I think I’d rather have gone in the first group. After what seemed like hours the rest of us went in to do the live bit. It was good to have a practice so that in real life if faced with this we’d know what to do. I’d had to transmit a Mayday practice on our Scottish trip (see post 27) and now it all makes sense!

The good news: we all passed, you can invite me on your boat any time. I’m just waiting for my Authority to Operate in the post.

34. A Dedicated Follower of Fashion

“Oh no I’m not!” I had a (junior) school jumper that I wore until I was in my 30’s if you need an example. After the last post with the picture of me in a bikini you know this heading may be somewhat of an exaggeration. I promise no more of those (unless of course I’m sunning myself somewhere exotic in the next year…). The picture used for this header is scary enough. Actually, George is still getting rid of clothes he wore to school so maybe it’s an inheritable condition. If you want to see a real follower of fashion, then maybe a blog post sometime later will be of John’s shirts (I’m not sure fashionable is the word I should be using, but you cannot unforget them once you’ve seen them!). Of course for the next year they will be in Musto gear with no thinking involved.

John on Level 4 in a “swimmer suit” for MOB rescues

So how am I getting on with my planning? You saw the suitcase I’ll be taking along, in Post 30 last month. Not a lot of room for up to one month’s clothing and other supplies. My secret weapon is Natasha Musson, my “wardrobe consultant and stylist”. So if I’m not stylish blame her. (Well maybe not, it depends if I wear what she tells me to). If you want to look her up here’s her website: http://www.natashamusson.co.uk/

What you get after a consultation is a little book full of photos for each event, day or whatever so you do not pack more than you need.

The Magic Organiser Book
Inside The Book

In the Sunday Times a few weeks ago there was an article about packing for who you want to be, rather than who you are. In my mind I’m Audrey Hepburn, in my body I’m one of those Beryl Cook ladies: https://www.berylcookprints.co.uk/beryl-cook-shop/

Natasha came along a few weeks ago and we went though my wardrobe with Uruguay and Cape Town in mind. I’ve booked my flights and hotels for these stops. The good news is that these two places will be relatively warm when I’m there (October and November). I said I don’t need anything ultra smart, just tee-shirts and shorts. Natasha wasn’t having any of this, she said I’d want to get changed and feel different in the evenings. Once we’d gone through all the clothes and thrown out the ones with holes, stains etc. we made a list of what was missing (tee-shirts, smarter shorts and trousers) then headed off to Bath for a shopping spree. The other great thing is that Natasha knows where to go so you (a) don’t spend time trawling all the shops and (b) only buy what you need (mostly). Those of you who know me will know how much I hate shopping. Here’s one of my new outfits to look out for:

Neither Qingdao nor Unicef colours, oops!

The other great thing we bought were packing cubes. I’d not come across them but George has so maybe you have too. They enable you to squash, no sorry, carefully pack items of clothing into separate small containers (mesh on one side so you can see what’s inside) then pack these into your case. They work!

As I’m on fashion, I may as well give a plug to another Unicef CV31 supporter. Melinda Scarborough also has a husband on the boat. She is an accomplished silversmith and is making beautiful hallmarked pendants and earrings of the Clipper yacht, with a contribution to Unicef for each sale. I have to confess that I’ve bought one for each of the girls in our family, including me!

Medium Silver Clipper

This is from Lindy’s Facebook entry: There will be two sizes of necklace: Large (a statement piece!) with 28 inch chain at £139 and a medium size with 18 inch chain at £89 and earrings at £39. Plus p&p at cost. 20% of each sale will go to the Unicef fund. These will be hallmarked at the London Assay Office which is 2 miles from the start of the race. If you are interested in having one made for you or would like more information please email me at mel@msj.org.uk

Look out for us wearing them at St Katherine’s Dock. I’m sure you’ve all fallen asleep by now with me wittering on about items with very little direct Clipper involvement. Next time I hope to get onto our VHF course, so that will be a complete contrast.

And, just in case you thought I’d forgotten about the HATS, here’s George modelling one. Looking at this photo, my outfit above does at least reflect the Musto colour of the foulies. Not necessarily the image I was thinking of!

Spot the beanie!

33a. It’s A Small Small World (6)

Last Saturday John and I were on a VHF course (details to follow but don’t hold your breath, it may be a few days). There were another five attendees who were nothing to do with Clipper, all on the course because they either had boats or wanted to buy one. We were chatting about why we were doing the course, Clipper and which boats MBB were on: one of the guys said “Oh, Qingdao, my friend Donna is on that one, going round the world, don’t know if you know her?”. Well, I think the WHOLE WORLD knows her! If you go onto the Clipper website and look in the gallery you’ll see her modelling the Musto clothing, getting wet and making tea: https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/news/view-gallery/musto-technical-clothing-partner-launch

Then, that evening, after a stroll around Hamble and a pint in The Bugle, we ended up in La Dolce Vita, an Italian restaurant (what else could it be?) for a meal. As we were sitting there a couple walked in and John said “I know them, remind me who they are”. I looked round and saw Harry and Anna, sailing friends of George who had been staying at our house (with another eighteen or so) the weekend before for George’s farewell bash! Had it been a week earlier we would not have known each other. They had been racing J class boats (single masted racing yachts) and came third. Harry is a very useful chap to know, he and his cousins make Pig Beer in Brockenhurst. https://www.pigbeer.com/

Good stuff, he brought supplies to George’s party and we all enjoyed a bottle or two whilst watching the cricket, tennis or F1 from Silverstone. If you’re anywhere near Brockenhurst next week you could go to the New Forest & Hampshire County Show and try it for yourself.

Harry and Anna

33. The Bermuda Triangle?

We now know the last three ports of call. If you’ve been following the Clipper website you’ll already be aware of them, but just in case there are other things going on in your life, here they are.

The “South East Asia” stop is now confirmed as Subic Bay, The Philippines. Not an area I know anything about so some basic research tells me that it was a former US Naval base but is now a holiday destination. (I’m sure for some people that “but” is unnecessary). The temperature is likely to be in the low 30’s during the day when we’re there in late February, cooling to 20’s at night with a 1% chance of rain. Won’t be needing my flannelette nightie or Pac-A-Mac then! It specialises in beaches, good for the Clipper boats if they run aground. The fleet are due to arrive 25th-26th February and leave on 28th so a whistle-stop only. Not even worth unpacking the bikini.

What I’m usually wearing on holiday!

The “China” part of leg 5/6 thus starts with arrival in Sanya February 10th-15th, moving onto Subic Bay on 21st February, a quick beer there then off to Zhuhai for arrival around 2nd-3rd March, a crew change for those who are not doing leg 6 and departure on 9th March to George’s “home” port of Qingdao. They should arrive there around 17-19th March and depart for Seattle on 26th March.

Onto the final leg, leaving Panama around 5th June next year. Due to the way the Panama Canal scheduling works this date is vague. I suppose it’s possible I may not even see them transit. Once all the fleet is through the Canal, the last section of Leg 7 will start. They race to New York / New Jersey, planning to arrive around 16th-19th June. As this is the end of Leg 7 there’s a crew change-over and they set off on 27th June for Bermuda.

Couldn’t find Bermuda shorts!

The arrival window at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club is 1st-2nd July, leaving on the 9th so not much time there to relax. Bermuda is an archipelago of seven coral islands with around 170 other rocks and islands that are important enough to have been named. Possibly because ships have hit them? The large islands are connected by bridges. It is nowhere near other islands I’ve been to, if you look it up on a map all you’ll see is sea.

From there we’re on our way home. Foyle Marina at Derry-Londonderry around 23rd -27th July. Actually, that gives me some time to spend in Bermuda if I feel the need to stay in one place for a week or more. Bring out the bikini.

Or maybe not!

Once we’ve left Ireland on 2nd August it’s back to St Katherine’s Dock in London for 8th August, unless they sneak in a late stop. Then we pick up our normal lives?

Next time: probably disappointing for the sailors, back to my plans. Unless something more exciting occurs beforehand.

32. Sea Interludes

This post is a gallimaufry. No, nothing to do with Doctor Who’s home planet but a confused jumble of stuff. There, you can impress people with a new word today!

I’ve not managed to update the blog for a while, partly due to waiting for news to come in from the Clipper office and partly due to having a house full of different people at different times, including the three F’s who appear at the top of Post 2 way back in November last year. You can see them on the header here, if you go onto the website (not on the email). They have grown quite a bit in the interim!

So what’s been happening? Referring back to Post 30, we went and had our jabs, thankfully not as drastic as we thought. The very informative nurse we saw talked common sense into us: as we weren’t likely to be doing anything foolish (!) we could avoid having rabies, yellow fever etc etc. We came out having had just the normal boosters. The one proviso was if we were going to Brazil we would need yellow fever.

My new passport!

We found out last week that the first stop, on the way to Punta del Este in Uruguay, will be Portimao in Portugal. A nice short introduction to the race for MBB across the Bay of Biscay! It has affected the timings a little but as I’ve not got around to booking any flights or hotels that’s fine. The fleet arrival window here is 8 to 10 September, leaving for Uruguay on 15 September and they are now due into Punta del Este between 12 to 16 October. All other timings are (as yet) unchanged. I’ll do a review when we have more dates (we are expecting more announcements later this week).

The Level 4 week training started recently, where the actual 70 footers race against each other, in a small version of what they will be doing in September. George has yet to do his (due to the holiday in Japan and Vietnam) but John had his in early June, on the second week of Level 4. He clocked up 626 hours, with 46 hours night sailing. His attempt to grow a beard this week was not too successful, but maybe a year at sea will help.

A grizzled sea dog!

The results are very unofficial and do not get published, BUT we know that Qingdao beat Unicef in the first week. I was using VesselFinder to track them which means little else gets done. It’s great fun to see them racing when they are all in a line. You can track any boat, not just the Clippers, here’s the link: https://www.vesselfinder.com/

VesselFinder screen

Soon after that we had the Isle of Wight Round-The-Island race. Maybe not quite as tough as round the world. The Clipper yachts had been chartered out, they were in their own class, only three finished (due to lack of wind) but we had Unicef (CV31) first and Qingdao (CV30) second! Even though our teams were not crewing, the Skippers and AQPs were on board so it’s a real coup for the two boats we’ll be supporting. Once again we were all tracking them. Other systems are available and all are pretty similar, but here CV31 (Unicef) is the orange track, I think I need this system instead of the one above, much prettier! Once we start to race the official Clipper one will be the one to watch though, no other vessels interfering with the view.

Round The Island Race 2019

Also in the last few weeks John has officially left Alliance altogether, resigning from his post of Non-Executive Director. He had (yet another) farewell party and a few sailing-related presents.

Says it all!

Back to Clipper. Another two sponsors have been announced, WTC Logistics and ChartCo. World Trade Connections (WTC) Logistics are also a team partner, sponsoring a boat (Team Mark, CV23) as well as providing the shipping for all the equipment that needs to be taken to each port for the fleet. Important things like the pennants they win for coming first, second and third for example. As soon as I have a picture of their wrap I’ll post it. ChartCo is an official supplier, so they don’t have a boat. They are supplying the charts, piloting books and any other technical navigation documents needed.

Seattle (CV22, Team Ben) has been wrapped and she is quite different from the last race. She has an “ocean health” theme with Orca whales leaping around. You can see her being wrapped here: https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/news/article/seattle-ocean-health-themed-branding-revealed

Finally, you’re not getting away without me mentioning the HATS! Having knitted lots for Unicef I felt I’d best pay some attention to Qingdao supporters. All the boats have a target of £33,000 to raise for Unicef (the official Clipper charity). John’s team are doing very well and are likely to reach that before they sail. Qingdao are a bit slower off the blocks, languishing in last place.

Qingdao colours

George donated £10 for the hat then took it to his team building event last weekend where it attracted much admiration. The upshot was it became an auction item and raised a further £60! Following on from that, there’s a raffle for a second one and other supporters are knitting. When we get to any port we’ll recognise each other (assuming the crew let us supporters wear them as well). Back to my needles…

Meanwhile, in 54 days and 5 hours they will be off!