Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Stopover Dartmouth

A report back from the crew yesterday shows that all is well - they arrived in Dartmouth at 13h00 on Monday after leaving Eastbourne at 10h00 on Sunday, and sailed through the night.  They had a minimum 20 / maximum 33 knots of wind and made up a good 8.3 knots in speed!  They were up early again this morning, and left Dartmouth to make Falmouth by this evening. 

I'll be downloading the latest GRIB files (detailed weather information files) tonight to see what the Bay of Biscay has in store for us over the coming week.  The weather and sea state will determine exactly when we leave Falmouth - sometimes it's a bit of a wait to ensure that we catch a good weather window.

I'll keep you posted....

Monday, 27 September 2010

Adventure underway!

The adventure finally began on Sunday, with part of the crew sailing down to Falmouth from Eastbourne.  Due to work commitments I will be joining them on Thursday 30th.  Fair winds to the guys as they make their way down the South Coast....

Where are we?

Its a big blue ocean out there, so how do we know where we are?  How do we communicate with loved ones, or for that matter, with the coastguard if an emergency strikes?

In this age of technology, there is a plethora of gadgets and equipment to make the world smaller.  But as we are taught when we start out sailing, we shouldn't rely too heavily on electronics, in case of equipment or power failure.  We should at least have the same basic practical knowledge that our forefathers had, such as how to plot a course on a paper chart, how to figure out where we are with a magnetic compass, how to read the tide tables, and for the more advanced, navigation by the stars with a sextant.  Once we have mastered the basics, we are then able to better appreciate the gadgets that we use on a day to day basis, knowing that we have a manual backup when we need it.

For navigation, we use a GPS unit, which may or may not come with a built-in plotter (this allows us to plot a course, along with way-points and other fancy features).  These units communicate with a network of satellites in geo-stationary orbit around the earth, allowing for amazing accuracy (up to a few feet).

For our basic communication, we use a VHF radio, and these days the fixed-mount models come with something called "DSC", otherwise known as "digital selective calling".  What this means is that the radio is also able to transmit digital data such as a mayday message, along with our position (if the radio is connected up to a GPS unit), at the touch of a button.  This saves precious time if lives are at risk.

There are limits to the range of transmission of a signal from a standard VHF unit however, especially from the middle of a vast ocean (due to the power required for transmission, as well as the curvature of the earth preventing the signal from reaching a land-based receiver). So how do we send an emergency call if the VHF radio is out of range?  For regular communication, satellite phones come into their own - transmission of radio signals (these days the newer models include digital data transmission, such as email and internet) is directed up to a series of communication satellites, which relay the call on to land-based receivers.  For emergency communication, some very special gadgets have been on the market for a while now, called EPIRBs, or "emergency position indicating radio beacon", and these can be manually or automatically activated when the unit is submerged in water.  All ocean crossing vessels (including commercial vessels) should have these, and they have seved many lives.  They work by sending out a radio signal, along with the position (by means of a built-in gps unit) at regular intervals, for a period of days.

Other pieces of useful electronic equipment include NAVTEX (navigational telex) - a unit that receives weather and navigation information from stations around the world.  Radar is also highly desirable, especially in busy waters such as the English Channel, as it allows us to keep an "electronic eye" out on traffic.

We have most of this equipment on board, which increases our safety margin considerably, but all the technology in the world is useless if no-one knows how to use it.  Fortunately, most of the crew have some level of experience using this equipment, so we can share our knowledge with those that don't.

Until next time....

Monday, 13 September 2010

Déjà vu

Sea voyages need a good dose of flexibility in their planning, and our trans-Atlantic trip is no exception.  Due to some crew changes, a planned teambuilding trip to France this last weekend had to be cancelled, and instead we headed to Brighton, following the same route as last time.  We were joined by a new team-member, Rob (who plans to explore South America on the other end of the voyage), and departed Eastbourne at around 15h00 on Saturday.

The weather and sea state was an almost carbon copy of our previous weekend, strong force 5 South Westerly breeze and wind against tide causing some green faces and lost lunches amongst 2 of the crew, but they proved their mettle and showed brave faces (after a cup of ginger tea).  Being the last preparatory trip before departure to Falmouth, it was probably a blessing in disguise to get a bit more hardened to unruly weather.  On approach to Brighton marina, the weather started clearing, and a gorgeous double rainbow announced our arrival.

Double rainbow
It also gave me a chance to test the new route tracker (which can be accessed via a tab at the top of this page) - you can follow our progress to Brighton with short log entries for each point (just click on a marker).  We intend to post our positions once a day on the crossing, so friends and family can see our progress.

The following day was bright with a variable light South Westerly, sea state slight, and we were joined by 2 more new crew members, Huw and Bernice (who also intend to explore South America), for the return trip to Eastbourne.  As the wind was behind us, we opted to pole out the genoa, and set a preventer on the boom to keep the mainsail as far out as possible.  With a favourable tide, we eased back along the coast, making good progress.  We passed a couple of working boats that were laying a pipeline outside Newhaven harbour, but other than that we were able to relax in the sun and do some "cloudspotting"...

We rounded Beachy Head with an almost perfect "goosewing" rig set up (genoa poled out on one side and the mainsail setup on the other for downwind running) and made a good 7 knots to Eastbourne harbour entrance.  After locking in, mooring up, and the ritual deck-scrub, we said our goodbyes with the knowledge that the next time we meet would be for the real thing.

Until next time....