March – Spring and fever

Our plans are changing rapidly, just like everybody else’s in all walks of life in Europe. Sailing now has to be a peripheral concern, but we still have to work out what to do with the boat, and indeed whether we can sail it at all this year.

No sooner had we decided to go to southern Brittany rather than our original destination of Spain than the fight against the Covid 19 virus made that new plan difficult and probably impossible. It is only a couple of weeks since we applied for a 12 month mooring for Spring Fever at Arzal on the lovely River Vilaine: not surprising we haven’t heard back, because southern Brittany has a local concentration of infection, and the marina is now preoccupied with far more urgent matters. It has announced a strict plan to protect its staff and customers. Continue reading “March – Spring and fever”

Relearning old navigation lessons

Two letters in the latest issue of the excellent Cruising Association magazine* claim it is now safe to rely entirely on electronic charts because backups to the boat’s main chartplotter are so cheaply available. You can leave your old paper charts abandoned in the bottom of a locker somewhere, the argument goes.

However, while researching updates for the yachtmaster book I mentioned last month, I’ve been re-reading intensively about old fashioned navigation techniques I learnt a long time ago, some of which were beginning to fade from memory. It has reinforced for me how important it is to avoid total reliance on electronics and have a portfolio of navigation skills including the old ones. Continue reading “Relearning old navigation lessons”

Bowsprit – pronounced bow, bo’ or bogh?

How do you pronounce bowsprit? I’m usually against language pedants, who try to foist the views of Victorian grammarians onto the 21st century. But this word is my one little obsession, ever since getting a letter into Yachting Monthly on whether the first syllable of bowsprit should rhyme with dough or cow.

I was reminded by contemplation of this lovely boat recently.

I can’t remember why or when, but I learnt to pronounce bowsprit to rhyme with dough as a child. In fact, the similar word bowline is always pronounced like dough. Continue reading “Bowsprit – pronounced bow, bo’ or bogh?”

February – averting satellite disaster

The British government turns out to have been ahead of the game on the  satellite risks I mentioned last month, with a £36 million programme just announced to  prevent navigational satellite failures damaging the economy by as much as £1 billion a day. It is feared that the entire country has become over-dependent on a handful of satellite systems.

Emergency services, the energy grid, mobile phones, Satnav, broadcasting and other communications, the Stock Exchange and an array of other activities all rely heavily on the super-accurate timing provided now by navigational satellites such as GPS and similar systems. There are life-threatening risks from failure, says the government.An image of a third generation Lockheed Martin GPS satellite

The new investment is in a National Timing Centre to create a network of super-accurate atomic clocks around the UK, accessed through ground-based communications, so that the economy will no longer be over-reliant on timing from GNSS signals from the sky.

GNSS is the term that embraces the US  GPS, the first system, Russia’s GLONASS satellites, Europe’s new Galileo and also a rapidly developing Chinese system.

Galileo failed completely for a while last year during its start up phase, because of operator errors, and there are now many examples of interference with GNSS systems and malicious ‘spoofing’, in which navigation instruments are fooled into thinking they are somewhere else. The heart of all navigation by satellite is accurate timing, without which positions cannot be fixed.

Continue reading “February – averting satellite disaster”

January – satellite scares, and getting ready for Biscay

At the Royal Institute of Navigation’s small boat conference in Lymington earlier this month, I learnt a lot about  new risks of error  in satellite navigation : I did not know, for example, that it is possible with quite cheap local equipment to fool the GPS on a plane, ship or even a missile into thinking it is somewhere other than its real position.

There are now tens of thousands of reported incidents of errors, deliberate, accidental or of unknown cause, with a substantial number of them unsurprisingly in sensitive areas such as the Gulf, and the Black Sea near Ukraine, suspected to be hostile activity.

Reports of accidental errors include a couple of local failures when US naval vessels arrived in the port of San Diego, apparently forgetting to switch off unspecified electronic equipment, which interfered with satellite-derived positions for miles around.

Continue reading “January – satellite scares, and getting ready for Biscay”

December – thinking about Spain

Spring Fever was taken out of the water on December 16 and put ashore at the Kingston yard in East Cowes, where we are planning to leave her until May. Idle thoughts now turn to planning next year, and to Spain.

We have given up our pontoon mooring on the River Medina for 2020 because we plan to stay away from the Solent for the whole season and it will be cheaper to take a visitor mooring for a few weeks before we leave than to pay a whole year for our own. The conversation is increasingly focussing on the wonderful hills and Rias of North-West Spain, though we do not need to take any decisions for a few months.

Continue reading “December – thinking about Spain”

November – ocean going on a lake

Looking back at Spring Fever’s logbooks recently to pin down the wheres and whens of a good cruising story, I found they were so sparsely written – professional in the best sense, as they should be with a Master Mariner as a co-owner – that I could not begin to tap them as a surrogate diary. And checking my blog posts each year, I see these have been relatively few, with long gaps between them.

So largely for my own benefit I shall start a monthly diary post, in the hope that in another five years I’ll actually be able to work out what we were up to.

November’s most interesting sailing observation was nothing to do with Spring Fever.
This beautiful 60 foot yacht called Tioga of Hamburg was moored at the end of November at Kressbronn on the German side of the Bodensee, or Lake Constance/Konstanz which is way up the Rhine, near where it starts becoming a mountain river, and well above the navigable section, so cut off from the sea. It is a US  design from 1931 by the great Francis Herreshof, but the original was destroyed and this replica (or so we thought at first from Google) was built in 1988 in Maine and restored in north Germany, where it was recently for sale.

So how on earth did a yacht with those tall masts get to the 38 mile long Bodensee, where Germany, Austria and France meet round the shores? And what on earth would an ocean yacht be used for on a lake where it would take a morning to go from end to end? (A waste of a thoroughbred).

Continue reading “November – ocean going on a lake”

Is your chart relying on an 1860 survey?

Footnote to cruising the Scillies: piloting there is a reminder of the importance of proper Admiralty charts, because they show the age of the surveys on which they are based, unlike any of the proprietary ‘vector’ charts available on chartplotters.

The Scillies is a mixed area from this point of view. Some of the surveys of the area were last done in 1860 – 1904 by lead line, probably from boats carried on naval survey ships and rowed up and down in straight lines quite a long way apart, so rocks could easily be missed. Other parts of the islands were surveyed at a range of different dates in the 20th century. Continue reading “Is your chart relying on an 1860 survey?”

Round the islands

Below is the UKHO large scale chart of the Scillies, with green showing where the bottom is exposed at low spring tides. With careful tide calculations it is straightforward moving between the islands, though you have to be mindful of dangerous rocks scattered around the flats.

The old pilot books for the Scillies, one of which we have, give many complicated bearing lines for finding your way around using pairs of landmarks, which are still very useful to know.

Continue reading “Round the islands”

Three times lucky

The Scillies are beautiful, but they take much effort to visit, even by public transport, because the air and sea links are from Penzance, right at the far end of Cornwall.

I’ve tried to sail to the Scillies half a dozen times, but only managed to arrive after three of those attempts because of bad weather, which makes the islands a rather precarious place to be: there is no all-weather shelter, and it is an area prone to gales and huge swells. Once, the weather forecast was so bad we gave up trying to go west by the time we got to Dartmouth. (I’ve also passed close by the Scillies quite a few times on races without attempting to go there). Continue reading “Three times lucky”

Scillies Vineyard

The island of St Martin’s in the Scillies used to specialise in the growing of spring bulbs and flowers. As the old business has shrunk, a new use has been found for some of the tiny fields with tall hedges that protected the plants from Atlantic storms: England’s remotest vineyard and winery.

The winery

Continue reading “Scillies Vineyard”

Tresco story chiselled in stone

New Grimsby Harbour from Cromwell’s Castle, Tresco to the left, Bryher to the right

On an overgrown, narrow footpath through the bracken near Cromwell’s Castle on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly we came across a modest, well-kept memorial to an extraordinary wartime rescue, invisible through the undergrowth until within a few feet. The inscription tells the story: Continue reading “Tresco story chiselled in stone”

Transadriatica 2019

One of the best sails I’ve had in the Mediterranean or Adriatic: nice breeze that kept the boat flat out much of the way, apart from a couple of hours after the start of the return leg. Only once or twice were we hard pressed, and what’s more the wind magically veered and backed almost on demand, just as we needed it, especially near the course turning point in the Gulf of Trieste. Even as the wind dropped approaching Venice, it was enough to keep us moving at 5 knots.

Spiuma, seen from another competitor as we neared the finish at the entrance to the Venice lagoon

Continue reading “Transadriatica 2019”

New engine calculations

A new engine is a big challenge, not just financially but in the thought process running up to the decision.

Our Volvo is 30 years old and we had it taken out and largely rebuilt 10 years ago. It has been reliable since then but this winter it has been increasingly difficult to start, and the expert verdict was that the valves probably needed regrinding. Continue reading “New engine calculations”