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GMDSS A User's Handbook

By Denise Bréhaut

GMDSS A user's handbook








The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) provides a fast and efficient way of calling for assistance at sea, whatever the size of craft or its geographical position. Since it was first published, this book has helped explain the system for anyone using GMDSS and has been excellent pre-course reading for students.


A 'race' to the Mediterranean. Part 1.

Cushla dressed overallIn 2009 we published two articles by Jerry Tremain as he and Kathy made a careful survey of marinas in the South of France.  Last year, he took his Catamaran, Cushla, from Southampton to her new base in the Med, and over the next seven weeks, we are publishing his account of the voyage.  Jerry writes:


Kathy and I have been ‘moving up’ in sailing circles since we bought a share in our first yacht, shortly after leaving the navy in 2000.  Five years later we bought our own little boat, a 22’ Newbridge Venturer, but it proved to be too small for our hobby.  So in 2007 a radical decision was made to ‘go for it’ and to invest in something more substantial which could hopefully take us off around the world someday.  I suggested buying a catamaran and came up with the throw away statement, “We could live aboard it to keep costs down, if you wish”.  To my surprise Kathy took to the idea with enthusiasm and before I knew it Cushla was found.

Cushla is a South African built 38’ cat’ coming from the Peter Dean stable; the last of the three 380’s he built in 1999. She is roomy, sturdy and unique.  So began our love affair with her.  For the next three and a half years we enjoyed lovely summers and challenging winters afloat in Southampton, sailing the Solent, Dorset coast and Channel Islands in between.  However, the British climate afloat leaves a lot to be desired so we hankered for somewhere warmer and looked to the future when we could depart on our permanent cruise to far flung waters.

We took a couple of weeks out and travelled the French Mediterranean coast from border to border (by car) looking at what was on offer.  I had done some research and realised that the annual costs for a berth in France was considerably less than the south coast of the UK so it made a bit of sense to relocate Cushla, in preparation for our intended travels around the Med.  Eighteen months after applying to a dozen suitable marinas we were offered a berth in Gruissan, in the Langedoc-Roussillon region not far from the Spanish border.  We accepted and then the hard work began!


We were offered the berth in Gruissan from January 1st this year, some six weeks away; clearly there was much to do to prepare Cushla for such a journey, along with finding a suitable weather window for the trip.  I looked at some options for getting her to the Med which included transport by sea and a transit through the canals but truthfully I really wanted to undertake the trip under her own sails; I wanted to test her ocean going capabilities along with my own competences as well.  The transport option proved to be too expensive and the canals were just not wide enough for Cushla’s fat beam at 6.6m.  So it was agreed we should set sail sometime in the Spring once we had found somewhere else ashore to live.

I began to collate a check list of what gear I had and a wish list for all the equipment I would need to beef up her ocean status. Cushla was well set up for thrashing around the Solent and even across the Channel, but would she be safe enough for a long haul across the Bay of Biscay or through the challenging Straits of Gibraltar?  The engines would need a damn good servicing with all the filters, lubs and belts replaced, the rigging would need checking and some lines changed, safety gear would need an upgrade; I needed a liferaft as I didn’t have one onboard, along with an EPIRB as I only had a homing PLB, lifejackets serviced (and more required for the uplift in crew).  I reckoned a radar reflector would be essential as we were to transit some of the busiest traffic separation schemes.  And of course, she would need a lift, scrub and repaint if there was to be any chance of making any decent headway.

I put into place a priority list and timeline for the acquisition of all this gear, including things like an insurance change for the new cruising area, the courtesy flags I would need along the way, the charts to back up my PC plotter, the provision of a passarelle for the obligatory ‘Med’ mooring.  All this on a shoestring budget as we had to pay for our new berth in France whilst still paying fees in Southampton. The list began to grow along with my trepidation as to whether it would all be possible to complete in time.  I had to find the crew on top of these worries and this proved to be equally challenging.  I set a date of departure for April 1st which was coincidental to the end of our contract in Southampton and seemed like a nice time of year to do it! 

With two months to go I thought I would try the modern approach and set up an ‘event’ on my Facebook profile, calling all my closest friends and relatives to the cause.  I guessed that at worst the journey could be done adequately with four provided there was some experience.  Six would be great and allow for some novices to come along, but three would be hard work.  I targeted around thirty ‘friends’ and waited. 

To my delight I started to get some positive responses, mostly anticipatory questions about what I would require from them if they were to ‘sign up’.  Sadly, as much as it was Kathy’s adventure as mine, her work commitments meant that she would have to join us later in France.  However, the logistic support she provided proved to be invaluable throughout the trip.


The list of volunteers grew to a committed crew of eight.  Unsurprisingly most couldn’t undertake the whole passage which I had estimated at between 12 and 18 days, but at least I had their committal.  I was lucky enough to have Steve Bruce, a semi-professional yacht racer who worked with Kathy who said he would go as far as he could, but HAD to be back in the UK for a weekend race second weekend in April.  Fellow Royal Navy Sailing Association member Bob Etteridge, an electrical engineer and Gib ‘oppo’ pledged his support so long as it ended with a run ashore in Gibraltar for old times sake!  Next there was Steve Higgins and his daughter Rachel.  Steve is a marine engineer and shipmate from our time on the Ark Royal, Rachel, a complete sailing novice, works for the MOD in Portsmouth.  Then there was Andy Bland, an aircraft engineer also from the ‘ARK’ who now works for Cobham Aviation; he agreed to do the whole trip.

The next pair was Richie Napier and his wife Anne who signed up for the nice bit from Portugal onwards (which later proved to be the toughest).  Richie is a serving Warrant Officer with the Army Air Corps currently working on the ‘Wildcat’ Lynx replacement project having left my section at Middle Wallop last year.  Anne, his wife, another yotty newcomer upholds the Costa Coffee Empire in Yeovil.  Finally, there was my step-son Lee Tremain who was undergoing training at HMS Sultan as an Engineering Technician or Stoker to the old guard.  His leave from training would allow him to join us in the Algarve. So I had three other Watch Leaders, some bit-part sailors and a couple of novices. 

I was now somewhat at ease but any way you look at it, there were going to be logistical challenges as most of them could start on a specific date or had to get home at a certain time, piling immense pressure on me to make it all go to plan.

Next week:  The journey begins.Comments and questions about this series are welcome in the Sailers 'Forum'.

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