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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.


The Long Haul & the Disaster..!

Brixham HarbourThis week, Jerry leaves Brixham harbour with a full crew, and heads for northern Spain.... 

Our stopover in Brixham was planned for two reasons; firstly I didn't want to over-do the initiation to offshore sailing for the novice crew and secondly, I needed to pick up my 'spare' Watch Leader Bob. However, Bob had had his own 11th hour disaster as he was struck down with Gout the previous week and had still been in hospital a few days earlier! It was going to be very much a case of lets 'suck it and see' to determine if he was going to be fit enough to make the trip.

I was keen for my old friend to join us and Bob was determined that if it could be done he would give it a go. However, when an 'older, well rounded chap' (we hadn't seen each other for over 15 years) turned up with the help of two crutches my heart sank and for a moment I thought about how ridiculous the concept would be for both of us! My gut reaction was that Bob would not be fit enough to undertake such an arduous sail and this wasn't helped as he struggled to climb aboard!

All the same, Bob gingerly dragged himself into the boat, took a look around and then declared himself fit, providing I was happy of course. It was a tough decision and had Cushla been a monohull I think we would both have agreed that it would be a non-starter. But with the prognosis that Bob's leg could only get better with the drugs he was taking I decided that we could cope. Anyhow, he was only going as far as Gibraltar; a mere 1000nm, where we had a date with the 'Rock' for a few reminiscent beers - what could possibly go wrong?


We left Brixham within three hours of our arrival having paid a bank-busting £5, but now with a crew of six. The wind remained SW so we beat our way down to Start Point and on into the beckoning English Channel. The Master Plan was to make good around 210° but this presented the wind almost on the nose, so it was clearly going to be another tough passage.

I desperately wanted to make Ushant by first light, clear the Chenal du Four and then make for Camaret-sur-Mer by lunchtime for another short stay. However, the wind remained SSW 20-30 kts for most of the crossing so clearly we were going to struggle in these conditions. We reefed the headsail to calm things down and one or two of the crew learnt how to spectacularly vomit downwind! The night sky was crystal clear and for the first time in many years I became reacquainted with the fabulous sight of the billions of stars that surround our small planet. Orion, the Hunter, was spectacular to the south with Rigel guiding our path for many days to come.

Twenty four hours after leaving Brixham we had covered 142nm by log but still remained the wrong side of Ushant, trapped in a foul tide and head winds. It quickly became obvious that even if we get could through the gap we wouldn't make Camaret in daylight; it served no purpose to pull into the harbour for such a short stop with no shops or facilities open. I made the call and informed the crew that we would head on into the Bay of Biscay directly with La Coruna being our destination some 350 odd miles away. Surprisingly no one complained which could only mean that they were enjoying themselves (or was it the scrummy Bratwurst casserole we had that night - I don't recall). A quick call to CROSS CORSEN to check the weather in the Bay revealed that it was going to be an uneventful crossing with a forecast of variable winds.

The Bay of Biscay proved to be less of a beast than its reputation would normally suggest; it was my second crossing in a yacht and the last time it had been mirror calm. I prayed that it wouldn't be too rough for my novice crew yet hoped for a good breeze from the right direction to get the boat moving. (I had learnt that she needs in excess of 18kts to be able to perform well). The high pressure over Southern Europe continued to dominate the area and the NW'ly we had hoped for didn't materialise, persisting from the south. With the temperature rising and shorts now the 'rig of the day' we had to motor sail most of the way across, pinching the wind as we progressed. Thank goodness we had a comprehensive selection of iTunes to help Cushla eat up the miles!

Rachel gets to grips with the helm!

Our best-to-windward route began to set us into the centre of the Bay with danger of ending up at Santander and not the NW corner of Galicia, so a few long and awkward tacks were called for to maintain the base course. However, the weather remained kind throughout the crossing and by day four we had our first visit by some Striped Atlantic Dolphins. Rachel was ecstatic at the sight of the dolphins, squealing with delight and for the remainder of her time on board we were instructed to call her at any time so that she could greet each and every one.

Things began to liven up on our final night in the Bay of Biscay. On a crystal clear night with 100 miles to go for Coruna the wind backed around to the SE and by late evening had increased to a near gale. With the wind on the beam the genoa was reefed and the mainsail eased. Even so, by 11pm we had clocked 10.2kts by log with Rachel at the helm - another achievement for her to relish. By 6am the wind had dropped away to a tame 15kts and with the reefs shaken out we made for the port of La Coruna, passing headland after headland until finally making the breakwater at lunchtime on the 6th April. This is where it went horribly wrong!

We zigzagged through the entrance to the almost deserted marina and headed for the fuelling pontoon at the far end, taking the opportunity to wave at the fishermen along the walls. Everything seemed fine and the promise of a few hours break, some 600nm since our last stop was very appealing. The textbook come alongside was uneventful and even getting the fuel proved simple with the dock hand offering clear instructions. After a 100 Euro top-up we left the pontoon, once again without concern, and set off to berth at one of the empty finger pontoons. It was on this second approach that things didn't feel right; there was no reverse thrust from the port engine so the final stages were a little calamitous needing some clever rope throwing to steady us alongside. My heart sank as I began to play it through in my head. Was it the gearbox, the linkage or something worse? Either way, I just didn't need this sort of headache so soon into the trip.

Not wanting to alarm the crew too soon I sent most of them off to shower so that at least some of us would feel better and there was shopping to be done so no point in holding that up. Steve Higgins and Bob set about investigating the problem whilst I booked us into the marina. When I returned some 20 minutes later the problem had not been found although the gearbox and linkage had been eliminated as the possible cause.

"We've thrown the prop." I casually exclaimed. I was certain of it but the only way to know for sure was to 'go take a look!'

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