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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.


Corunna to Lexoes

Jerry & friends arrive in La Corunna, and discover a problem:


"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!'

The plan was for me to don the mask, dive in and come back up thumbs up or down. Strangely, I sort of wanted it to be the prop because if it was still there then it would indicate a greater problem to resolve. In 15°C water it only took one gulp of air and about two seconds to confirm that the prop was away. Thumbs down it was then; I guessed that the prop was probably resting somewhere in the harbour near to the pontoon. I reckon that it had been fine until we went astern on the first approach, winding off against the thread. The spacer washer was still sat on the spline and would surely have gone as well if it had happened hours earlier.

A check of the starboard prop found it still in place but the cone nut was also slightly loose so I set about tightening it up, bending the shank of a screwdriver in the process to pile on the torque. It was all I could do under the circumstances.

Ordinarily the loss of the prop would spell disaster had we been a monohull. For me it presented a big headache but not one that couldn't be overcome. I knew that we could press on but for how far? We needed the push from the engines but could we really go the whole distance on just one? The obvious option was to get hold of another prop but just how easy was that going to be at short notice? I needed to make some enquiries and we were already into 'Siesta'; it was going to be difficult. Thankfully, staff at the marina office were still in attendance and an extremely helpful and fluent English speaking lady set about making some calls to the local Yanmar dealer. Meanwhile Steve went off to speak to a diver he had seen to see what options he could offer.

To cut the story short, the diver wanted 150 Euros to find the prop and re-attach it (but with no guarantees that he would even find it of course) and the dealer said that he could get a prop in a day or two, maybe! Even then, they strongly recommended a lift out to fit it properly. It all sounded very expensive and would surely spell failure for the trip within the time constraints.

I plumbed for option 3 which was to buy another prop in the UK, have it brought out with the next crew change and fit it myself - underwater of course! It would still be expensive but at least would allow us to press on. Kathy was a star and rallied round to organise the procurement of the new prop, complete with the newer, more reliable 'Tab Washer' method of attachment. [It was delivered just in time to get on the plane two days later with my son Lee although the hassle he had at the airport was another story!]

With the shopping bought, the boat topped up (including a cabin when the water hose jumped out of the filler and into an open portlight!) and a bite and a beer in the town, Cushla slipped away from Coruna later that evening. It would have been wonderful to relax and perhaps have that extra beer or two but time was not on our side; we had hundreds of miles to go with crew to drop off and collect along the way.

La Corunna Town Hall


The weather that evening remained fair with light winds so yet again we had to motor-sail on down to Cape Finisterre which turned into a long slog. By mid-afternoon on the 7th the wind had come around onto the stern so with 15 kts apparent we hoisted the spinnaker for the first time. This gave me great heart as I desperately wanted some speed to catch up with the schedule. Unfortunately it only lasted for fifteen minutes so we were forced to drop the kite and press on with the motor once again.

We kept inshore so that I could get phone updates on the progress of the new prop which is when I learnt that I was not alone with this predicament and that 'it happened all the time' - not much of a consolation however! I had to speak to the main dealer in the UK who insisted that I double-check the size of the replacement or else face a crock load of trouble! Oh how I wished I had recorded the dimensions of the props when I had them off two weeks previously. There was no other choice but to dive again, tape measure in hand, to confirm the diameter of the remaining screw. So, 10 miles offshore in dead flat conditions I swam again and TRIPLE checked the dimensions. It was definitely 16" (I think!). Fortunately, this time the water was up to a balmy 16.5°C and actually quite pleasant.

Our progress towards Portugal was fair, averaging about 5½ kts by log. The views of the Galician coast were inspiring and on a baking hot day we were visited by a large pod of dolphins. I even managed to crack on with a few maintenance jobs about the boat. The crew were enjoying a relaxed 1-in-3 watch system so caught up on the obligatory sun bathing, reading and generally chilling out. The next problem on the horizon was when and where to land Steve Bruce who had to get back to the UK by Friday evening of the 8th. I had hoped to keep him with us for as long as possible, expecting to get to Cascais before bailing him out. However, we were not going to make it that far so a waypoint at Lexoes, in Porto, was plotted. We had 90 miles to go so providing we kept to 5kts+ we would get him there in time for the morning flight to Gatwick.


Everything seemed rosy with an ETA at the port of 7am the next morning, but a later check of the WP revealed that it was in fact 5 miles short of the breakwater thereby adding another hour to the trip. My only choice was to up-revs on the one good engine and hammer it for the last three hours or so. The extra speed helped a little and we managed to shave 40 minutes off the true ETA.


After a wonderful Portuguese sunrise we slipped into the quiet, almost deserted Lexoes marina at 7.45am where Steve hastily hot-footed off to find a taxi for the airport. He made his 9.05am flight with about 25 minutes to spare! Fortunately the reception pontoon was equally deserted so my single engine come-alongside was without problem.

Lexoes at Sunrise

Our stay at Lexoes marina, which can be best described as 'a little tired', was a short one by any standard. We had just enough time to add fresh water, grab a shower and nip up to a café for some bread rolls before slipping again at 9am. The marina office didn't open until nine so they were probably never aware that we had even called in. So, in beautiful 'holiday' weather we left Northern Portugal with crew of five and about 350nm to go to Vilamoura.

I had originally planned to stopover in Cascais to even up the distance between legs but that had all changed now as three more crew were flying out this very evening, hoping to meet up with us on Saturday 9th. At best we would be able to reach Vilamoura sometime on Sunday afternoon - I hoped they wouldn't mind chilling out on the Algarve for a couple of days!

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