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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.


Respite in Gibraltar

Respite in Gibraltar!We've been following Jerry as he makes his way in Cushla from the UK to Southern France. Gibraltar and onwards!

Ordinarily after such a demanding few hours of sailing one would expect to crash and burn. Not the crew of Cushla's Adventure - it must be the thread of 'Matelot' still running through our veins because within 5 minutes of securing alongside all but two of us had left to find a bar! Bob tidied up a bit and dusted off his crutches whilst I booked us into the marina.

Half an hour later we joined the rest in a nearby bar where we chatted with some lads from RFA Wave Knight whilst enjoying the hospitality of the owner who graciously supplied a number of free Sambucas! Despite fatigue, we managed to hold the bar upright until around four o'clock in the morning before collapsing into our sleeping bags.

Resting in Marina Bay

Tuesday 12th April - we surfaced at a respectable 9am and made our way to the showers and the nearest restaurant for a hearty breakfast. It almost felt like a holiday as we sat at the quayside in the sunshine, drinking coffee and enjoying our 'Full English'. Bob was booked on to a flight at lunchtime so gave his farewells and hobbled off towards the airport, fortunately just around the corner. The rest took the opportunity to nip into the town and sample the delights of Main Street, whilst I headed off to Morrisons for some essentials.

The great plan had been to spend 24 hours in Gibraltar and get some rest and perhaps see a few sights. However, we were now behind our schedule by a day or so. Once again, I made the call to press on and by 1.30pm we had slipped and made our way to the fuelling berth opposite. We desperately needed a top up having gunned the engines to get here and this was the place to do it with duty-free diesel costing 97p for a litre. Fifteen minutes and 250 litres later we were on our way again.



The departure from Gibraltar was speedy as the wind continued to blow hard from the east, albeit subdued by the lee of the 'Rock'. We nipped in and out of the inner harbour to catch a glimpse of the one and only warship and to have a look at the western face in daylight. By the time we reached Europa Point the wind had taken hold and we were met by a breezy 25kts on the nose which required a reef in the main and headsail. Our heading was to be 060° for the transit along the Costa del Sol but for our best to windward course we could only manage 020° and 110° respectively. It was going to be another day of tacking and with that, the reduced speed of advance.

I had already worked out that we couldn't make Alicante in time for Steve and Rachel's scheduled flight out but now the alternative of Almeria was looking decidedly dodgy also. The best we could hope for was for the wind to back around to the north but it wasn't in the forecast.

Farewell to Gibraltar

If there was an up side to all this hardship it was that the weather remained fair and our tacking skills improved. The views of Estepona and Marbella by day were magnificent, as was Malaga by night. All day and night we tacked, sticking to an hour on each course but only making at best 4nm per hour along the base line. I began to get disheartened but there was nothing I could do.

First thing on Wednesday morning we made the diversion inshore with Motril being the chosen point to land Steve and Rachel. Recognising that there was nothing to be done to make a miraculous advance on Almeria, they graciously agreed to jump ship and make their own way to Alicante for their flight. Thank goodness for mobile 'SmartPhones' allowing Steve to sort out his travel plans and by 2pm we were alongside the harbour wall.

We were met by the Port Police who were insistent that I should be taken to the Harbour Office to settle any dues but eventually they understood that this was just a drop off and so bid us farewell and even gave our two deserters a lift to the bus station. It was sad to say goodbye to Steve and Rachel after 12 days onboard; I know that they would have loved to have seen it through to the end.

And now we were five.

With the 'heat' from the police no longer on us we moved across to the small marina nearby and found a rather dilapidated jetty to pull alongside. It was siesta so we knew that there wouldn't be any officials about to get concerned by our unscheduled stop. We stayed there just long enough to take on fresh water and to grab a coffee and some gratuitous 'octopus tentacles' from the Real Club Nautico before springing off into the wind once more. There were many more Costa miles to do!


For the rest of the day and night we battled the strong E winds, reefing and unreefing as we progressed along the Costa del Sol with the Sierra Nevada mountains continuing to dominate the skyline. I was desperate to get around Cabo de Gata on the SE corner of Spain so that we could increase the angle of the wind and make some sort of headway, however, it was proving too much for Cushla and the crew. Richie and I were now back to 1-in-2 and fatigue was beginning to take hold.

Although we were sailing at over 6 knots we were getting nowhere; Richie had a particularly tough night trying to get us around the corner whilst dodging the fishermen and I struggled also when I took over at 6am. By 7.30am on that Thursday morning, now becoming too tired to press on, I made the decision to seek some shelter for some rest and a rethink. We turned about and headed inshore towards the Gulf of Almeria, the conditions immediately improving.

Despite my disappointment I began to feel better and within two hours we had reached the lee of the headland. In beautifully hot, calm conditions and with some large Bottlenose Dolphins to guide us in, we anchored in 5 metres of crystal-clear water. The peace and quiet was too much to ignore so without ceremony I crashed into my bunk to recharge.

Cushla rests in Almeria

For the first time in the trip I felt that we weren't in a hurry; there seemed little point now as all the deadlines could no longer be met. It was just a case of doing the best we could. I slept for four hours, waking refreshed and was delighted to find that Richie, Anne, Andy and Lee had set about squaring up Cushla. They had washed down, cleaned the saloon, scrubbed the head and dipped the fuel tank. There was even a delightful lunch of Kievs and corn-on-the-cob being prepared.

Richie had launched the dinghy and taken her for a spin around the boat, taking photos as he went. Cushla looked good resting at her mooring with the mountains behind. By 4pm we had weighed anchor and on our way again.


The wind around the headland had considerably dropped although it remained an easterly. We rounded the corner and set course for the next left hander at Cartegena under mainsail and engine. At least we could now head in the right direction so I hoped that it would stay that way.

About an hour after rounding Cabo de Gata we were taken by surprise when a large menacing looking Rib came racing towards us. It turned out to be the Gardia Civil who 'pulled us over' for what turned out to a routine inspection. At first I was concerned that we had done something wrong somewhere but it transpired that we had been spotted launching the dinghy earlier so they wanted to know if we had landed ashore. Was that illegal? I wondered.

Cushla gets 'arrested'.

Having noted our passports and conducting a very cursory look below the Gardia sped off, wishing us a safe journey. Only the black streak of their rubber on our side remained to remind us that they had even called!

The rest of the day and night we cracked on with a brilliant moon lighting our way. By first light the wind had filled and backed again to over 20kts and so under full sail we shot off north-easterly towards the Costa Blanca. Fortunately, the wind was kind and allowed us to parallel the coastline before carrying out a few healthy tacks to get around the Cabo de Palos, east of Cartegena. It was a fabulous sail as we had the wind full-and-by [Editor: add footnote on full and bye] on stbd. At last, with a course of 030° we could do some serious sailing!

Alicante was some 50nm ahead so it seemed that for the first time we had the opportunity to make port at a reasonable time of day. With the rest of the trip now in the lap of the gods I decided that this should be our next port of call.

By 8pm we had entered the harbour and with permission from a welcoming voice on the radio we drew alongside the reception pontoon adjacent to a grand marina office. It was a perfect berth, right next to the fuelling station, showers and shops. We were also close enough to pick up the wifi from the office and so for the first time I was able to upload some serious pictures to the blog I had been keeping since we set off. I was most pleased to discover that we had now sailed over 2000nm.

There was less pressure to get under way so soon this time so we all enjoyed a seriously welcomed shower, read our emails, and generally chilled out. We even tried to wash Cushla down but the water hose didn't reach. Lee was sent to get our extension but for some reason he had forgotten what a hose looked like and came back empty handed, despite it sitting at the top of the deck locker!

All that remained was for us to do that evening was to head off for our 'crew dinner'. We didn't have far to go and settled for one of those dockside tourist restaurants called Coyote Ugly (why was it called that as the name had no reference to food in any way)? I wanted to go 'Spanish' and so ordered paella whereas the remainder plumbed for traditional burgers or pizza. "No sense of adventure", I declared. However, they got their meals quickly and I had to wait for about 40 minutes for my Spanish cuisine. I think the chef probably didn't have a clue and had to send out for it!

And so, suitably fed and watered, we settled down for a good nights rest with a plan to leave at 7am.

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