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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.


Rosie & Brian's Big Adventure 14 - Tunisia

7th March 2010 - Tunisia

My only excuse for the long gap in updating you on our travels is that we have been quite busy, but not going very far.  We stayed another 2 months in Tunisia, missing out the fishing ports I am afraid, staying one month in Monastir and another in Houmt Souk, Jerba.  So not much sailing to report on apart from the two overnight journeys chasing the sun further south, and now a two day sail to Malta.  Although we had researched the smaller harbours and been given coordinates for the narrow channel through the Kerkennah islands, I think these might be better explored during more predictable and calmer weather.  Neither of us really wanted to be trapped by the weather in a fishing port for a week or more and the weather patterns never really settled down sufficiently to allow anchoring overnight with any degree of safety.

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We have had our first visitors – a friend joined us in Monastir for a week, and my sister came over in February so we hired a car for 10 days and took in some sites of southern Tunisia.  Neither of them appreciates the sailing life, so both visits were land based.  However it gave us the opportunity to get out and see a bit more of the country.

The privations experienced in Sidi Bou Said and Tabarka were completely reversed in Monastir.  This is a great place to Monastir Marinawinter, as many other people seem to appreciate and the marina is packed with semi liveaboards and charter boats.  We were lucky to find a place, but were squeezed into a gap about 20 yards from the very smart and new shower and toilet block (with personal keys provided virtually free), and 30 yards from what became our favourite restaurant.  The only downside was that it would have been quite difficult (as we found when finally leaving) to get out again, with mooring lines and a big bollard in the way! So Alixora gathered moss for a while. There was enough to do on land to keep us happily occupied for a month, with visitors and our friends on Swyn-y-Mor who also turned up a week later.

The 29 hour sail from Sidi Bou Said to Monastir took us across the huge bay outside Tunis, around Cap Bon (eponymous with Cap Bon Harissa sauce of which we now have a small stock) and down across the Gulf of Hammamet. As usual the weather forecast didn’t quite match the reality, so apart from a few hours of sailing, close hauling instead of the beam reach we had been hoping for, we were motor sailing close to the wind, with the sails helping a bit but not much.  Just at the beginning of the journey, we had put up the cruising chute but had to bring it down again as the wind picked up.  I was at the pointed end, and struggled to get the snuffer tube away from the stays and back on deck – lesson learned there would have been to get the wind behind us for that manoeuvre!  As we came up to Cap Bon in the dark,  a bright flashing light on a fishing boat appeared to be pointed at us.  Looking carefully we saw a line of floats in the water so steered well clear (at least a mile detour) as the fishing boat tore up the line and put rather tardily put a flashing light on the buoy at our end.   The only other major thing to avoid, apart from the coast, was an oil rig – several of which we encountered on the next trip near the Kerkennah Islands.

Before we had left, we stopped at the fuel berth, having extracted the fuel man from his small grocers shop at the marina entrance.  We had not particularly looked at fuel prices, but at 900 millimes a litre (about 45p) we were very pleasantly surprised.  Unfortunately we didn’t fill up again while in Tunisia – in Houmt Souk we had booked to do so, but the fuel berth filled up with fishing boats and we didn’t want to hang around. We still had enough fuel in the tank to get us to Malta and lots in jerry cans besides. 

While in Monastir we visited Sousse and Mahdia on the coast, El Jem (massive Roman amphitheatre) and Kairouan (major Islamic centre) inland.  We had time, in between entertaining, visiting places and the general provisioning chores to get a fair amount of work done on the boat.  The boatyard in Monastir was able to get us a new bracket for the Selden vang cast in aluminium.  However they didn’t have the ¼” stainless steel rivets to fix it to the mast, or a rivet gun that would do the job.  We managed to contact the sail and general yacht repair man detailed in the pilot book, who gave me the number of someone who would do the work for us.  We had looked at the gooseneck attachment to the boom and discovered that that also was working loose – same type of rivets, so having the equipment on board made sense.  Also at some stage the single line reefing ropes will need to be replaced and the pulleys checked and oiled, so again rivets at the other end of the boom will need to be drilled out to get inside to do that.  Why they use rivets I don’t know.  After some deliberations and a few false leads, I rang Selden directly.  They put me through to Atlantic Spars who were very helpful.  Job done – in no time at all I had ordered lots of rivets and a rivet gun to be couriered to us in Monastir.  After these were delivered, fixing the vang was no problem, and the boom/gooseneck joint repaired and extra rivets put in.  It had taken a bit of head scratching and thought as to whether we had enough knowledge to do all of this, but in the end it was not as difficult as we thought it might be.  Pulling the boom away from the gooseneck to check that the gooseneck casting was OK, we discovered it was simply a matter of tightening then releasing the refitted vang so it pushed the two apart.  I had worried that we would have to take the whole mainsail down but fortunately that wasn’t the case.

Our month in Monastir soon came to an end and there was a gap in the weather to allow an overnight passage to Jerba – an island on the south coast of Tunisia.  The temperatures there looked consistently higher than in Monastir and we were hunting the sun!  Again the promised wind direction didn’t quite match reality, the nice beam reach predicted became what I call a “bum” reach with a following sea – just what the autohelm loves!  The engine was on most of the time as we negotiated our way around the oil rigs and terminals of Gabes bay, with a last stretch of close hauling as we approached Houmt Souk.  They have just built new pontoons (it has tides) and it is a marina in the making – no toilets or showers yet, but cafés close by.  We gave in at this point, and through a local contact managed to find a flat to rent for a month.  It was a good experience to find out if living ashore would suit.  It was nice for a while, but even a 10 minute bike ride from flat to boat became tedious after a week or so and it was good to move back on board at the end.  However it did give us the ideal opportunity to re-varnish some of the interior woodwork that was looking a bit tired.  We could varnish in the afternoon, carefully step out of the boat and leave it to dry overnight. 

While in Houmt Souk we visited inland with my sister, as far as the desert at the oasis of Ksar Ghilane, and experienced the troglodyte living in Matmata, staying in the underground hostel used in the first Star Wars film as Luke Skywalker’s uncle’s house.  The film set is still in place!

Our month was soon over and we saw an opportunity to set off for Malta.  Again, we just missed the best winds, following the front instead in a virtual calm although quite a boisterous sea for a while!  It was very strange sailing into Malta past the enormous battlements, speaking English instead of French and being able to walk into a pub next to the marina (we are in Manoel Island Marina) and have a Guinness.  We will be here for a few weeks before heading for Sicily.

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