Welcome to Sail Tales, where we will regale you with stories and tales from our familys/friends' collective years of boating, with plenty more to come i'm sure. We will post our stories and then tell you the lessons we have learned. This way we will know what to do and what not to do to avoid similar situations the next time. We also hope you readers can learn from our misfortune to avoid any mishaps of your own. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"The Viking Incident"

Several years ago we were sailing out in a Laser 16 dinghy from a small harbour mooring into Plymouth Sound. There was moderate wind blowing directly into the harbour mouth, and we had seen several a pair in a Wayfarer paddle straight out before hoisting the mainsail, in order to avoid getting buffeted about in the harbour entrance.

"No problemo" I thought: after all, there were 5 of us on board, with enough oars for all. "Au contraire" said a few others: paddling could be risky and so we should sail out to have more control.
Well, my reasoning prevailed, and we cast off from our mooring, with four people paddling firmly. Incredibly, we could not make progress against the wind (and strong incoming tide I had just noticed), and started drifting dangerously towards the harbour wall.

I grabbed a spare oar to add some power. But in doing so, I let go of the tiller, so we span completely out of control, heading directly for the wall. One of the party fended off just in time, and we were able to drift to the far end of the harbour, hop out in shallow water, and manhandle the boat back to safety.

Lessons Learned:

1. Never understimate the strength of wind and tide to overcome even the strongest of oarsmen/women.
2. Better options would be sailing out (if you're very experienced); combined sail and paddle; or (best of all) engine power - that's what it's for!
3. Never let go of the tiller, unless it is either firmly lashed down or ready for handing to someone else to control it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ocean... OCEAN!!!

Whilst down in cornwall with some friends a few years back, we had planned a trip upriver by speedboat to go to eat at a quiet pub by the waterside. We planned it carefully so we would go up with the tide, and come back with the tide after we had our dinner. We knew we would be coming back in the dark, but it was a calm evening so it seemed ok to do.
I'll mention now that this was in our first speedboat. A 12ft long R.I.B., with an engine that was way too big for it stuck on the back. This craft was the most unstable vessel imaginable, and we had recently had various engine problems, but it had been running fine in the few days leading up to this trip.

Anyway, we set off for the pub at about 6pm if I remember correctly (I seem to remember good weather that evening too, clear skies with the sun setting over the river as we ate). We arrived at the pub, and enjoyed a classic pub meal, nothing too fancy, but gets the job done. This pub is mainly about the location I think.
We began to head for home shortly after we had finished dinner, so we could make use of what little light we had left.
As our mini flotilla cruised back to our harbour we could easily maintain a steady 30 knots or so for at least the first few miles of the trip. We had to slow down going past the naval dockyards, due to the speed restrictions there, and its usually best not to argue with machine gun toting patrol boats!

The other boat we were with was about 500m ahead of us, going a bit quicker. We were going slowly to admire the Navy ships. Especially the HMS Ocean, the largest ship of the fleet.
It was about now that the engine stopped, much to our panic we had run out of fuel.
This wouldn't have been too bad had we been in a different location, but as we were drifting towards HMS Ocean we realised that they really don't like people coming too close.
Soon we hear them shouting at us from the ships tannoy to move away. Not good.
We also notice the other boat in our 'flotilla' has disappeared from sight, completly oblivious to our predicament. Hmm...

Eventually we see their nav lights come steaming back in our general direction, luckily they had a spare can of fuel onboard. We fill up and head on our way rather sheepishly, glad we didn't have to deal with the machine guns, missiles, lynx helicopters and harrier jets that were on deck at the time.

We think we're out of trouble, but once we round the bend in the river after the dockyards, we realise that the wind has picked up a bit too. Quite a bit in fact.
Now this wouldn't have been a problem in any other boat, for example our friends boat, only a few feet longer but not a R.I.B. coped with no trouble at all. But in our 12ft R.I.B. which was about as stable as a dog standing on one leg, we had quite some difficulty.
I realise i've neglected to mention that this was our first trip at night, and we didn't have proper nav lights, only handheld ones.
Eventually we made it back to our harbour, luckily with no serious mishaps, and at least one good story to share.

N.B. We sold this boat shortly after, and bought a bigger, much more stable speedboat.

Lessons Learned:
  1. Again, fuel was a problem. Always take spare fuel. We should have taken an extra tank. We were naive to think we didn't need to take a spare.
  2. Treat every journey as if it's the first time you are doing it. This means planning. You never know what will happen. The sea state can change in the blink of an eye, so you should always plan ahead, and make sure that you have sufficient supplies and safety equipment.
  3. The lights were an issue here as well. We shouldn't have done the trip knowing we didn't have proper lights. It's a pain in the ass to have to hold up handheld nav lights. Especially for a few miles in rough water.

Monday, August 28, 2006


We have a place on the water just a few miles out of Plymouth, which makes for some very enjoyable and interesting boating.
About a week ago, some neighbors and I decided we would head into Plymouth to get some fish and chips for dinner, perfect!
Now, how to get there, car or boat? I offered to drive us round in the car, but in the end we decided on taking the speedboat, as it takes about half the time of the car, and we wouldn't have to worry about finding a parking space. The time was about 7:30PM if I remember correctly, so it was beginning to get dark. I don't mind piloting the speedboat in the dark, as I consider my night vision to be not bad, and all our lights etc... are up to standard.

We set off, and arrive on the Barbican in Plymouth after about 15 minutes of trouble free cruising.
I drop off two of my friends (there were four of us in total) at the Mayflower steps so they can run to the chippie to get the food whilst the two of us just hover around just off of the steps for 15 minutes or so.

When they returned, we picked them up from the steps, and head for home. By now it was pitch black out in the sound, but we had at least half of our journey with the lights of Plymouth behind us, so visibility was quite good considering the time of night.
The sea state was fairly calm too, so we could easily plane on the way back, mostly crusing at about 20 knots or so.

About halfway through our journey and just past the main shipping lane into plymouth, our fuel decided to run out much to my passengers horror. Great. Fear not though I thought, as we always carry a spare can of petrol just in case. As we float around, filling up the tank, we get to realise the extent of just how dark the sea is at night (very!). Anyway, we filled up and began on our way again.
I looked around the familiar buoyage of the sound, and found the twice red, once every 10 seconds I was looking for, and headed for that buoy, as I know that from that point, our place is easily visible and there are no obstructions between that buoy and our mooring.

I eased on the throttle and made sure my friend in the front seat was keeping a good lookout all around for other boats. I kept as best a lookout as I could, but couldn't give it my full attention as I was piloting the boat.
As we headed towards this buoy, I noticed that it was becoming increasingly more difficult to identify, due to there being a village on the far side of the sound with many lights. This made the small red light on the buoy appear to blend in. Very annoying.

By now we were still doing about 20-25 knots, and the sound seemed deserted. All of a sudden I saw a small green light just off of the port (left) bow. Then I saw a small red light right next to it. This was followed by the sound of a very loud engine, and a HUGE looming shadow. This could only mean one thing. That we were heading straight for this boat. My friends all panicked, but I tried to remain as calm as possible, knowing their lives were now in my hands, especially as this oncoming boat was probably three times the size of ours.
I turning the wheel hard to starboard (right) and floored the throttle. We accelerated to about 40 knots as this large powerboard passed about 30ft from the stern of our boat. We turned to look but couldn't see anyone on deck, and due to the powerboats high bow and the fact that they did not alter their course or speed, we think they hadn't even seen us.

We cruised back to our mooring a bit shaken from the near miss, but also pretty exhilarated, or maybe that was just me?

Lessons Learned:
  1. Fill up whenever you get the chance. I knew the tank was low, but our fuel gauge does not function, and I assumed we would have had enough to return to the mooring (which we could have, but it would have taken a long time). If our fuel had run out 5 minutes later we could easily have been killed (Although that said, if our fuel hadn't run out in the first place, we probably would not have been in that situation)
  2. Always have everyone you can on lookout. I should have made sure that my friends in the back were also keeping a good lookout all around.
  3. Don't travel at night unless you really have to. Without being able to see more than 10 meters in front, it can be pretty dangerous, especially when there are unlight fishing buoys around, and the occasional boat with no lights.