Newsletter – November 2007

November 2007


Testing, testing – testing you on your ‘Phonetic Alphabet’ – how many of you were able to rattle off the phonetic code A – Z with ease? and how many of you can do the same, but backwards with the same ease? If you haven’t quite got there with it yet, keep at it and it will suddenly come. It is something you can practice on your way to and from work, whether it be walking, cycling, bus, train or driving.

Once learned it will never be forgotten. Morse code is the same, but fortunately none of us need to learn that wonderful system any longer. A memorial celebration was held around six months ago for the formal cessaton and burial of this great system of communication. It had a life of not much more than one hundred years. In its short life it served as a magnificent communication system for the whole world throughout the last century and a half.

When you consider that communicating by smoke signals, arm signals and flags has been around for hundreds of years, morse code got pretty short shrift. Such is the nature of the technological advances being made in communication. one wonders what the next step will be?

Whilst Morse Code is no longer recognised as an official communication method it is being kept very much alive by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). To keep up with progress they have recently devised a character for the @ symbol in emails. You can find out more about this fascinating subject on Wikipedia, and


Taking a few days off recently at the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, a friend and myself rented a catamaran on a fine and blustery afternoon, with somewhat exciting and hair raising results. The following is a piece I penned shortly afterward and published on Whilst written in a humourous vein, the consequences of hiring out defective equipment could have far more serious consequences. Under the heading of ‘Safety at Sea’ we will have a look at some of those after the article.


Blustering upriver, salty and tangy, the afternoon breeze invades their senses. On such a bright and blue Queensland post meridiem our two heroes choose to launch themselves onto the waters by renting a catamaran for an hour or two. The previous day, with a much more gentle breeze, they had chatted up the attendant and been informed that the questionable and lonely looking twin hulled unit languishing on the sand strip was a bit of a &lsquo ;dog’ to sail on account of the starboard sponson opening up when tacking and allowing the ingress of water. The boat they needed was out but would be available tomorrow – it was duly booked.
Today, with a good eighteen knot breeze blasting off the sea and approaching the crumbling hut that grandstanded as a sales office, their craft was spied cutting neatly up on to the beach coming to rest alongside the ‘dog’. Payment in advance was demanded and docilely handed over. The proprietor in attendance today, kits them out with broken zipped and ill fitting life jackets amid many instructions as to where they can and cannot sail. He points out the jet ski channel markers( I always understood that power gives way to sail!), to various jetties and sand bars (which at half tide are rather obvious!), and definitely not to sail over the bar into the open ocean. Ready at last, our men turn to find that their boat has been released seaward again with the explanation from the attendant that the hirers’ wanted another hour! With their artful chicanery of yesterday blown in an instant and this being the last day of their holiday they allow the proprietor to convince them of the sterling qualities of the remaining ‘cat’. He postulates that the attendant was vastly overstating the case of the water entry and that the tiny ‘rip’ in the jib was of no consequence and would not slow the boat down too much when tacking. Glances are exchanged, but with the afternoon sun slipping forever horizonward, our intrepids trudge over the sand to the awaiting cat. Turning it seaward takes a mighty effort as she seems somewhat heavy – maybe the wet Queensland sand clings more vigorously to fiberglass than its southern variety?

Shoving off the beach at ninety degrees to the wind she gathers moderate speed whilst heading directly toward the jetski channel and the first sandbar. Getting the feel of her, our crew play with the tiller for direction and the clew for speed, knowing there is plenty of time left before they need to tack. Boat speed varies from not much to five to seven knots, but she should be going much faster. Taking her further off the breeze does nothing to increase speed. Cats are not known for sailing close to the wind but this is ridiculous. Several tacks are attempted, but immediately the tack is put in she stops dead in the water without her head coming through the wind. Four or five of these unsuccessful attempts later, they arrive at the first sand bar – literally – bumping to a standstill. This entails jumping off and manually turning the boat around. This achieved they jump aboard again to repeat the process all the way to the other side. The boat certainly seems to sail better on this tack and speed picks up to more like what it should. Whilst this lifts their spirits, spray flying in their faces and wet to the waist, the next problem is emerging. The starboard sponson cutting through the water begins acting like a submarine as the speed increases. The nose digs deeper and deeper into the water, listing the craft further and further to starboard. Our stalwarts have deduced by now that there is indeed rather more water in that hull than should be and that the attendant from yesterday was more accurate in his description than the proprietor today. This is of no great comfort to our crew at this point. The bow knifing deeper at an ever increasing angle, in turn encourages more water to run forward, which with its weight rushing downward, of course pushes the bow down even further. If no correction to this situation is taken, the hull will dive so deep and at such an angle the whole craft will execute a spectacular barrel roll catapaulting our crew into the water. As warm as the breeze and water is, it is felt that this would not be the best option from the point of view of seamanship, getting very wet, possible injury and not the least, spectator viewing from the shore!

All sheets are let go and the boat rights itself. By this time, the tiny ‘rip’ in the jib has run virtually all the way to the forestay, the upper section flapping wildly in its bid for freedom. Almost having lost all way she steers herself very neatly into and behind one of the very jetties our crew had been instructed to avoid (something to do with irate owners), running herself onto the rocky breakwater. The space is just wide enough to take her, but not nearly wide enough to turn her around. Wrestling her back out again into open water exhausts our crews’ patience and most of the time, so a decision is made. They turn her downwind and head homeward. She likes this much better and they cruise downwind in a direct line for the hirers shed, gybing all the way. A wary eye is kept on the recalcitrant hull, but the increased speed with virtually no list keeps the water and therefore the boat, more on an even keel.

Aiming for the beach, our crew notice that the other cat has returned. They hit the strand at around four knots and slide gracfully to a halt beside the other boat – best manoeuvre of the day!

Marching purposefully toward the hut, the proprietor sees them coming. His interpretation of the situation is quite rapid, prompted no doubt by his own guilt and he offers the other cat free for a further hour. Meanwhile however, his enthusiastic attendant has de-rigged it and with the suns’ lower limb closing rapidly on the tree studded island to the west our stalwarts call it a day. Under duress their fee is refunded and they stalk off having relieved their spleen on the proprietor by questioning his parentage and highlighting the dangers of renting out deficient equipment.

Trouping down the jetty and passing by the statuesque and salty blonde from the other cat (their cat!), she grins broadly at them and offers:

‘Hey, great fun out there today?’

Ouch! How to wound male pride! Our crew look at one another – was that a genuine comment? Or was she winding them up? Her smile was so wide and her white teeth backed up by two brilliant blue eyes in her happy sunburned face, they give her the benefit of the doubt.

Lounging around the pool in the soft evening and washing the experience down with a couple of cool beers puts it all in perspective. Couple that with several borderline jokes at the expense of the proprietor helps to restore any lost male face and once again all is well in the world.


Firstly, being as suspicious as we were, we should never have taken the craft out. Our excuse was that it was our last day of the holiday and it was the only boat left on the beach(for obvious reasons!). Secondly, and more importantly, the owner should not have been renting it out.

Here is a list of the faults we found:

  • One lifejacket partially torn
  • Zippers had no tags(broken) to open or close zips.
  • Buoyancy of jackets not tested so don’t know whether they worked or not.
  • Jib torn at seam which had gone full length in the stiff breeze by the time we returned.
  • Traveller cam cleat so sloppy that the sheet had to be constantly re-positioned and held in place to prevent it from popping out.
  • Starboard sponson held so much water it affected the trim of the boat – you can see in the pic how we have a decided list to starboard. With the breeze we had that day the boat should have been heeling well to port.

Can you wonder that we asked for our hire money to be refunded?

With those lessons learned do you think we would be any more circumspect next time? – probably not!! All you want to do at the time is get out on the water and have some fun!

Nautical Expression for the Month

‘By and Large’

A very common expression in daily use by most of us. When a vessel is sailing close to the wind it is ‘sailing by the wind’. When the wind is coming over the quarter the boat is sailing ‘large’. If a ship sails well under both types of conditions, even though a contradiction in terms she, is said to be able to sail ‘by and large’.

Christmas is closing on us rapidly and no doubt many of us are contemplating some kind of holiday. See if those of you in warmer(summer) climes can include some sailing in there somewhere. Good luck and talk to you again soon.

Cap’n Vinnie