AIS is good for weather

AISBack home and catching up on ten weeks’ worth of emails, bank statements, credit card bills et al, I have reflected on some of the major lessons of the delivery to Turkey from Burnham-on-Crouch.

We should have allowed longer for our shake down passages, a fortnight was not enough. We were still making changes to the rigging, reefing set up and equipment three weeks into the passage. Luckily we were still in the UK and could easily make changes. The owners’ original plan had been to deliver the boat to Marseille by road and then make their way to Turkey from there; I suspect that they are now happy that their initial sailing legs were close to the UK.

I am a great fan of Navtex, (see photo), the ability to receive weather forecasts up to 600 miles offshore is a great bonus, particularly when out of range of VHF transmissions.

I had recommended the owners equip their boat with this, but they decided to install a plasma TV set in lieu. This had to be dismounted before setting sail and was wrapped in a duvet in the owners’ cabin whilst sailing.

When sailing through waters where the locals speak French, Spanish, Italian, Greek and Turkish it puts a bit of a strain on the translation game and although we had one crew member who could speak three of these languages we were still without a fluent Greek of Turkish speaker.

This is where Navtex plays its part because transmissions are in the language of the transmitting country plus English. You should receive continuous transmissions providing, of course, the country you are sailing past has signed up to the Global Maritime Distress Safety System.

Where we could get round this to a degree was with AIS (Automatic Identification System). We had a plotter connected to our VHF radio and this, despite a number of shortcomings, could receive AIS transmissions.

Once well on passage, with no Navtex, our only means of gaining weather information was either to guess what was about to happen by observation and monitoring the barometer or to call up those vessels within range and ask for the latest weather forecast.

This is where AIS came in. By placing the cursor on the plotter on an AIS target, up came the name of the vessel, it’s callsign and MMSI, it’s CPA (closest point of approach) and TCPA (time of closest point of approach), that is how close we would get to this vessel and the likely time of that happening.

So, on a daily basis, sometimes twice a day we called up vessels and were given the forecast. With some it worked fine, with others the language barrier prevented a detailed, full forecast; but as with all who go to sea, we generally received helpful information.

Some vessels just did not respond, there may well have been a good reason for this, but the majority had radio operators who were happy to help out. There were some who wanted to practise their English and one conversation continued for nearly half an hour!

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