Chapter 31 Off Lands End

Monday 6th March 2017

Longship Lighthouse, Lands End (1834-1835) J.M.W. Turner

Longship Lighthouse, Lands End (1834-1835) J.M.W. Turner

I waken to Neil’s voice:

“Kerr wants you to radio cargo vessel X”


I struggle into consciousness. My world is moving more than it should. Oh hang on, of course, I’m at sea. Neil’s voice again.

“Kerr wants you to radio cargo vessel X to find out wind speed at the other end of the Traffic Separation System”

Still not fully awake, I crawl out of the sleeping bag at the end of the converted bunk that we are using between watches. My world tips by 45 degrees and the cushion I’m on flies across the boat, crashing me into the chart table on the other side. Through the pain I reflect - somewhat wryly - that this is handy, as it is exactly where I need to be to use the radio. I hold on quickly before the boat tips the other way and grab the handset to make the call.

Now I am a fully qualified maritime radio operator. I even have a RYA Short Range Certificate to prove it. However this is new territory for me. Up until now I have only had to use a radio to call a marina to see if they have a berth for the night. I now have to call another vessel, not just any vessel but a cargo ship!

I look across the cabin and out to sea. In the distance I can see what I presume to be the vessel I’m about to call. It seems pretty big to me, certainly a lot bigger than us, though I am later to learn that it may only be an inland cargo ship. I shake my head in disbelief as that great big boat appears to be knocked significantly off course by a wave. That sea looks a lot stronger that it did before I went to sleep. I try the radio.

“Cargo Vessel X, Cargo Vessel X, this is Yacht Kite, Yacht Kite Over”

Only that’s not what I hear. Speakers around me scream horrible distortion. I try once more and the same thing happens again. Neil understands what’s going on:

“It’s the handheld”

Of course it is. Next to the radio proper is the handheld extension that we can use in the cockpit and we are getting feedback through that. I look to switch it off but just can’t see the power switch. I hide it under the cushion that flew across the cabin with me and that seems to work.

“Cargo Vessel X, Cargo Vessel X, this is Yacht Kite, Yacht Kite Over”

“Yacht Kite, X, Go Channel 6” replies the Russian sounding radio operator.

“Channel 6 Over”

I switch the radio to channel 6 while Neil turns off the handheld extension. I make my request about windspeed and am asked to wait.

Gradually things are dawning on me. The cunning plan to dodge two weather fronts on our way round Lands End may not be proving to be as cunning as we had first thought. There had been a hint of this on the last Passage Weather diagram I’d seen just before I lost Irish mobile signal. The second front was appearing to move more slowly and head farther north.

“Yacht Kite, wind speeds are 8 now, 7 in one hour, 6 in two hours, over”

The other radio operator is giving me wind speed in Beaufort scale measurements which convert somewhat inconsistently to kilometers and knots. However 8 is Gale Force 8. We are sailing into a gale! I thank the other operator, probably over profusely, and head aft to where I can I open the hatch to talk to Kerr. I’m momentarily distracted by the scene beyond him which looks very wrong. All I can see is green foaming water. Then the horizon appears at the top of my vision but heads quickly down to disappear behind the stern of the boat as we crest a wave.

It’s alright. I have planned for this eventuality and I know what my refuge ports are for the current location. I relay the cargo ship’s information to Kerr and then somewhat proudly state:

“We can run to St Ives or to Padstow”

“Fuck that shit!”

Kerr stares ahead clutching firmly onto a wheel and for some strange reason the name Captain Ahab washes through my mind.

“What else did they say?”

“Nothing that’s all I asked for”

Kerr sighs! He had clearly expected more from me. Get them back and find out what they are doing, whether they are waiting here. I do all this and again relay the information. Neil is back in the cockpit now and seeing as there are only two safety lines I crawl back into my sleeping bag and close my eyes again.

As I lie down I reflect that my likelihood of dying in the next few hours is somewhat higher than normal. Well that’s all good in a way. My children know that I love them and also that I know that they love me. Tegan could see the joy in my face when she and her boyfriend Ben visited for dinner on my very first night on Kite. She will relay that to the others so they will know that at least I died happy, if somewhat cold and wet at the very end. I drift off to sleep.