Lavernock Point to Flatholm Island – First swim pilotage of 2023

The alarm went off at 05:00 and on a Saturday too! Ouch! Before I  could think too much about it I was up, breakfasted and on my way to Penarth Marina to meet the three swimmers who were going to swim from Lavernock Point to Flatholm Island.

The preparation had begun a good few months beforehand with a shore meeting with Bryce in the warmth of a coffee shop, where the plan for the day was made. The idea was for me to passage from Cardiff barrage to Lavernock Point with the swimmers, and on arrival at the destination they would disembark, swim to shore and then begin the swim from the Point to Flatholm Island. The distance is not great; a mere 2.5 Nautical Miles in a straight line.

But this is the Bristol Channel, the second highest tidal range in the world, and packs a mighty punch with its huge tidal range and breathtaking currents.

Swimming the channel between the mainland and the island has to be done around neap tides,  when the moon and sun are 90º to the earth, and tides are less powerful. That said, it is still a very challenging exercise with meticulous planning and chartwork undertaken to make sure timings are exact. One error and the tide will take charge and the passage is over.

The weather was perfect. Considering the appalling weather the previous two days I was amazed that the swim was going to take place. The wind on the prvious Thursday was reaching F8 with relentless rain. This eased on the Friday but it was still challenging. The prediction was that the wind would ease to a F2 with gentle airs of around 4knots initially from the SSE veering to WSW in the morning before another Low Pressure would canter in during the afternoon and evening. 

The prediction proved to be accurate and on Saturday morning the sea was flat and smooth with only a breath of wind.

I met the swimmers at the marina at 0730 and I went through the safety briefing. Crew included one of the swimmers’ sons, Osian, and George, a BBC Cameraman who was there to film the swim for a TV programme about the island of Flatholm. A full boat.

We departed from the marina at 08:15 in order to be ready for a lock out from Cardiff Barrage for the 08:30 lock.

We locked out for 08:30 and proceeded south towards Lavernock Point which is approximately 2Nm from Cardiff Barrage. On arrival the three swimmers disembarked in 3m of water and swam ashore in order to begin their transit.

At 09:15 Bryce, Tom and Nick started their swim, on a heading of 140ºM utilising the last of the ebb to take us as far south and west of Flatholm Island so that the swimmers would be in an ideal position for when the tide turned and began to flood north. 

They settled in to a rhythm in a calm and benevolent sea. 

Within 30 minutes I set a new heading of 153ºM as the tide was now in slack, if there is ever such a thing in the Bristol Channel. 

This heading placed the swimmers a good 0.5Nm South west of Flatholm Island. 

Passaging to Flatholm Island but heading towards Steepholm Island!

At 10:15 the flood was beginning to show with the current now moving a full 90º in direction from the previous hour yet I still kept my heading south to get the swimmers in to the best position for their final approach to Flatholm. 

Tom did look up and ask “Are we going to Steepholm today?” as my heading put us straight in line with Flatholm’s sister island Steepholm Islnd which is further south and west. 

Bryce also was wondering which island was our destination!! 

We had to keep heading in that direction otherwise we would be too far north when the tide turned and they would miss Flatholm lsland completely.

At 10:30 I altered course with a heading of 042ºM running parallel to Flatholm. 

The three swimmers were on my starboard side, on the island side, so that I could gently usher them towards the chosen point for landing. 

Initially, when we met all those months ago, the landing point was to be the north side of the island, where the jetty is situated. 

I did a reconnaissance a month ago and was concerned about the tides around the headlands leading up to this area so we opted for landfall on the west facing beach. 

It was rugged and rocky with several reefs protruding out to sea, making landfall very challenging. They pressed ahead and overcame the challenging currents that are prevalent near to the island.

Finally, at approximately 11:00 hrs they made landfall on a rocky inlet which lent itself to a safe egress. A success! 

After much back slapping and congratulations they all swam back to the vessel and were disembarked a the north of the island by the jetty.

A superb swim,  a truly exceptional achievement.

After the swimmers disembarked on to the island for a birthday weekend I made my way back to Cardiff Barrage for a 12:45 lock in. 

The first swim pilotage of 2023 completed successfully. 

This was a truly memorable day.

This shows the swimmers' track from Lavernock Point to Flatholm Island
Congratulations to Tom, Nick and Bryce on a successful swim

When is a lifejacket not a lifejacket?

My recent client will not mind me posting these photographs, nor writing about this subject. The client, a novice sailor was keen to learn and so decided to buy his own lifejacket for a course with OneOcean and on arrival presented the jacket to me for inspection prior to fitting.

It looked like a lifejacket and on the front in big bold writing was the word LIFEJACKET. It was red in colour with black straps. No crotch straps.

On closer inspection I saw that there was no CE mark nor ISO on the lifejacket – neither on the outside nor inside.

When I opened the lifejacket I was stunned with what I read – or more importantly what I could not read. All the text was in Chinese.

There was no way I could check to see if this lifejacket complied with any certification.

Without the ISO mark nor the CE mark or the SOLAS wheel there was no way the wearer could guarantee that the lifejacket has passed the rigorous testing that is required to be awarded these certifications.

This was not a lifejacket, but a deathjacket.

 

In the event of an emergency, a Man Over Board situation or if the wearer entered the water there is a possibility this jacket would not deploy. It may deploy but the fabric may not be strong enough to take the pressure of the CO2 cylinder – IF the cylinder has any CO2 in it, and if the deployment mechanism works.

Entering the water in any condition is a fearful situation, and in an emergency it is imperative that you have the correct equipment to assist you with your survival. Otherwise, the chances of survival are drastically reduced.

These factors are not worth even thinking about when going to sea. So the message is clear : do not buy cheap lifejackets.

The client was horrified and said he would buy a new lifejacket immediately. I advised him that a lifejacket would cost him in the range of £60-£130 depending on what he required, but he needed to ensure that the ISO, CE Mark or SOLAS wheel was marked clearly on the lifejacket.

He bought this lifejacket for less than £20.

My advice is always : spend as much as you can on life saving equipment as one day your life will depend on it.

Read Meuryn Hughes’ 2012 article in Powerboat and RHIB magazine about Lifejackets :

Lifejacketsordeathjackets – Meuryn Hughes Article

 

Since July 1995, it has been illegal to sell Lifejackets or Buoyancy Aids that have not been tested to European or International specifications.

There are several classifications for ISO Approval.

CE standards deal with various categories of buoyancy performance, the big four are shown below. The rating is for an adult size so smaller sizes have proportionally less buoyancy:

ISO12402-5, covers 50N buoyancy aids, providing a minimum of 5kg of buoyancy.

ISO12402-4, covers 100N lifejackets, providing a minimum of 10kg of buoyancy.

ISO12402-3, covers 150N lifejackets, providing a minimum of 15kg of buoyancy.

ISO12402-2, covers 275N lifejackets, providing a minimum of 27.5kg of buoyancy.

 

Buoyancy explained

Newtons, are a measure of force. 10 Newtons (or 10N in lifejacket speak) is equivalent to 1 kilogram of buoyancy. So a 150 Newton lifejacket (or 150N) provides 15kg of buoyancy. Remember these are the minimum buoyancy requirements for the European standard, so the actual vest or lifejacket may provide more.

Children’s life jackets are commonly rated as 100N or 150N but they don’t actually have that much buoyancy. For example a kids foam lifejacket size 10-20kg has 30N of buoyancy.

What else does ISO approval cover?

ISO approval also covers other features not just buoyancy ratings. These include the design, performance, specification of materials used in manufacture, and even the information that the user guide provides.

 


Further reading:

Lifejacket Maintenance Leaflet

Lifejackets for Children

 

 

November passage making

So tomorrow I am back at sea delivering the RYA Intermediate Powerboat Course. Tomorrow looks windy and after extreme weather over the weekend there will be a lot of detritus on the water. Combined with cold weather the conditions will be challenging to say the least. So why go to sea? That is a question I often ask myself. I will be delivering the Intermediate Course, where the students attending will have gained experience since taking their Level 2 Course.

They are all aiming to become commercial skippers and will be taking the Advanced Course then the Advanced Exam, so these next few days will be an introduction to passage making in potentially inclement weather and all the challenges posed by doing so.

They will need to be kitted out appropriately, with drysuits and extra clothing. We will be carrying extra equipment on board for a longer passage, and looking closely at the weather conditions to see when we should be returning back to port.

All this is excellent preparation for a skipper who is looking to make a career at sea.

A key element of this course will be to see what their decision-making skills are like? Do they just go for it or do they consider making the passage at a later date in the week? Have the prepared bolt holes in case the weather is so bad we cannot return? Do they have a cut off for wave height and swell? I will be looking closely at their planning to see how the next two days progress.

I look forward to this my favourite of all the RYA powerboat courses.

HM Coastguard adopts RYA SafeTrx as new Safety ID Scheme

RYA SafeTrx now supersedes the HM Coastguard CG66 scheme

The Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) have today joined forces to reveal RYA SafeTrx as HM Coastguard’s new official voluntary safety identification scheme.

RYA SafeTrx: designed to improve safety at sea

The world-leading RYA SafeTrx app is designed to improve safety at sea and potentially cut vital minutes off the time taken to pinpoint a casualty’s location. It monitors your boat journeys and alerts designated emergency contacts should you fail to arrive on time.

Using iPhone and Android smartphone technology, this free tracking and alerting system is easily accessible and ideal for everyone who enjoys being on the water – from kitesurfers and kayakers to dinghy sailors and powerboat users.

Notify the Coastguard at the touch of a button

The free RYA SafeTrx mobile app and website now supersedes the HM Coastguard CG66 scheme. It combines a more technologically cutting-edge version of the CG66 database function with additional lifesaving technologies so that you can make a 999 call to the Coastguard at the touch of a button.

The app can be used free of charge in UK territorial waters. Maritime search and rescue agencies in Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Finland, Norway, Cyprus, South Africa and Australia have already adopted the app.

Freely available to any UK resident

The RYA SafeTrx app is available to any UK resident who wants to be safer afloat and already has over 13,000 users. It provides all recreational boat users with an accessible and simple-to-use way of automatically informing HM Coastguard of their voyage plans, vessel and crew information, incident data, dynamic location and even a direct 999 connection in the event of distress.

“When we receive an emergency call we need a huge amount of information fast. This app helps us access all your details so that you can get a swifter response with the right resources,” says the MCA’s Director of Maritime Operations & HM Coastguard, Richard Parkes.

“RYA SafeTrx uses real-time advanced technology. CG66 was just a database, but the new app allows users to do so much more, including summoning the Coastguard – which could save lives. The precise geolocation feature, for example, allows the Coastguard to know where the caller is, an important consideration when the person in distress is unsure of where they are, disoriented, injured or unfamiliar with the area.

“We have already contacted CG66 users to tell them about the switchover to RYA SafeTrx. The handover is well underway and from Wednesday 11 July people will be redirected from GOV.UK’s CG66 page to the RYA SafeTrx website. Information on CG66 will still be accessible to the Coastguard, but we will no longer be accepting new information.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to remind all boaters that you must continue to use emergency alerting equipment appropriate to your sport. RYA SafeTrx complements this equipment, but is not designed to be used instead of it.”

Spring is finally here…

After a long, wet cold winter spring is finally here. Training in the cold is not easy but we got our heads down and got through the rain and wind to deliver powerboat courses for those who needed it for their work and for others who wanted to be ready for the new season.

RHIB Scorpio and crew moored up in Cardiff Bay for an essential cuppa!

The key factor is making sure we were properly dressed, with multiple layers and the appropriate foul weather gear: drysuits or survival suits. Added to that a cohesive plan to ensure we completed our training tasks safely and in good time.

 

With the lighter evenings, we will be delivering our summer programme of training including sail tasters, powerboat courses, own boat tuition and charter opportunities.

So give us a call on 07500 899235 and let us know what you are up to and how we can help make your boating a safe and enjoyable experience!

 

 

Do you crave a change of direction? If so, read on…

Are you currently out of work and unsure of your next step? Are you at a crossroads in your life and wonder which turn to take? If so, have you considered a career in the maritime industry?

 

OneOcean Sea School accept candidates who wish to gain training through the Welsh Government ReAct Training Scheme. The Redundancy Action Scheme (ReAct) is a programme of funding for training provided by the Welsh Government for people living in Wales who are facing redundancy.

 

Have a look at our page http://www.oneocean.co.uk/react-training/ which outlines what ReAct is all about and download the Guidance Notes.

 

We have trained people who have gone on to become professional skippers, worked on fishing vessels, boatmen, and water taxis to name only a few. This could be the first step in a life change for you. Get in touch now!

10th – 12th February – Competent Crew Course

After all the dramas about ensuring that our students wear appropriate clothing for sailing in cold weather, we were all finally on our way: our first Competent Crew Course of the year.

 

Expectation always needs to be managed when it comes to weather in winter, and though there are some wonderful sailing to be had in winter this weekend proved not to be one of them!

The wind was forecast to blow to a Beaufort 9! Not great for our three intrepid first timers and another on board to gain mileage. The positive side to the weekend is that everyone learned a lot about reefing: how to reef, how not to reef, when to reef and how to keep sailing when the wind exceeded 30 knots.

 

After a morning of boat familiarisation below and above deck alongside the pontoon in Penarth Marina, we set out after an early lunch to Cardiff Bay. The wind was gusting to 30 knots and leaving the pontoon was a well executed evolution in close quarters.

 

Three reefs had already been set so this did not have to be organised when we  were underway. The conditions were challenging enough in the bay alone let alone further out to sea. The main aim was to demonstrate to the crew how to manage a vessel in inclement weather. We hoisted our sails and executed points of sail for a good few hours. Everyone had a go on the helm and pulling some sheets and by dusk the return to base was welcomed!

 

The weather by now had deteriorated further with sustained easterlies of severe gale 9. Despite my suggestion of rescheduling the Sunday the crew wanted to meet anyway. We left the pontoon early in the morning but were severely hampered by the wind. There  is a pint where the teaching element of a course is lost in severe weather, and the safety aspects are brought in to sharp relief so we returned to the pontoon.

 

The remainder of the morning session was devoted to berthing in severe weather, and how to set our lines to protect our vessel in storm conditions. Doubled lines were laid and close attention paid to springs as well as breast lines. The afternoon session covered chartwork, tides, tidal heights and streams and pilotage. The crew thoroughly enjoyed the session, having all been asked to create a secondary port tidal calculation for leaving Cardiff barrage. This exercise alone is an extremely valuable skill to have. The day wrapped with a passage plan and pilotage developed for our next meeting mid March.

 

In all a great weekend in extremely challenging conditions with a crew who remained upbeat and focussed throughout. A big well done to you all!




Cold weather clothing

With OneOcean practical courses running twelve months of the year the question of appropriate clothing for students on our courses is one that arises all the time. Over the years we have advised our students to wear thermals, in several layers, with an outer layer covered with waterproofs.

This was fine until the Mecal the certifying authority for our charter sailing vessel Tiger 2, insisted that all charterers wore an immersion suit approved to ISO 15027:1 (Constant Wear Immersion Suit).  We were left with a simple choice: either purchase enough immersion suits for every student, making sure we have enough different sizes to fit all, or not to run any sailing courses between 1st November and 1st March nor when the sea temperature was below 10ºC.

I decided to pull the February course and reschedule for late March when the sea temperature would be higher than the required 10ºC.

In the event, my students, all of them wonderful, stated that they wanted to buy the immersion suits for themselves and wanted the course to continue. I purchased my own and negotiated a small discount for each of my four students.

I have to say I AM impressed. The Fladen Rescue System One Piece is warm, comfortable, very easy to wear whilst working the deck, and after eight hours in the open and inclement elements not one of us were cold in any way. They are not breathable so there is a likelihood of sweat forming on the inner when working hard but essentially I have to say this kit puts all my labelled sailing clothing in second place as far as kit for cold weather, winter and inclement weather kit is concerned. I can see myself using this all year round and at a price of just under £100 anyone who sails in UK waters should include it as part of their kit.

 

OneOcean’s sister company OneOceanTec now sells Fladen products so take a look at the Fladen Rescue System One Piece at https://www.oneoceantec.co.uk/product-category/fladen/