Grab Bags

Anyone who knows me, recognises  I have a bit of a Mary Poppins handbag. Enormous, bottomless, full of impractical  “crap” and completely useless in an emergency.

No one wants to abandon ship, but knowing what to pack in  grab bags could one day make a short stay in a life raft more bearable and might even save your life

You need to chuck out the sticky fluffy boiled sweets, the crumpled tissues, odd loose change, leaky biro and pack these essential items instead. Remember you will never ditch in a warm mill-pond calm sea under cloudless blue skies. It will be dark, cold, blowing a hooley and hissing down with rain.

Essential Items

Handheld VHF
Essential to communicate with the rescue services.  A DSC-enabled VHF with integral GPS would be a great help. Waterproof and floatable is useful Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
Navigation tools
A handheld GPS will let you communicate your position accurately to a potential rescuer, as well as work out your drift rate.  A hand bearing compass is a good back up. Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
Reading glasses
Essential to peer at the tiny buttons on the radio in the gloom – Cheap, flexible plastic ones will do. Poundland do a nice range. Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
A good torch is important. Something waterproof and powerful. Essential to illuminate tiny buttons on radio. Pack spare batteries, cold water is notorious for draining power.. A strobe function is particularly useful. Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
Make sure it’s sheathed or is a safety knife . One of those multi tool knifes are useful. The type boy scouts use to get stones out of horses hooves. Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
Hmmm. Remember they are classed as EXPLOSIVES. A decent strobe torch or one of the newer LED flares are a better idea. Not a good idea to hang them around your neck.
Some sort of high-energy food, like chocolate, as well as something that releases energy more slowly, like a fruit/nut mix, is good for keeping energy levels and spirits up. Keep them in the bag. Hanging them around your neck will make them go soggy.
Foil blankets
You may look like a ready basted turkey but they are essential for helping cold people warm up. They are not expensive, but could keep hypothermia at bay.
Personal effects
What is the point reaching terra firma if you can’t drive home, unlock the front door once you get there or being unable to call a taxi due to lack of funds and phone? Include your house/car keys, wallet, credit cards and mobile phone in the bag whenever you set off somewhere. Common sense but I guess most of us forget. I know we do.
A small pack-towel to dry off with, a hair brush and decent lippy, well have you seen some of these hunky lifeboat men??
Last but not least, a neck brace, you have some considerable weight around your neck.

Distress Flares

We  need to replace our out of date flares. No, not my 1970’s purple Crimplene trousers but the distress flares on the boat.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Oh its no problem buying a new set, any chandlery will help you part with serious money for some. Its the disposing of the old ones that creates humungous problems. Quite simply no one wants them.
Flares contain explosives. Therefore, once  they are past their expiry date it is essential that out of date flares or Time Expired Pyrotechnics (TEP) are disposed of carefully.
For the benefit of non boaties, flares come in various forms

  1. Hand held in Red and White
    • bright enough to blind you at close quarters and will give you nasty first degree burns if you are not wearing asbestos gloves and a welding mask. The oven gloves from the galley just won’t cut the mustard.
  2. Parachute flares
    • does exactly what it says on the tin. Shoots a large blob of white hot burning material into the sky which gently floats to earth on a parachute.
  3. Smoke flares
    • yes you’ve got it. Creates a huge amount of foul smelling bright orange smoke. If the wind blows away from you all well and good. However, if it blows towards you, the smoke takes on the attitude of mustard gas. Your eyes will stream and you will be too busy coughing your socks off to notice the approaching helicopter.

It’s illegal to let them off in anything other than an emergency. So you can’t stock pile them for bonfire night and you can’t use them at Glastonbury to find your way back to your tent. Well not unless you fancy having the local SAR’s helicopter give you serious grief. You can’t let them off at sea, the same thing happens with the SARs helicopter but you will  be joined by 2 or 3  lifeboats. The Coastguard is now seriously pissed off

The Big Bang.

A few years ago when we were still novice boaters, we needed to dispose  of some flares. We knew that the coast guard were uninterested so popped into the local police station to ask for some advice.
Remember, they are classified as EXPLOSIVES.
We said to officer that we had a canister of flares in our car boot and could they advise us on how to dispose of them safely. The scenario that unfolded was pure comedy.
The looks on their faces was of horror. It was as if  they had been told we were part of a terrorist cell about to blow Fareham sky high. 2 officers emerged with large fireproof gloves and one of those long grab poles, the type park keepers use to pick up litter. They proceeded to pick up each flare and drop them gingerly into a lead lined box before taking them away.
I  expected to be surrounded by a SWAT team and in addition for  Fareham High Street to cordoned off with an unexploded bomb warning!
Today we no longer have the problem and have replaced all our TEP’s with LED laser flares.
Actually, we do still have a small canister of flares in the garage.
Bring on New Year fireworks and sod the Coastguard.

Mooring – The Pitfalls

Mooring: This  boaty operation has inspired page after page of so called expert tips in some of the country’s finest boating magazines.
The manoeuvring of a boat at slow speed in the close proximity of other mega expensive craft requires a skill not far short of an Eddie Stobart HGV driver backing a 70 ft wagon into a  Tesco’s loading bay in the fog.
Most of us prefer comfortable marinas with an abundance of restaurants and other amenities such as power and water to refill the tanks. Some marinas, such as Brighton, have large supermarkets within walking distance.  This is useful in allowing the crew to restock the boats gin supply after a hard day’s sailing.
Marinas are however can be expensive and boaty people therefore often seek a cheaper form of overnight parking, of which there are a number of options ranging from the downright dangerous, primitively painful to the brutally barbaric.

Mooring Buoys.

Lets start with the downright dangerous, the mooring buoy.
The manuals list a number of methods with which to attach the boat to the buoy. The most common is the old cowboy art of lassoing. You choose a member of the crew to humiliate and ask them to lasso the approaching mooring buoy. This may take anything between one and 20 attempts. All the while  you are screaming “haven’t you got it yet?”
If you need to know the dire consequences of missing a buoy, my disastrous attempt is described here.   A Bridge Over Troubled Water.
It is important to remain aware that attempting the lasso procedure will be to provide endless hours of amusement to the already attached boats surrounding you.

Mooring Buoy
Mooring Buoy

Once the buoy has been lassoed and tied to the boat, go to the bow and look sagely at the knots used.  It’s a pointless exercise because it will have been many years since you tied a knot. However it gives the impression that high standards are expected of the crew and their  knot-tying.
Mooring buoys vary in size shape and colour.  It is therefore important to ensure that as you motor away from your boat in the tender that you have not moored onto a Lobster Pot. Large yellow buoys near the starting point of Cowes Week racing, are definitely not be be moored on. You will suffer the abuse of racing ‘yotties’ passing within inches of your pride and joy because you have inadvertently moored on the start line.


So onto primitively painful, Piles! No, not the medical condition but mooring piles.
Moorning Piles are a unique form of torture. Totally designed to provide amusement to passers-by and other boaties. They like nothing more than watching a crew make a total cock up in a confined area.
Piles are large wooden poles that stick out of  the water in pairs, armed with huge metal rings attached to them . The idea is to “wedge” the boat between the two piles with ropes attaching the bow to the forward pile and a rope at the stern attached to the rear pile.
The game  is simple, it’s the boating version of the Krypton Factor. You approach the first pile. A member of the  crew will have  a piece of line in hand. The skipper approaches the pile slowly and passes effortlessly close by . The  said  crew member, in matador form sweeps out his arms and attaches the line through a ring on the pile. The boat moves onward to the next pile where another member of the crew passes a rope through the rear hoop. You pull the  front and rear ropes  tight and fasten off.  You have completed the manoeuvre.
Good game, good game. No one mentions that  this often happens  in a cross wind with a 4 knot tide beneath you. Who wanted to spend a night in smelly river estuary anyway.
My next post will be about the bizarre ritual that is rafting.

Signal Flags

Come on own up.  Who has a set of pristine unused signal flags languishing in the bottom of a locker?
Other than the yellow Q flag, how many of the others do you use?  Who can actually  put the correct letter to any of them because quite frankly I don’t have a scooby!!
We only ever use them to “dress” the  boat at special occasions when we festoon the top side with yards of them. I have no idea if they are even the right way up.
The designs of the individual flags are now lost in the mists of time. They were developed separately for various  naval signal codes over the course of the 18th and early 19th centuries.
The most famous of all, “England expects that every man will do his duty” was sent by  Nelson, from his flagship HMS Victory as the Battle of Trafalgar was about to commence on 21 October 1805.
The signal is still hoisted on HMS Victory in Portsmouth on Trafalgar Day every year. Today however the signal flags are displayed all at once, running from fore to aft, rather than hoisted sequentially from the mizzenmast.

Flag Semaphore

Other flag signalling techniques include  semaphore. This  is the telegraphy system conveying information at a distance by means of visual signals with hand-held flags. Information is encoded by the position of the flags.  It is still used by the Navy even today.
As a Brownie in the 1960’s, I was taught semaphore. Not sure what use it was to a five year old in land locked Nottingham. I just thought it was akin to those rubber stick insects competing in the rhythmic ribbon twirling gymnastics event at the Olympics.
Before semaphore the Admiralty use a system of shutters on a large frame. A series of observation towers passed the message on.
But here is a humbling thought. The next time you are on hold for 30 minutes  listening to “please hold your call IS important to us”, remember this.
In 1796 a  message could be sent from Plymouth to The Admiralty and back to Plymouth with  a reply  in 15 minutes.
No on-hold “Greensleeves”, no dodgy mobile signal, no satellite delay echo and no “please leave your message after the beep”. Just great commmunication
pass me those flags……..

Rule Britannia

September means The Last Night of the Proms and a rousing sing song of Rule Britannia. A spot of outstanding patriotism that brings The Albert Hall and Hyde Park to a Union Jack waving frenzy of solidarity.
What I didn’t realise is that Rule Britannia is the last part of the Fantasia on British Sea Songs, a vital part of the Last Night.

Sea Songs

This is a medley of British sea songs arranged by Sir Henry Wood in 1905 to mark the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar. One of the most famous bits is of course the Sailors hornpipe.
It comprises nine parts which follow the course of the Battle of Trafalgar from the point of view of a British sailor, starting with the call to arms, progressing through the death of a comrade, thoughts of home, and ending with a victorious return and the assertion that Britain will continue to ‘rule the waves’:

  • Bugle Calls
  • The Anchor’s Weighed
  • The Saucy Arethusa
  • Death of Tom Bowling
  • Sailors Hornpipe
    • The dance that gets faster and faster and the audience clap along, trying to keep up with the orchestra. The proms version has an extra beat written into it right at the very end so that the orchestra always finished first. It catches out even the most dedicated promenader every time.
  • Farewell and Adieu, Ye Spanish Ladies
  • Home Sweet Home
  • See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes
  • Rule, Britannia!

Rule Britannia  originates from the poem  by James Thomson and set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740. The song is a reference to the Command of the sea status which the British Empire had throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. It is strongly associated with the Royal Navy, but also used by the British Army.

September 1982

I was very lucky and earned the right to be a promenader in 1982 – the year the Falkland War ended. Patriotism was at fever pitch. Solidarity was the name of the game. We took the roof off the Royal Albert Hall.
I will leave you with a recording of that night – I sang my socks off.
Last Night of The Proms – 1982

Mae West

The Mae West is a common nickname for the  inflatable life preserver because the great American Actress was famous for being  well endowed in the chest department. Therefore someone wearing an inflated life preserver often appears to be as large chested as the actress.
Believe me when I say I don’t need any help in that department!! They are not the most flattering nor comfortable of items to wear.

Modern Lifejackets

There are various types of lifejackets on the market with specific features aimed at different sports. As a result, Lifejackets come with or without harness attachments or with different types of firing mechanisms and buckle fastenings. The most important aspect of a jacket is its buoyancy rating which are measured in Newtons
Boring scientific fact alert!
Ten Newtons equals 1kg of flotation. Newton ratings are relative to the weight of the intended user.  A level 150 N lifejacket designed for a child or young adult will not sufficiently float an adult. When you buy for an adult you must get a level 150N lifejacket designed for an adult’s weight.
The other vital part of a life jacket is the crotch strap. Again not the most flattering or comfortable things to wear. They are designed to stop the life jacket from torpedoing off and over your head on inflation.
On a recent trip to the Channel Islands I needed to go to the heads. Unfortunately I picked the precise moment the boat hit the Alderney Race and took on the attitude of a washing machine. I slithered down below and took on a brace position to stop me head butting the walls. I tried to disrobe forgetting about my jacket straps and consequently was left with shorts at half mast around my knees whilst I clung on for dear life.
Note to self: – Undo them first!

To wear or not to wear – that is the question.

Ask any racing yacht crew and all of them will say that they never wear a jacket. Its just too dangerous for them. They catch on equipment and impede movement. If they fall off they just hope the next carbon fibre catamaran doesn’t mow them down as they pass doing 40knts.
Since most recreational ribs owners  seem to think they are exempt, every weekend they pile a zillion kids on a rib, fire up two  150hp outboards and head off into a packed Solent. The only life jacket  worn is by the family labrador who with all due respect is the strongest swimmer there!!!
Anyone sailing with us is instructed in the wearing and the use of a lifejacket. I try and curb the urge to recite in my best British Airways trolley dolly voice ” Place jacket over head, pass the tapes around the body and tie in a double knot in the front and do not inflate until well outside the craft.”
Please remember the mantra of the RNLI – Lifejackets, useless unless worn.

Ceremonies At Sea

Ceremonies at sea take on all forms, shapes and sizes. These days people give birth and get married in all sort of places. Death is a little different as its a bit more regulated. But the choices are huge.
Is being at sea one of them?


I cannot think of one good, sane reason why anyone would choose to give birth at sea on purpose. Its traumatic enough on terra firma!

  • Seasickness mixed with morning sickness, oh please shoot me now.
  • Frequent trips to the boats tiny heads while you are the size of a whale, I don’t think so.
  • Cravings for pickled gherkins and coal whilst miles from anywhere, Ahhhhhh!!

Nope.. stay on land and pass me the hard drugs and gas. The little blighter has been swimming in water for last nine months it can wait a little longer to go back to sea.


Wedding ceremonies at sea have long been associated with the idea that any captain of a ship has the powers to marry. That is in  actual fact complete tosh.
Appealing though it may be, the myth of a ship’s captain presiding over nuptials of couples has for most of the last century been pretty much just that. A myth.
Most cruise ships make a killing out of onboard weddings but it all has to be done in the presence of an ordained minister of religion
A shame really  as I have this  vision of Roger standing at the bow in full flowing cassock yelling across the marina “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…..”


In Nelson’s navy, burial at sea was  a necessity. In modern Britain, it is perhaps more of an emotional impulse . But whatever the motive, burial at sea carries on, just as it has done for hundreds of years and is very much a going concern.
In Nelson’s day they sewed you up in your hammock, with the last stitch through your nose. This is just in case you are merely unconscious or blind drunk. A couple of cannon balls are placed at your feet to take you to the bottom as  floating body was considered bad form.

Modern Funerals

Today, you go to meet your maker in a sturdy wooden coffin. This also is heavily weighted down to make sure your last resting place on the seabed remains stable and secure. Everything is carefully regulated by the Marine Management Organisation.
Today, there are three designated sea burial sites, marine graveyards, as it were. one off Tynemouth in Northumberland, one off Newhaven in East Sussex, and one three miles south of the Needles, the extreme westerly point of the Isle of Wight.  It is at this last site that the vast majority of sea burials take place. The exact location is secret but it’s an area free of strong tides, fishing and dredging. A comforting thought as you sail past on route for a vacation in France! Not sure if a floating coffin shows up on AIS.
Virtually all sea burials are carried out by a specialist Devon-based company, which makes the funeral voyage from Lymington or Keyhaven on chartered cruisers, with the coffin on deck under a flag.  A white or red ensign for the Royal Navy or the Merchant Navy and the Union Jack for everyone else.
Brings a whole new meaning to the favourite funeral song..
“I did it my Way”

Cowes Week Fireworks

Cowes Week Fireworks. Arguably one of the best displays on the South Coast.
Cowes Week  is one of the longest-running regular regattas in the world. With 40 daily sailing races, up to 1,000 boats, and 8,000 competitors ranging from Olympic and world-class professionals to weekend sailors, it is the largest sailing regatta of its kind in the world. Having started in 1826, the event is held in August each year on the Solent made tricky by strong double tides, westerly winds and oodles of commercial ferries, cruise ships, oil tankers and container traffic.
Trying to cross the Solent during this week is only for the brave or the certifiably stupid.
Let me explain. You are motoring quite happily on a heading for Yarmouth. On the horizon is nothing. Suddenly out of left field you find yourselves amongst 40 yachts going hell for leather in the opposite direction. Observing the rule that you give way to sail, you give  them a wide berth. Only to find another group of manic yotties coming at you from the other side.
Red mist rises in your eyes, you open the throttles and ignoring every COL REG  in the rule book, you plot a direct line out of there. Japanese Kamikaze pilots could have learnt from you


However the  Friday night of the week is payback time. FIREWORKS!
If of course,

  • it’s not raining
  • there is not an offshore wind to blow the cordite smoke into your face
  • it’s not blowing a hooley and therefore the whole event  is cancelled due to safety.
  • the cloud base is not too low to allow the display of the Red Arrows

Oh the joys of an English summer.
The best viewing points are  either outside Cowes or in Osbourne Bay where you will be at anchor with a zillion other vessels.
After the display there is rush for your home port. The authorities realise the problem of crowds and set a 15 knot speed limit. The harbour pilots marshal the shipping lane so you don’t run into a container ship in the dark.
But the biggest hazard are boats without lights! Especially jet skis. I hate jet skis, the menace of the waters are jet skis. No lights, low in the water and they only have 2 speeds, stop and “Bat out of Hell” They buzz around like angry bees with no respect for the speed limit. They appear out of the gloom from nowhere and just as you swing hard on the helm to avoid them, they buzz off into the darkness to scare the living daylights out of someone else.How no one is injured is beyond me.
If you thought the madness of the race week was something, try the sail back after the fireworks. Its carnage.

Salty Language

The historical significance of the sea is easy to see when we look at our language.

My husband has a whole range of salty language that he occasionally lets rip. But thats not quite what I mean. Neither are the expressions that most yotties use to bamboozle us all such as

  • beswoggle the gunnels
  • chivvy the ballast
  • splice the aftnotch


Common Terms and Meanings

My  guess is you don’t realise how many  phrases you use during everyday speech are actually nautical terms.
This is my example
“I was at loose ends the other day. So I read War and Peace through to the bitter end. I would give this book a wide berth though, I found it too posh for me. but the story line is above board. I don’t keep a copy in the boat as there is not enough room to swing a cat.”
(took me hours to construct that paragraph)

The Translation

  • Loose Ends: Today we use loose ends to refer to someone who has spare time and does not know what to do with it. The term comes from  having the ship’s crew members repair and splice the ship’s ropes when they didn’t have something else to do. The crew member is said to be at loose ends.
  • Bitter End: The last part of a rope or final link of chain. We use the term today to describe a final conclusion.
  • POSH: Today this word  means superior or fashionable and expensive. Actually, its an acronym. Port Out Starboard Home. In the 1800’s, sailing from the UK to colonial India the sun would rise in the east (Starboard side) and set in the west (on the port side) The trunks of wealthy passengers would have the label POSH on their luggage. It indicated that they had paid more for shaded cabins to avoid the sun.
  • Above board:  Pirates would often hide much of the crew below the deck. Ships that display crew openly on the deck are thought to be honest  ships and therefore “above board”.
  • No room to swing a cat: Refers to the whipping punishment using the cat o’ nine tails. All members of crew would be  called on deck to witness the act. The deck could be so crowded that the cat was difficult to use without hitting other crew members.  In other words, there is “no room to swing a cat.” Today the expression is used to indicate crowded or packed surroundings.

A few more examples

  • Feeling Blue:  Stems from the event of losing a captain at sea; when arriving back in port, ships would fly a blue flag and the ship’s hull wore a blue band. Today often used to indicate feeling sad
  • Slush Fund:  We use this today to indicate  money  kept aside for illegal or illicit purposes. During the 1700s, slush was the leftover fat  that remained after the ship’s chef had brewed salt beef for the crew’s dinner. This fat was kept and sold when the ship returned to port. The money from the sale was referred to as the slush fund . It was used to buy special items for the crew.
  • Pipe Down: Today, we scream at people to pipe down when they are making too much noise.  Pipe down was  the last signal from the senior deckhand’s pipe at the end of the day. This signalled to the  sailors that it was time for lights out, silence and everyone to head to bed.
  • A Clean Bill of Health: First came about during the 1700s when sailboats and ships were less than hygienic. Boats needed to carry a certificate stating whether or not any infectious diseases were present among the ship’s crew.
  • Toe the Line: Today, we use this term to refer to accepting and obeying  authority. It first emerged  as a phrase used on ships when a captain called the crew to gather in a straight line with their toes meeting the edge of one of the planks of the deck.  Thus, toeing the official line was born.
  • Hunky Dory: Legend says that ‘Hunky Dory’, which now means that everything is good and well, originates from a street named Honcho Dori (also spelled Huncho Dori) in Yokohama, Japan. US sailors on shore leave in Yokohama would spend their spare time enjoying the street’s bars and female company, basically having a good time.

so…….In my best business nautical gobbledygook

Baton down the hatches, we have to run a tight ship but sometimes you need to send a shot across the bows and make sure to watch out for those loose cannons.


Airing Your Dirty Laundry

The dictionary definition of “airing your dirty laundry” is “To talk to other people or in front of other people about personal things that should be kept private.”
However, I want to discuss its literal meaning such as personal items airing on the stranchion wire or bow rail.
At the height of summer some marinas take on the appearance of Widow Twankey’s Chinese laundry! Whilst it is acceptable to put damp towels out to dry, I am fed up with  looking out on a yachts boom laden with tatty boxers, Bridget Jones knickers, odd socks and grey bras.


We  recently spent a few days in a south coast marina next to a French registered yacht. Following an evening out we returned only to discover to find their  entire bow rail was covered in itsy bitsy cheese grater thongs. Victorias secrets? I don’t think so. Even Ann Summers was blushing..
There must have been 20 pairs pegged out and the whole thing resembled multi coloured lacy bunting.
My only thought was “wearing those and a crutch strap on your lifejacket must chafe!”
Not sure about anyone else but my onboard underwear is functional, non scratchy, black or nude and non VPL forming.
Stuff the sexy look, comfort is the name of the day. And I carry enough for each trip so no one else is inflicted with them blowing in a gentle breeze off the rail.


I appreciate traditional cotton towels are soft and fluffy but they are seriously not practicable in a confined space. They take forever to dry in our inclement weather and having a shower with yesterdays still damp towel is revolting.
Bearing in mind my husband is  a somewhat large chap, (for that read the size of a house) I found 2 huge microfibre bath towels on Ebay. They dry in minutes, don’t take up that damp musty smell form the heads and only take up a third of the space of normal towels.
It is Gods answer to all those damp smelly onboard towels and obviously invented by a woman.