Coastwatch News – November 2012 – Another Season Ends

coastwatch-recritingThe ‘open’ season at the Lookout has ended and we are now closed for the winter. The equipment has been taken away for safe storage and refurbishment where necessary, the place has been swept out and decisions have to be taken on such things as painting and varnishing.

Our A.G.M. took place last month and we were able to look at the figures for the year. This summer which has gone we completed 432 watches, made up of 297, 2.5 hour watches and 135 three hour watches. We do the longer ones in the school holidays as the beaches are crowded and more people are in or on the water. We have opened five days a week, Thursday to Monday, throughout the ‘season’ and have not had to cancel any watches. This shows some dedication by the volunteers, prepared to turn out in all weathers (and didn’t we have some this year) to provide a safety net for those using our close in waters. Remember – the Roseland beaches have no Lifeguard service, so the only people watching over you and your aquatic offspring are the people up in the lookout.

The biggest excitement in the closing weeks was the finding of the unexploded German bomb in the Helford. So far as we were concerned it started off very low key with strange messages going over the air on Channel Zero, the Emergency Channel, about the Navy Bomb Disposal Unit going to the Helford. It then all went quiet for 24 hours before the MRCC (Coastguard at Falmouth) broadcast the exclusion zone at the Helford River mouth where they were going to blow the thing up. This caused a bit of a furore in the waters off The Lookout as anyone who was hoping to get in to the Helford could not do so as the seaward end was closed. So we had yachts milling about killing time and, nearer to the event, the RNLI, who were acting as ‘safety boat’ ,were charging round trying to keep kayaks, canoes and dinghies out of the way, rather like demented orange and blue sheepdogs. Of course, canoes and dinghies, windsurfers etc do not carry VHF so many would not have a clue as to what was going on.

It was, in fact, a good illustration of just how vulnerable small craft like these are if things go wrong. If you are in something with a lid on like a yacht or a big power boat you almost certainly carry a VHF radio and most people switch it on to listen for emergencies even if they seldom use it to transmit. But electrics and salt water don’t mix very well so, while a few dinghy sailors carry a hand held radio or a mobile phone, it’s not very practical on a windsurf board. Batteries are heavy and don’t float and can you imagine trying to text with one hand and holding the sail up with that sort of boom thing with the other, while hurtling across the sea at what looks like seventy miles an hour.

Result is there are very many water users close in around the Lookouts who have no means of communicating with the shore. Their only hope is visual signals. An exploration of these in the official Regulations raises a few queries for the lone sailor in a kayak or one of those overgrown surfboards which look like a dinghy but are not. One option is to stand up and repeatedly raise and lower your arms horizontally. Possible if you have good balance. You could fly the flags N and C assuming you have them against such a need. They would look pretty but could you count on anyone knowing what they meant? Try something better which is bound to get attention. They say you can fire a gun or make other explosive noises at intervals of about a minute. Well, that might work assuming you had a suitable weapon. The one I really like though, and have never seen it, is burning a barrel of tar on the foredeck! Now that would be something to see. The only difficulty might be that carrying a tar barrel every time you go out on your surfboard or kayak might affect your performance,

Seriously, though, when you think about it, you could be in serious trouble for such silly things as running out of outboard fuel or losing an oar when you are half a mile out from the shore. If the wind is blowing off the land it is time to dig out the French dictionary. There is very little tide in the bays enclosed by Grebe Point and Nare Head, but a even a moderate breeze will push you along at about a knot – that is over a land mile every hour. The further out you go the more difficult you are to see. Quite a lot of people will routinely go about a mile out to fish from kayaks and small dinghies and are almost out of sight to start with.

At that distance they certainly can hardly be seen from the beach and even from the Lookout we need our big telescope to see if all is well. For that reason, when we have people out that far, their position is logged in our Logbook and we keep frequent checks on them. It has paid off in the past and rescue has been sent out to the dinghy whose outboard would not start or was out of fuel. The frantic waving was seen and we did not question the fact that the arms were not correctly in the horizontal position but used common sense and told someone – the Portscatho Harbourmaster or MRCC who arranged a lifeboat launch. It might even have been that our Watchkeeper recognised the flags NC. It is part of our training. The flames from a burning barrel would certainly have worked!

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