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Sunday, 12 December 2010

Now in theory we're Yacht-Masters

We've just passed the Yacht-master exams that we've been studying for the last three weekends over in Morcambe with John Parlane and his Bay sea school. This is a course that teaches you the theory of how to use charts, how to have a basic grasp of the weather, and the International regulations on avoiding collisions at sea. You wouldn't believe how difficult this has been, trying to absorb so much diverse information and computations the like of which I haven't done since I was back at school in the sixties.
Mind you I made quite a few glorious mistakes, mostly stupid ones, like taking 1.3 from 5.7 and getting 7. I'm just no good at logic, somehow my brain turns off for a split second and that throws the whole equation and workings out into chaos. But because my workings out were right John marked it as a pass. Although he has suggested that we may be better off buying a steel boat so when we hit the reef that we thought was a mile off we don't sink immediately, he's probably right.

I just couldn't get my head round secondary ports where the tidal heights and times are different and we have to extrapolate with graphs and tide tables. And then figure when it's GMT plus an hour or is it two hours in the southern hemisphere. I tried and tried and in the end almost got it. But then when I had to calculate how much water I need to anchor I ended up with half a meter too much. Still as Jackie said at least it was on the right side of wrong.
In the real world we'll only be concentrating on one particular event that we have to do. With exams we're expected to jump from one scenario to another, which messes with your brain to such a degree that the mist comes down and your stuck in a fog which descends, the cogs stop turning and all goes blank. Hopefully in the real world we'll be able to apply all this new knowledge to guide us safely into that turquoise bay without hitting the reef, and break out another G&T and watch the sunset in tranquil seas.

But Hey, Yacht-Masters. Well in theory at least, the real test is out there on the oceans with a real boat to sail. That's the frustration, not having a boat, and that in the end is what we need to do, sail. I mean, we haven't even learned how to put a reef in a sail yet. On the practical side there's still a long way to go, but we're a long way from being Novices, now all we need is to put those new navigational skills to good use.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Red lights, white lights, green lights

The second weekend of our yachtmaster theory course today starts with a drive to Morcambe, and an eight o'clock start. The roads are still a bit snowbound in town and its foggy. In fact although the main roads are clear of snow the fog is pretty bad until we're a couple of miles from Morcambe. So it's a sressful start to the day. Then we're straight into lessons on meteorology which includes a bit on fog,

We're subjected to a test on this just before lunch which I think I got about 60-70%, but we'll have to wait till tomorrow to know for sure.

Then it's time to get bamboozled by the rules of the road and those ever confusing lights that ships display. Ships that can't manoeuvre, ships towing other ships, ones not under control, big ships, little sailing ships, red lights, white lights, yellow lights and green lights. It's worse than christmas out there, and we're supposed to file all this away in a 62 year old brain to pass the exam, cause thisis the bit they want you to know. That along with black balls and cones and diamonds for the same messages in the day time. It then gets compounded with what horn signals we use and recognise in fog, without fog, One long blast, two short blasts one long, two short, and as you can imagine we're now in L a la, la la land.

So back home after fish and chips it's what we've got for home work till we start al over again tomorrow at 8am.

Time for some down time with I'm a celebrity get me out of here and a bottle of chardonay.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Yachtmaster theory

The weather here has plunged straight into Arctic style winter, and we've signed up to do our yachtmaster theory course. It seemed like a good idea to get back to school and brush up on what we learned way back almost 12 months ago.

What I learned that first weekend back was that I had forgotten almost everything. We're back to plotting course over ground, tidal vectors, leeway, deviation, variation etc.etc.

John, our tutor reckons that doing this course is only a small step up from where we were on the day skipper course, but my poor brain has aged and slowed down to the point where nothing is sticking any more. My neurons are failing to make connections, like they've become teflon coated, and I beat myself up at my inability to grasp the questions never mind the answers.

If I thought I knew something about navigation I now realise that I've got a hell of a lot of work to do just to catch up with where I was.
Anyway it's a eight day course spread over 4 weekends and hopefully once I get back into the zone it will all fall into place. In the meantime we just have to grit our teeth and rool with it. At least we're gaining more knowledge and keeping the dream on track, and by the end of this course we'll understand more than we did last year, even if I fail to pass the exams.

By the time we're finished it will be almost Christmas which means it will soon be January, and on the third we're off to Dom Rep, the sunshine and sailing with Ray.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Any port in a storm

Over the VHF we hear that lots of our flotilla have had difficulty making Paxos and a change of plan has sent them all to Sivota which is about six miles from where we're heading. We make a quick calculation that we could also make this port putting an extra hour onto our proposed plan. By the time we're approaching Sivota it's getting dark and before we enter the calmer waters on the approach to Sivota we are night sailing. Now we've done this on the Clyde and down the Menia straights but with a qualified yachtmaster aboard, but here we are in foreign waters with just me and Jackie aboard. We check the chart which tells us there's a light house right on the point ahead. This is easy to spot, but the chart also has a red flashing light every five seconds near the harbour. So far we can't see that so we motor on towards the lighthouse until the lights of Sivota are away to our port side. Well is it Sivota as we still can't see a red flash every 5 seconds. Our lead skipper is on the VHF asking if we can see the red light in the port, but amongst all the street lights it's impossible to tell. Never the less we head towards the twinkling lights straining our eyes to pick out this illusive light. In the gloom we can barely see the shape of land, we check the pilot book and discover that there's a sea wall around the harbour and we're aimed straight for it, we turn quickly starboard and there in the distance is this red light. It's not flashing at all and there was nothing on the end of the sea wall to indicate that this also may be a hazard. Now within sight of the masts of our flotilla we cut the engine revs and glide slowly in the dark towards the red light that's next to where our leader wants me to dock. Just turn around now and come in stern first. WHAT! This is going to be rather tricky as I've never done this manoeuvre ever. He wants me to squeeze between two other yachts. Just point the tiller the way you want the boat to go, oh right and do the throttle at the same time, why not. Actually at this point some inappropriate air of confidence sprang out of nowhere and before you could say bobs your uncle, or some more appropriate nautical term we were throwing our lines to the crew on the dockside. After two hours of night sailing we were safely tied up and ready for a well earned G&T.
We didn't expect to be using our night sailing training here but so glad to have done it as we felt on top of the situation all of the time.

Ten yards from our boat is a bar and we order a series of G&Ts whilst we recant our adventure to Pat and Dave whilst we get nicely drunk before falling into our berths aboard Othina for a good nights sleep.

Incidents and accidents

Sciroco scuttles off and we set about raising the sails again which I had hurriedly taken down when Tom came to check our leak. I had dropped it in some what of a hurry and although I took little notice, I did clock that some of the plastic bits that hold the main sail to the mast had slipped out as the sail came down. By now the wind had freshened, as us nautical types say, and the sea had become decidedly lumpy. Raising the sail on a Jaguar has to be carried out stood by the mast, on top of the coach house. This is a job for Cpt Col as Jackie tries to hold the boat heading into the wind.

It's a rolly polly ride and now I discover what the problem is with these bits that keep the sail hooked into the mast. Somehow we've lost a stopper and it turns out that about half of these "cars" have slipped out. Hanging on tightly with one hand around the mast I feed each of these "cars" back into the mast with the other, whilst hauling the halyard to the main sail with the other hand. Hang on that makes three arms, but that's what I needed. The sail went up a foot at a time and beat about wildly, whipping one way and the other on this bucking bronco of a boat. After a real struggle the main sail reached the top of the mast, I cleated it off and returned exhausted to the safety of the cockpit.

We unfurled the jib and once more we are underway and heading for Paxos which is still some 20 miles away. In about 2 hours we've covered about two miles. We spend the next four hours tacking, but we're getting nowhere fast. I check the GPS but it keeps giving me the same reading. I turn it off and back on again thinking it's maybe hanging like computers do, but no, it comes back on with the same position. Looking back at where we've come from we seem to have hardly moved. A quick calculation on the chart tells us that at this rate we'll be lucky to make Paxos by tomorrow never mind today.

We decide to switch from sailing to motoring, at least that way we can head straight towards our destination. Unfortunately the waves and the wind are pounding the bows of Othoni and try as we may we can't make more than 2 or three knots. At this rate we wil not be in Paxoe for another ten hours.
Sciroco Sciroco this is Othoni, over, Go ahead Othoni, we have decided to head for our home port of Patricas as we won't make Laka with our present speed before midnight, over, OK keep in touch Othoni, will do Sciroco, out.

It's a hard slog through very choppy seas and we're still six hours from Platarias. We've put away the jib but the mainsail is still up and is perhaps slowing us down. We need to lower it but if we do we're concerned that it will fall out of the mast and end up in the sea. So time for an improvised repair.

I find a harness, as it's very rough, and clamber up to the mast, one hand for the boat and one for me. At the mast I use a spare halyard to wind around the mast to act as a temporary stop for the sail when we drop it. Once that's done I drop the main and the fix works, I get back to the cockpit and we gain an extra knot.

We're still bouncing along when we hear a loud mechanical noise behind us. We whirl round to see the kedge anchor chain, which was sitting in a plastic bucket on the back of the boat paying itself out behind us and threatening to snag the propellor. This could spell disaster and I make a grab for it. Slowly and carefully I haul it back into the boat with no prop wrap problems, talk about incidents and accidents.

Not exactly sinking

Tuesday we were told at the 9.30 briefing we were to sail to Laka in Paxos, a distance of some 20 miles south, the wind was forecast force 4 to 5 from the south east. We had a slight delay getting away as we had to wait for the lead crew captain to change one of our main sheet jammers that had been slipping yesterday, this meant that by the time we got away it was almost 11am. It later transpired that this replacement was almost as bad as the old one, but that was to be the least of our problems today.

We had been warned about lazy lines, they're ropes that lie in the water to tie your boat onto and can foul your prop, so you have to be extra careful as you leave the quay. I'm on the helm as we drift away from the quay, Jackie insists I should wait a little longer before putting her into gear but I'm keen to show off my getting underway skills and ignore her advice.

I push the tiller hard to starboard, engage the engine, and line her up with the port exit when the engine suddenly dies. I try starting her again but she instantly stops. We've snagged a line, we've got prop wrap. Sciroco, Sciroco,(thats our lead boat) this is Othoni, I think we've got a lazy line around our propeller.

This requires Hannah, one of the lead crew, to come over in their dingy who has to dive down and free the offending line from round our prop. This is not the best of starts and it's another half an hour before we're underway again. Luckily most of the flotilla have left by now so miss our embarrassing start to todays' voyage, Hannah wants Tom, the engineer to come and check that all is OK for us to go but Tom, , doesn't think it necessary to check it. We're drifting perilously close to a menacing looking rusty metal jetty when he radios to say that all should be fine. If the engine fires up we'll be OK to get on our way. When I press the start button the engine coughs into life and we sheepishly putter out into the open water beyond the harbour.

Once we're clear of the harbour and headland the seas are considerably bigger and choppier than yesterday and the wind is coming directly from the way we want to go. From our training we know that we can't sail into the wind and will have to tack our way south. Jackie has marked a waypoint on the chart which is about three miles off the coast where we will head before turning south. On reflection, the next day we realise that this was perhaps a mistake, but at the time it gave us a point to aim at. We turn into the wind and hoist the sails, main sail first, then the jib. With the wind blowing on our beam, that's the side of the boat, Othoni takes off at a pace, heals over and scampers off at a steady four knots, sometimes touching five.

About half an hour into our exhilarating sail I notice that we have a trickle of water seeping from the engine cowling which seems to becoming more of a flow with every passing minute. The floor of our cabin is very wet, not that we're actually sinking but we decide it's serious enough to call up Sirocco on the VHF. Scirroco Scirroco this is Othoni, over, Go ahead Othoni, Erm, not sure if this is serious but we've sprung a leak, over.

They are a few miles ahead of us and ask us to heave to. this is a way you can stop a sailboat, and as Jackie has accidently learned how to do this once or twice since we started this morning,we do, and they turn back to come check us out. This takes them about half an hour to find us and Tom leaps aboard to see what the problem is. He removes the bits around the engine and scrabbles around the back of it to check on our leak. After about ten minutes he declares all is well and that the prop wrap may have allowed some water into the boat. However there's none coming in now and this water is just old stuff sloshing about once we started sailing, and healed over.

He gives us the OK to carry on but suggests we keep an eye on it and pump the bilges occasionally. The only thing is we can't find the bilge pump handle. He gives us a spare off Sciroco, but it doesn't fit. "Have you got a wooden spoon on board?" Yes we've got one of them, OK he say's that should do as a makeshift pump handle, and we'll sort out a proper one when you get to Laka in Paxos. Great well that's reassuring, at least we'll be able to use the pump if things take a turn for the worse. We don't have cause to use the wooden spoon on the rest of this voyage but when we do try it the next day whilst in port it makes two or three pumps before snapping.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Grab a Jag

Grab a Jag, the advert said and sail the Greek islands, so last Monday we set sail with the flotilla of 16 yachts from Plataria on the west coast of Greece bound for Corfu town. The day was bright and sunny with light winds and although we were a little apprehensive being all on our own on a yacht for the very first time, the training we'ld had from our day skipper courses kicked in and we soon felt at home on our little caravan on the water. I had thought that being in a flotilla meant we would all stick together but we were soon separated by a good few miles and to all intents and purpose we were out there on our own. Othoni, was our boat, she was 27ft long and about 35 years old and in many ways it showed. But she floated, and when we hoisted the sails she managed to bob along at a sedate 2 to 3 knots in what I suppose they call slight seas. The voyage of about 15 nautical miles took about six hours with the last hour and a half with the engine purring away as the winds had completely died. We docked without incident, broke out a beer, and congratulated ourselves at completing our first solo sail without incident, tomorrow would be a different day.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Flotilla in Paxos, Greece.

It's really getting into autumnal weather here, today we had high winds and driving rain, so just the right time to get on a plane and fly to a Greek island. A few weeks ago we had one of those Fxxk it moments and booked ourselves a 7 day flotilla holiday in Paxos, which is a little island on the west coast of Greece.

This will be the next step in our learning curve, and we hope a way to ease us into handling a yacht all by ourselves, albeit with an expert on hand if we go wrong. We did think about going back to Scotland and doing a solo sail back up in Largs but then we spotted this end of season bargain on the net and now it's almost time to pack our grab bags and go do it.

We'll be sailing in a Jaguar 25 footer, which is a lot smaller than we have been training on, but funnily enough the same sort of boat that we almost bought a few weeks back on Windermere.

We're both excited at the prospect of casting off all by ourselves into the blue Med although the forecast is for rain at the start of the week. But Hey, who cares, it can't be anything like when we did our Day skipper up in Largs. The one thing we don't want is no wind, perhaps about force 4 or 5 would be great.

It's just over a year now since we started this adventure and I think we have a grasp of the basics, hopefully by the time next week is over we will have gained the confidence we need to take it to the next level. Day Skipper Coastal is the next one after this and then it's back to the Dominican Republic in January. Whoa, can't wait.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Now that sounds like sailing

I'm reading Heavy weather sailing, by K Adlard Coles, which according to the wisdom of the wise old seadogs is a sort of must read for all sailors. I'm sort of skipping across it as it's that kind of book, lots of individual stories, all about being out on the ocean when a big storm hits you. The one thing that comes over though is that (a) big storms at sea are very unlikely to have your name on them, and (b) that even when boat gets turned over, and you loose your masts and rigging, more often than not they will still float and if your a bit handy you can fashion some sort of a sail to get you underway again. So that's reassuring.
It's impossible to imagine the stories told in this book, although each is told vividly, when your sitting in your armchair in front of the fire. Storms of these magnitudes make for an exciting tale, and give me amazing insights into how to cope in a blow, but in all honesty this is not the sailing I want to do. But never the less it's proving a valuable insight into how we will cope if we ever get caught out.

I'll say hey Jackie,looks like we're heading into heavy weather, do you want to pop below and get that heavy weather sailing book down, maybe now's the time to refresh our knowledge, I'm sure old Adlard can help us here. Or maybe we keep an eye on the weather, have another G&T and stay in port waiting for a weather window.

Now that sounds like sailing

Friday, 24 September 2010

Change of tack

Well we waited and waited to hear from the broker regarding Windfall but never heard another word. Maybe the owners were out of the country, or maybe our offer wasn't worth him getting back to us. So we changed tack.

We have decided to go on a flotilla holiday to Paxos just south of Corfu. We leave next Sunday for seven days in the Med where we get to sail our own yacht, a 25ft Jaguar, sounds like fun and will be a great way to introduce ourselves to siling by ourselves but with the security of having a skilled boat and crew on hand should we get into difficulties.

It's getting well into Autumn here now and the weather is not really sailing weather so it will be a welcome break to get to the warmth of Greece and try out our sailing skills somewhere warm.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010


August bank holiday Monday was a wholly different day, the sun streaming out of a clear blue sky and hardly a breath of wind. After yesterdays skirmish with the elements we have decided today will be a day to go and look at some boats that are for sale near Bowness. You'ld think after yesterday that we would catch our breath and have a bit of a rest but not a bit of it. Jackie has found this old tub for just under 6000 that we should look at, and it gives us a reason to have a day out in the Lakes, even if it's the last place you should go on a bank holiday.
We take a leisurely drive up the west side, through Cunsey woods to catch the ferry over to Ferry Nab. Today is the day we should have chose to go sailing, as between the trees we catch yachts gently cruising the lake under full sail in light airs. Ah well, no matter we're still in a nautical frame of mind cause we're going to view a boat.
We have talked ourselves in and out of buying a boat, at the moment we're in an out mode, and have been eyeing up courses. Perhaps what we need is a passage making course, there's one going from Gibralter to Palma, which would give us the experience we lack. Or there's others in Scotland but they cost quite a lot, 6 or 700 pounds per person which ever way we look, this sailing is going to be expensive.
We have also poo pooed the idea of lake sailing as we want to do ocean stuff, but after yesterday we now see that even a lake can be challenging, especially in a boat one step up from a dingy. Maybe if we had a decent size boat we could learn the ropes here in our own back yard.
Maiden marine has three boats that are very cheap, and probably not suitable at all but it's some reason to be out in the Lakes this August bank holiday. David, the brokerage manager points us in the direction of a Jaguar 25 called Windfall. He tells us that if we're looking for something thats got decent rigging and we're not too bothered by the interior we should take a look. She's been in the ownership of a couple of guys who like sailing but are not too fussy about appearances. How right he was, but she is not as bad as we expect. In fact all in all this boat appeals to us in a big way. Ok she needs a womans' touch and some new rigging but overall for the princely sum of 5995 she's a bargain.
We just might buy her, although she doesn't look pretty with her dull brown hull all in all we could learn a lot in this sloop. We just need to weigh things up but looking at what it's going to cost us still in courses Windfall may be the chance to learn what we need to learn and at this price perhaps we could sell her on and not loose money as comparable boats seem to be a few thousand more than this one.
We'll arrange a sail in her and then decide what to do. She's a bilge keel so we could take her to Roa island next year and get some sea miles in as she would rest on the mud flats at low tide which is a real plus for these boats.
I think we have already decided that we'll buy her, that this is what we need to bridge the gap before we make the jump to the Caribbean in the next year or so.
It's what we need, our own boat to play with, when we want to, it's the next logical step and at this price I think it's the right move. It feels right, so if the trials go OK I think we may soon become the proud owners of Windfall.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Angle of vanishing stability

We had a bit of a reality check today when we hired a 20ft Hunter from the Low wood water sports centre. The sun was shining and fluffy clouds scurried high above Lake Windermere. The wind speed indicator on the website that we had logged into earlier was reading 18 to 21 mph, so it seemed to us that we had booked ourselves a fun day to try out our new found sailing skills. We had hired this boat a couple of months ago and so felt confident that we would know what we were doing, it would be familiar. What wasn't familiar were the conditions once we were out on the lake.
We met the previous hirers leaving the jetty and casually asked how it was out there. Exciting, came the reply, you just need to back the jib when your tacking. Oh, er OK, we both nodded, not wanting to appear ignorant, but we actually didn't have a clue what he meant by that.
We didn't get off to the best of starts. As we reversed away from the jetty the engine cut out and we drifted towards the launch ramp and ran aground. We had to be pulled off by the centre rescue boat, and then we discovered that the fuel line was detached from the engine, which is why after 10 seconds it had failed. Not exactly our fault then, but we should have noticed that, or maybe we should have waited for a member of staff before we so confidently set sail.

Once out on the lake it was apparent that today was a very challenging day to be sailing, even on a lake. We struggled with the lines, the jib sheets being fouled by a mooring line that we had not noticed was tangled and should have been tided before we left the safety of the marina. I teetered nervously for'rd on a wildly swaying deck as the wind caught our tiny craft with Jackie at the helm trying to tame the beast and head her into the wind. That problem solved we set about trying to cope, as best we could with the battering we were getting. All our best efforts were leading us into more and more precarious situations as the boat heeled ominously, and our ability to keep her on an even keeled were making us both very anxious indeed. We were discovering that we knew very little indeed about sailing. This fundamental knowledge was obviously lacking from our Parthenon of Day skipper practical and theory courses which we had passed with flying colours.
After about three quarters of an hour battling to sail anywhere, Jackie made the call. We don't know what were doing and we both feel decidedly nervous and just a little scared.
We drop the Main sail, let the jib flap about and start the engine to head back for the marina. By now we're both soaked with spray as we beat back against the waves to try and get this bouncing boat back to safety.
We limp into port, struggling, even with the outboard which is difficult to manoeuvre with the wind gusting at 20 odd knots as we drift towards the man waiting at the jetty to take our lines.
We feel very embarrassed, and somewhat stupid, but we have learned a big lesson, and that is, that we don't know how to sail. We might know how to identify a cardinal bouy, how to plot a course, how to read a chart, how to tie a clove hitch, but we don't know how to set and trim our sails so as not to pass that angle of vanishing stability. Luckily we didn't capsize, but I think we came pretty close, and it was scary.
Maybe it's different on bigger boats but it has taught us that we still have a way to before we can be confident sailors. We need to know how to sail.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Monumental Gala

The Shanty Crew finally took to the stage on a beautiful Sunday. The song here is one what I wrote for the occasion of opening the revamped monument above our town. Not exactly a shanty but the one that opened the show.Sir John Barrow was the second lord of the admiralty in the 1800s and sent lots of explorers out in ships to fill in the blanks in the maps. He came from my home town of Ulverston, hence the song.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Shanty Crew

Maybe I've gone too far now. I said "why don't I put together a shanty band". We're holding a gala to celebrate the re-opening of a monument, which looks like a lighthouse. That's because the man it commemorates was the 2nd lord of the Admiralty in the 1800's, he was called Sir John Barrow, look him up on wikipedia.

Anyway, I called round a few friends and now with 4 days to go I've just got back from the studio with a master of the ten songs we'll be performing on Sunday.

It's been fascinating digging around youtube and the net looking for songs and lyrics. And with this new found enthusiasm for all things nautical putting this set of songs together has been a real pleasure.

There's a joyful vibe to singing them and so it's been a lot of fun. I've got Mike W on mondola and squeeze box, Ash on Mandolin, Jackie on Bodhran, Dapper on vocal, Juliet on vocal, Kirston on vocal, although she missed last nights recording, and me on acoustic and vocals. And we sound good, and we've got all the killer tunes in there. Blow the man down, drunken sailor, whip jamboree as well as some tasty ones for us and a couple of originals too.

So it's all set fair for Sunday at three, and the Monumental gala.
See you all there.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Weekend in Conwy

We need to keep brushing up on what we've learned over the last year so this week end we headed off to Conwy in North Wales for a weekend of practical skill building. We were on board a Jeanneau 39i with a lady called Sarah, who was doing the last bit of her Day Skipper, and two guys who were on a start yachting course prior to going sailing in the Greek islands for Marks' 40th birthday. His friend Peter had come along for the sail but it soon transpired that he was not at all interested in sailing.
Mark seemed to get into it, but the weather was not exactly exhilarating with winds barely getting above force four. Our Skipper for the trip was Rob, who was perhaps 30ish, and had just come off a five day sail so was somewhat lacklustre. He was a competent skipper but lacked a little in the commanding stakes.
Never the less we enjoyed the weekend and felt that within a couple of hours of being back on the water all that we had learned in the last 12 months came back. There are still big gaps in our knowledge, but we've got the fundamentals and are now keen to go solo, or is that duo.Its time for Colin and Jackie to charter a bareback boat and sail by our selves.
That has to be the next step, and so we're looking at doing this sometime in September, probably back in Largs.
Conwy was fine but there's an issue with tides there. For instance we thought we had two days of sailing but because the marina has a tidal gate we couldn't leave till nine in the morning of Saturday and we had to be back before 1230 on Sunday so we only had a day and a half to actually sailing. In Largs there's no such restrictions.
We're almost 12 months in from when we started this adventure and we're almost there, almost ready to sail solo, with no tutor on board. That is very exciting, and this weekend confirmed that that is what we now need to do. I can't wait.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Chinese boats

We've been surfing the net for almost a year now looking at boats that we would like to buy, but knowing nothing about boats it makes our task a bit difficult. Over that time we must have looked at literally thousands and quite honestly they all start to look the same, well not quite, but you get my drift. There's the galley, the heads, the nav table, cockpit, etc. etc. We pour over the specs only just comprehending what we're reading, but slowly, very slowly we start to get a handle on it.

We have dismissed the modern sleek designs, we can't afford them anyway and after all this searching we have come down to a couple of boats that we really like and they're both chinese. The Cheoy lee 36 and a Tayana. Both look a bit back dated but seem to suit our style. There's bound to be issues with old boats like these but what the heck it's what appeals that's important isn't it. It's the vibe.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

First sail by ourselves

We began this perilous adventure some nine months ago when we bought ourselves two pairs of full length deck boots from a chandlers in Bowness on Windermere. Since then, as you know if you've been keeping up with this tale, we have undertaken various courses both on and off the water. Up until yesterday all of our sailing has been with instructors on board big yachts, 36ft plus.
We felt it was time for us to go solo, or should that be duo. Although our ultimate plans are to sail the oceans we have decided that as we live just a few miles from two of England largest lakes, Coniston and Winderemere we would hire a 20ft sail boat and get the hang of sailing. We won't be calculating tidal vectors, or charting a course over ground, and we won't be looking out for Cardinal bouys, we'll just see if we can handle a small yacht on a lake.
Low wood boating centre has a Hunter that has a similar set up to most of the larger yachts we've sailed, it has a main sheet and traveller, a jib sail, although not furling, a kicking strap, main halyard and tiller steering. So all in all a mini version of what we've been sailing.
The forecast on Friday was for rain in the morning but clearing after lunch with winds up to 20 knots. I booked us a two hour session for 3pm on Saturday. It's still pouring down at 2pm as we drive up to Windermere and looking at the trees there doesn't seem to be a breath of wind.
When we pull into The boat yard the lake is devoid of even the merest of ripples and the wind sock hangs limply on it's pole. There doesn't seem much chance of sailing, but on talking to the guys in the boatyard they assure us that there is enough wind if we take the boat across to the west side of the lake. OK, we've pre-paid and were there, so off we go on our first sail without an instructor. There's no questions asked as to our ability, but as it's not exactly blowing up a storm maybe they assume we'll be fine, or maybe we just appear confident that they don't need to ask.

We motor away from the jetty in reverse, do an awkward manoeuvre to turn around and without hitting any other boats and glide out onto the lake. There's hardly a breeze but we cant wait to get the sails up, and although the main momentarily jams we're soon under sail and the engine is killed. We trim the sails and crawl westward at about half a knot towards the distant shore as the drizzle starts to fall. Hey but do we care this is our first time sailing alone and we are skipper and crew of our very own vessel, well our own hired vessel. As we approach the other side of the lake the wind increases to maybe force one and we go for a tack. READY ABOUT cries Jackie, READY, says I, LEE HO, says Jackie and we turn through the wind and head back across the lake. The Rain gets heavier but the wind comes in tantalising bursts of force two back down to zero. At some points we can almost perceive a wake behind us, but who cares here we are sailing and we know what to do with the lines and how to handle the sails, all the training has paid off. We feel quite confident that we know what we're doing, if only there was more wind, but perhaps this is the best way for us to begin, as a force six may have been a bit much in an unfamiliar craft.
After an hour and a half we're both getting a bit chilled and wet through. The wind has almost disappeared and it's time to head back to port. We make a textbook approach to the jetty and tie up the boat chuffed with our efforts. OK so it wasn't the exhilarating sail we had expected but it was enough to wet our appetites to come back and do it again soon. We know what we're doing, we know how to sail. I even said to the guy who came to tie us up that I thought the topping lift needed to be released and he agreed that somebody had tied it off wrong. How about that, hey, maybe we're well on our way to being sailors.
The Lake is not the ocean but if we can gain confidence in handling the sails here then applying that to a larger boat out on the seas will be a great confidence booster so we'll be back to do this again. Hopefully next time without the curse of Jackie and Colin, we don't need still waters, next time we'll be looking for at least a force four, five or six.
So that was it, a soggy and slow start to our cruising life but on the drive home we both wore the smiles of accomplishment, and a knowledge that our mad adventure is not a pipe dream, we really can do this.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Deeper Deeper Deeper, over.

Another trip to the Morcambe and Heysham yacht club for our course on using VHF radio on Saturday. I had a look at Johns email on Friday night and discovered an attachment that I had missed which told us to learn the phonetic alphabet, which we would need for the course. Whoops, so on the way to Morcambe we took turns in spelling out road signs, or anything else that caught our eye. This is the alphabet in words, like Alpha for A, Golf for G, Lima for L, all the way to Zulu for Z. My favourite was trying to spell Leighton Conyers. By the time we hit Morcambe we figured we just about had it off. Oh Leighton Conyers is Lima, Echo, India, Golf, Hotel, Tango, Oscar, November,
Charlie, Oscar, November, Yankee, Echo, Romeo, Sierra.

There were three of us on the course, Jackie and I plus Peter, who I'ld say was in his early 30s'. He is living on a Westerly 33 at Glasson dock. He seemed to know quite a bit about boats, I think he was an engineer, and said he had just recently bought this boat after selling a Dutch barge that he had sailed across from Holland single handed, with no knowledge of how to use a radio, and we thought we were a little crazy.

We learned all about how to use the radio, and all about DSC, which stands for Digital selective calling which is much too complicated to go into but suffice to say that we eventually got the hang of it. Lot's of the course was to do with sending out distress messages in the event of some catastrophe. What is amazing about these new fangled radios is that it can read your GPS at all times and if you send out a Mayday message it will send your exact position to the coast guard, or to any other vessel within range.

We had a bit of a laugh reading out fictitious scenarios to each other and in the end came away feeling that we now knew what we were doing, although that first call for real will be a bit nerve racking I'm sure.
It was a much longer day than I thought it would be, in fact whilst watching a DVD all about EPIRBs which are basically radio beacons, I nodded off momentarily as did Jackie. At the end of the day we had to take the exam. Jakie got full marks 22 out of 22, I got 21 and Peter, our hardy long time sailor got 20. We passed with flying colours and can now apply for our radio licence.

We now need to build up our sea miles before putting in for our coastal Skipper. We have found a company in Largs that do weekend charter hire. So that will be our next step, to take out a yacht on our own for the weekend, probably a Moody 33. Now that should be very exciting.

This is Deeper Deeper Deeper signing off, Out.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Unveiling the mystery of the marine diesel engine

Back to school in Morcambe for a one day course in diesel engine maintenance yesterday. It's not as exciting as sailing but it's something we need to know about. So today it's seawater filters, water fuel filters, fine filters and impellers.
When I bought my first car back in the 60s I did quite a bit of tinkering with engines, although they were petrol, but the bit's of engine exploded on the table looked vaguely familiar.

Seems that marine engines, which are diesel, are just a bit simpler with fewer bits to go wrong, although I learned that sea water is not very kind to them. But if we stick to the manufactures recommended checks and regular maintenance then they should go on for years with very little trouble, so that was reassuring.

John, our tutor, led us out to a lock up where he unveiled his practice engine mounted in a small trailer. With one pipe stuck in a bucket and a big rubber exhaust pipe in another we tinkered with changing filters and tensioning the alternator belt. Then the big moment came as John hit the starter button. The poor old engine, rescued from some long gone tub coughed and spluttered but refused to kick into action. Johns partner in this enterprise, Ken looked on hopefully as the garage filled with pungent smoke but she wouldn't start. Ken reckons it's the valves that need grinding in as it's been standing too long and has lost its compression. We were losing interest as starting the engine wasn't a big priority, and the fumes were just getting too much for everyone. Give it one more go said Ken, but thankfully John said no.

Anyway we've got a good working knowledge now of engines, the mystery has been unveiled and we feel more confident that when our engine fails out at sea we'll know what we can fix, what we can't fix and the wisdom to know the difference.

The only fly in the ointment as far as I can see is that our practice engine was very accessible where as most of the pictures I have seen of boats for sale seem to have very little access coupled with a series of previous owners additions to the wiring and the plumbing making for a very chaotic engine room, or should I say cubby hole. But if they seldom go wrong then maybe Jackie won't have to crawl about there too often.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Now we're Day Skippers

Largs Marina, Sunday March 29th
We meet with Tobe, Pat, Derek and our skipper/instructor Brian and the 41ft Hanse SV Bolero for our 5 day RYA Day skipper practical sailing course. The forecast for the week is for strong north easterly winds and temperatures down to zero.

We set out on Monday at 10am under leaden skys and head out into the sound for some MOB practice, short for man overboard, and some lessons in heaving to,..... that's stopping a boat under sail. It was a bit windy, maybe force 5 or 6 and decidedly chilly; at lunch we sought shelter in a small bay on the Isle of Bute, where it was still very raw. In the afternoon we practised points of sail before heading for Rothsay harbour where we would spend the night.

By the time we berthed in the harbour the wind had begun to really blow and the forecast on the VHF sounded decidedly bleak for the next 24 hours.
Brian had called his boss Steve back in Largs who suggested we head back tomorrow and cancel the course because the forecast wasn't going to allow us to continue but by the morning there was no way we were going anywhere.

On the harbour front we are leaning at 45 degrees into the wind with rain pelting down and a chill factor that feels like we've come sailing in the Arctic. All day tuesday we hunkered down, read a book, snoozed and whiled away the time. Every time I go out into the cockpit for a smoke I'm overawed by the ferocity of the storm, this is almost Easter for Gods sake.Even the car ferry is cancelled, which never happens, seemingly. We're all resigned to going home and rescheduling the course but by Wednesday morning, even though it's bitterly cold and still blowing at force 5 to six we're told that the course will go on.

The Foul weather gear that we hired does its job but my fingers, toes and face are so cold that it hurts, but the wind is up and the sailing is exciting. We decide to follow our passage plan we made yesterday and head up to Holy Loch. It's a lot of tacking to make way, and we have to abandon our exact plan to get to where we're going but this is what they call pilotage and our bearings and waypoints are spot on, which bring us into Holy Loch Marina where we run aground. This, it turns out is not because we miscalculated the tide, but because of an undredged berth,....... it' not our fault.

Thursday morning is bright and clear, and the surrounding mountains covered in snow look spectacular. It's still blowing strong though and our Skipper has a tricky exit from the pontoon, catching a stowed anchor on the adjacent boat, whoops, but it's only a small scratch. Manoeuvring a 41ft yacht in a tight space, especially as he's never sailed this boat before, is not a piece of cake I can tell you.
We sail round to the open side of the pontoon and practice docking, which with the high winds was not easy but we all do well with this. Next up is sailing onto a mooring bouy, learning to spill the sails to slow down. Suddenly from out of nowhere the wind gets up and we're in a fierce hailstorm, time to tie up for lunch till it passes.

We plan another passage of about 12 miles which takes us to a marina just north of Greenock for dinner before our night sail back to Rothsay harbour. The night sail takes us about four hours, and just after we set off we're visited by a high speed police RIB. They tell us that a nuclear submarine will be following us out, and we need to stay out of it's way. Ferries criss cross our path so we need to keep vigilant at all times, this is a very busy area. As the dark descends it also gets very cold as we all scan the dark waters for various lights that mark our way. The night sky is crystal clear as the stars drift above our masthead and by the time we reach Bute, and Rothsay harbour the sea is almost flat calm.

This is where we sat hunkered down on Tuesday, and now it looks serene, it's a totally different place altogether. Although its gone 11pm there's a pub that still open so we all head off for a well earned drink, for me a double scotch to warm my frozen bones before turning in for our last night aboard.

Our Friday morning sail back to Largs is under a clear blue sky and a strong westerly which zips us along with Jackie at the Helm. At points we touch over 8 knots which is exhilarating stuff, with full sails up Bolero flies through the water and I do believe we have now got the hang of sailing.

Back at Largs marina we find out that we've passed our practical course and are now Tidal day skippers, official, with certificates to prove it.

This week has been brilliant, even if the weather has been at times horrendous, it has confirmed that we love doing this, whatever the weather. Although I must say that the Caribbean appeals so much more than Scotland, but saying that, this is a very beautiful place to learn to sail, if just a little too cold for my liking.

So from buying those full length deck boots last August to Day Skippers in March is no mean feat, but hey we did it. Next up is coastal skipper and ocean passage making and some courses in radio and diesel engines. We're on course and on schedule for our big adventure in late 2011.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Meet the Dayskippers

Whoooooo yeeeeeeeh, so we did it, we passed our dayskipper theory course today. We now are the proud owners of TWO certificates. It says,
SHOREBASED COURSE RYA/MCA day skipper for sail and power craft.
This is to certify that Colin Williams has attended a shore based course of instruction and demonstrated a knowledge of theory up to the standard of RYA/MCA Day Skipper/Watch Leader
special endorsements.................................
Signed John D Parlane Date 28/02/10, principal chief instructor,
RYA Training Centre, Morcambe and Heysham YC
and then there's a big red ensign in the corner that tops it all off very nicely.

Can you imagine, we're both highly delighted to say the least, in fact we've just popped a bottle of bubbly to toast our delight. Congratulations Skipper, said Jackie, congratulations Skipper I said to Jackie, and we both grin from ear to ear.
I honestly don't believe how much NEW stuff I've had to cram into my brain over the last six weeks.
Isophasing lights, Occulting lights, they're flashing lights on beacons, the light is longer on than off then it's said to be occulting. I thought this a bit odd as the occult tends to be about the dark forces. But then I thought no, hang on, I've studied a bit of the occult and although it maybe a bit esoteric in the end they're searching for the light. So that's how I came to give the right answer to question 5a in todays exam. Oh and isophasing, that's equal dark and light, just to show off.

We know how to plot a course over ground, using tidal vectors, plot an estimated position and dead reckoning. We know how to spot a rock of unknown depth that's a hazard to shipping, a rock that's awash at chart datum, and even wrecks.
Oh chart datum, that's the lowest recorded tide, ever.

I find charts absolutely fascinating, I've always liked studying ordnance survey maps and charts hold the same fascination. So I've really enjoyed the chart side of this course. Yesterday we had our exam on chart work, and I must say I made a few boo boos'. However the mistakes were stupid, and as we did the workings out right, John allowed me to redo the questions, not making stupid mistakes this time. In the end we both passed with flying colours.

Todays exam was mostly about safety, and although there was a lot to remember about bouys, lights, man over board, sending out a distress calls and a basic meteorology, we both scored over 90%, maybe even 95%.

So that's it we're now both theory qualified Day Skippers, next comes the practical course in four weeks time back in Largs. John, our brilliant tutor, who works for the same company that we'll be sailing with at the end of March said that the practical is much more mind numbing than the theory course, so be prepared. OK, thanks for the advice John, but I say bring it on, we're both enjoying this so much that I'm sure we'll relish the practical, and we will add the practical certificate to our theory, and become fully rounded Day Skippers.

We are the Daaaaaaaay Skippers, Sunday sailors yeh, what took us so long to find out, but we found out (with apologise to Lennon and Mcartney).

Thanks John, it was a pleasure to be your pupil, and if you're thinking of following in our footsteps I can highly recommend

Friday, 26 February 2010

It's my birthday

62 years ago I came into the world, and on Wednesday it was my birthday. You don't expect a lot of fuss when you get this old, and sure enough the postman brought me no cards. However I got one from my first mate, it had a painting of a yacht sailing beneath stars on a blue ocean, very evocative. And I had three prezzies, The first one I opened was a beautiful magnifying glass with a brass surround that looked like a miniature porthole, it's for chart work, and will come in very handy on our boat. Next up a book called Occupation Circumnavigator, and last, a real chart of the Caribbean. Just what I always wanted.

This weekend is the final couple of days of our Day Skipper theory course, and then we have some sort of test. Not looking forward to that but then again I think I'm fairly confident that we've got the general gist and so lets hope it's not too tricky.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

RYA Dayskipper Part 2

Back to school again yesterday, to the Morcambe and Heysham "working mans" yacht club and our tutor John, and this week there's just me and Jackie as the only other student Victor, has had to work.
We plunge straight into chart work but now we're plotting routes that include tidal vectors and leeway. We have to work out what's happening to the sea and our imaginary boat by correlating a load of data from books, charts, tables, and ocean diamonds.
All of this information is then translated onto the chart via a Portland plotter, I just looked that up,..............oh, and a pencil, that I must learn to keep sharp.

It's one thing getting your heading right, it's all too easy, for me at least, to have my boat heading south when the question tells me it's heading north. Just when I think I've cracked that one in comes the googly of tidal vectors. I'm having enough trouble with true north and magnetic north without the bloody tide about to reek havoc on my chosen route. If I want to end up at my chosen destination I'm going to have to factor this into my calculation, or I could end up on the rocks.

Ok, the tidal stream will push me off course, but by how much? Turns out that the speed of the tide changes every hour, and, changes direction. Amazingly all this information has been collected by someone sticking a "Superbouy" out in the ocean stuffed with electronics, measuring all these movements over years, and then someone has translated it all into a book called the almanac,for that area of the globe.

John attempts to teach us how we can use all of this info to find out which way we have to point our boat when steering by the compass. In effect what is suppose to happen is that you point the boat at a different place than where you want to end up, but you end up there anyway. That's 'cause the tide has messed with your true course, but if you can do the geometry using the stuff in the almanac then hey presto, you get where you want to go, magic.

But this is not easy, or at least not yet.

And then just as we start to grasp it we're told that we also have to include leeway.
That's when the wind blows you off course, the course you've just painstakingly plotted, and converted to magnetic from true, cause you've got that concept now.
Now I have to factor another variable, the wind, and my head is beginning to hurt.

Add to this the rules about rights of way at sea, power gives way to sail, except for very BIG ships, which is a bit obvious, and, add learning about lights on a myriad of different vessels, a bit about GPS and then lighthouses and that's my brain fried.

"I just wanted to go sailing", says Jackie with a perplexed glaze in her eye.

Never the less it is slowly beginning to sink in, I think; and although at times it seems overwhelming, hopefully after we've done all our homework, of which there is loads, we'll sail through the exam a week on Sunday. Then it's onto our Day Skipper practical, that's booked in for March 29th, back in Largs where we did our Start yachting course back in October, but with a different company this time. We've come a long way but my do we now know how far we still have to travel on this quest to sail our own yacht around the west indies.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Day Skipper Theory

The Morcambe and Heysham yacht club is a shabby looking village hall type building just behind the promenade, next to Morcambe town hall. We are here to meet John who is to be our tutor for the RYA day skipper theory course. The course takes place over three weekends, and today is day one, start at 9am, finishing at 5pm.

We're the first students to arrive, and for a while it looks like we may be the only one's, but about 9-15 Victor arrives which makes us three, but that will be the full complement of students for this particular course. We are handed our RYA course packs which comprises a course work book, an almanac, two charts and a CD rom.
The charts are not charts of real places, but they are based on bits of the British isles stuck together to make up a pretend northern and southern hemisphere, with fictitious place names, but with all the stuff you find on a proper chart. These are complemented by a made up almanac which we will use in conjunction with the fictitious charts. All will become clear as we plunge into finding positions of longitude and latitude, using dividers and a big plastic ruler with a 360 degree protractor thingy in the middle that turns round.
We find wrecks and rocks and other hazards, and this turns out to be easier than I thought, not easy peasy but not rocket science. We cover bouys and abreviations and discover that a cable is one tenth of a nautical mile, and that one degree is equal to 60 nautical miles, phew. We also learn how to tie eight different knots, that is we are shown how to tie them, and get ourselves in a knot trying.

Sunday we're back again at 9am to start all over again, and due to sods law today is the Australian open mens final and Andy Murray is playing Roger Federer. We're massive tennis fans and would have loved to watch that match but we switch off the radio in the car at 3-2, and settle for the highlights later today. The Day skipper course is much more important, and by 9-15 we're once again plotting, and today learning about tides, Spring and Neep and chart datum lines among other complicated workings out. We find out that north is not where the compass points, but has a varience that changes over time and has to be factored in when we plot a position.

By the time we get to the end of the afternoon session my brain is going into la la mode, as is Jackies' but we've done well I think. In fact for one excersise Jackie gets 10 out of 10 and gets a star. We come away with quite a bit of homework which we have till the weekend after next to complete.

It still seems an overwhelming amount of stuff to come to grips with, but I'm hoping that by the time we get to the end of the course we'll be on top of it, better get on with that homework before I forget what we've been taught.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

On a grey day at the back end of January, the rain is not quite falling, it's Sunday, and on Sundays we go and look at yachts. I know this is getting to be quite obsessive, and there must be a cure, but for now we're happy to feed our addiction.
We're off to Lytham, which is about 75 miles away, near Blackpool. There's a boatyard, with a couple of yachts we thought we have to see, a Jouet 1040 and a Hustler 36ft, which appeals cause she's got that seductive shape we seem to be drawn to,
The boat yard is on the edge of a very narrow muddy creek that looks far too small to manoeuvre these large yachts into, however, here they all are lined up on the key, put away for the winter. Today is a volunteers day, when they have a yard clear up so it's quite a busy place.
We are due to meet the agent at one but we're early, so we wander round and spot both boats side by side. We bump into the owner of the Jouet, so he takes us on a guided tour of his boat. The first thing that struck me as odd, was that it had a wheel downstairs as well as one in the cockpit. It also seemed to have lots of room, and was very tidy.
Alan, knew all about his boat, and spoke about it in nautical terms, things like shrouds, and windlass's furling mainsails, and fetch in the Irish sea. The weird thing is that I understood what he was talking about 90% of the time. Other times I just smile knowingly, but there you go, slowly getting the language, must be on the way to becoming proper sailors.
Very interesting layout in the Jouet, but the idea of the wheel below throws me a bit, maybe not for us this one, although later I'll see it differently.
Next up the Hustler from 74, I think. Lovely lines, a bit looking her age, but in good condition never the less. When we go down below though, it seems very cramped after the Jouet that we've just seen. It's got stuff stored all over the place so it wasn't as well presented as the Jouet, but all in all it was OK.
So we haven't fallen in love today with our boat, but we did get closer to knowing what we want. I think we need the sort of space that we felt on the Jouet, and that has made me think again about wanting a racer/cruiser type yacht. They're really cramped below, and I think I'm definitely drawn to a wider beamed boat.
But I got intrigued by the fact that the Jouet had a furling mainsail.
When we got home I googled the pros and cons of furling mainsails and came up with some interesting stuff. I know it's one more thing to go wrong which makes me wary, but after reading lots of comments on one or two sites I think a furling mainsail sounds just the thing for us senile delinquents. Not having to balance on a heaving deck to put a reef or two into a big heavy sail sounds like the way forward to me.

So we didn't find our boat but I think we're making progress.

This Saturday we start our RYA Day skipper theory course, just another step on this journey of a thousand miles, should be interesting, and will nudge us a little closer to our dream.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Maybe we'll buy this old classic

It's a very cold on Sunday January 3rd and, we're going for a drive, of course we're off to see a boat that's moored in Whitehaven Marina which is about an hour and a half away.
When we get there we find the marina is frozen over,perhaps not the best day to veiw boats, especially boats to cruise the Caribbean. All of these boats would look better in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. We pick our way gingerly along the icy jetty to where our boat is moored. She's a beautiful sight, a Buchanan bonito cica 1962 with lines to die for. What a lovely boat, but all we can do is look over her on the outside as we haven't arranged a rendevue with the broker, this is just an impromptu visit.
Somehow these old boats look like a yacht should look, with a swept back stern and gently curving bow. She has a tiller and lots of teak decking and wooden stuff around the aft deck bit. I think she's had a few upgrades, the winches look modern, as does the mast and boom. It looks from the outside like our kind of boat. If it was a car it would be morris traveller, and I've got a soft spot for travellers. We can peep through the windows, but the view is very limited. She looks tidy if perhaps a little cramped but we can't really tell, all we can see though looks in good order and shipshape. It's bitterly cold and the suns going down so we pick our way back to The Beacon cafe and agree we really like this boat. We'll have to arrange to view her with the agent before we can decide anything but at just under 24 grand she looks like a bargin and a classic from 1962.