2.41 m VHF: Channel 69 Report an Incident

News - 27/08/15

A trip aboard the Cowes Harbour Commission safety patrol

It’s just after 10am on the Wednesday of Cowes Week 2015, writes Chris Riddet. On the water, hundreds of yachts are waiting for their class starts. Red Funnel ferries are coming and going, pleasure vessels are carrying out harbour cruises, and Cowes is of course a commercial port, so cargo ships could be on their way to Kingston Wharf. So, how is it that a situation that looks chaotic, operates very smoothly? 

To find out, I joined the morning patrol HM1, an 18ft RIB under the command of Cowes resident and Berthing Master Dave Lewis. Cowes Harbour Commissioners (CHC) was constituted in its present form in 2001. Among the things that it is responsible for are all the mooring buoys, some 232 at this time of year, and most importantly, the safety of the harbour and those using it.

The first job of the day was to escort the Red Jet on its way in from Southampton. The car ferries are escorted by some of the CHC’s slower craft. Dave opened up and we were quickly positioned, swinging round in front of Ret Jet 4. With racing under way, Dave was continually looking round, ensuring the path was clear. On went the blue light and siren. “Most are very good”, he told me, “you get the odd one will try and be clever”. In this case, the yacht tacked, a wave between skippers was exchanged. No sooner had that job been completed than we became a good Samaritan and delivered a Swedish crew member to the yacht she was competing on, then it’s back to escorting a departing Jet. While Dave had eyes just about everywhere, he was constantly monitoring Channel 69, the harbour radio, being operated on this day by Deputy Harbour Master, Rod Hodgson, from the RYS line. In addition, his earpiece gave race class start times.

He told of an incident at the start of the Week. A phone call was received by an X boat competitor, his wife informing him, she had gone into labour, a week early. Dave and HM1 were quickly dispatched, picked by the yachtsman up and took him back to the Red Jet. I would guess that during the two hours I was on board, there was a quiet 10 minutes, just once.

On our comings and goings, we passed the new breakwater, where work was underway. The weather was fine today, but in less favourable circumstances in the winter, it will improve conditions in the Inner Harbour. As we returned to base, Dave summed up the Cowes role of the CHC patrol craft. “We are here to ensure that everything runs smoothly, by so doing those competitors and others on the water have an incident free time, and enjoy Cowes Week to the full”.

I would like to thank Rod Hodgson for arranging things and especially Dave Lewis for a fascinating morning.

Author: Chris Riddet, Isle of Wight County Press