- We’re always happy to welcome visitors to the watch but Freya (or Storm Freya, if you want to be formal) brought Force 11 (Violent Storm) wind speeds, with Force 12 ((Hurricane force) gusts to Gwennap Head. Since, more or less, every vessel had run for cover (and, unaccountably, no walkers or rock climbers were to be seen!), our watchkeeper was having a very quiet time of it when the phone suddenly rang and Radio Cornwall requested a live interview about the storm’s progress. Even though Media Training isn’t part of the normal NCI curriculum, our watchkeeper rose to the challenge and was able to give Radio Cornwall listeners a live, concise, on-the-spot report which left no one in any doubt that a gentle walk along the cliffs was probably best postponed until another day! Interview over, our watchkeeper returned to their lonely watch. Meanwhile, from now on, maybe all our watchkeepers will need to be ready to receive a phone call from Radio Cornwall, whenever the weather is bad?
- A mile offshore from the watch, and just below the surface, lies The Runnel Stone, a hazardous rock pinnacle. At low water, it used to show above the surface until struck by a steamship in 1923! However, the Stone and surrounding reef are still considered extremely treacherous to navigation and records show that, between 1880 and 1923, over thirty identified vessels were wrecked, stranded or sunk in the area (and, probably, many more unrecorded incidents, as well!). That being the case, on a day when heavy fog had reduced visibility to less than 25 yards (!), our watchkeeper was alarmed to see AIS and radar reporting a dredger less than ¾ mile from the Stone, on a course which, at best (!) would put it in very close vicinity to the rock (at less than 90 minutes before low tide). Our watchkeeper immediately put in a call to Falmouth Coastguard alerting them to the situation (especially the zero visibility) and suggesting that an urgent warning should be transmitted to the vessel in question. Shortly afterwards, our instruments showed the dredger making a sharp turn thereby putting plenty of sea room between them and the hazard.
- On a very calm day, our watchkeeper monitored a VHF radio distress call between Falmouth Coastguard (FCG) and a yacht which had lost engine power and was, consequently, making little headway against the tidal race. The reported position of the vessel put it one and a half miles off Gwennap Head and our watchkeeper was able to contact FCG, report that they had a visual sighting on the vessel and provide them with updated position and tidal information. FCG then requested that our watchkeeper maintain observation of the yacht until the Penlee Severn-class lifeboat “Ivan Ellen” arrived to take the vessel in tow, back to Newlyn harbour.
- In testing conditions (Wind; Force 7/8, Sea State; Rough/Very Rough), when most smaller vessels had run for cover, our watchkeeper was somewhat surprised to see a yacht making its way (under full sail, no less!) across Mounts Bay past the Runnel Stone, towards the Longships Lighthouse and Land’s End. Due to the prevailing conditions, the vessels progress was slow, erratic and, judging by the way it was being tossed around - from a crew’s point of view – likely, extremely uncomfortable! Even more alarming was the fact that it was steering a course around Land’s End, landwards of the Longships Lighthouse. As any local sailor will know, this is a passage which can be ‘bumpy’(!) even at the best of times (which these certainly weren’t) and, consequently, our watchkeeper maintained careful observation on the yacht until it approached Land’s End. At that point, since it would soon be out of sight of Gwennap Head, our watchkeeper then contacted their opposite number at Cape Cornwall NCI watch station to ‘hand over’ monitoring of the vessel, with the hope that it might be putting in to Sennen harbour to wait for slightly better sailing conditions. Unfortunately, Cape Cornwall watch then reported that the yacht had by-passed Sennen and was heading towards Cape Cornwall and the Brisons rocks. At that point, the Cape Cornwall watchkeeper contacted Falmouth Coastguard (FCG) to report the situation and FCG then made several repeated attempts to contact the yacht, via VHF radio. No reply was received and the yacht proceeded on its journey, without further incident. Nevertheless, the failure to respond to hails from FCG was worrying and suggested that the vessel either had no VHF radio or wasn’t monitoring it.
These days, mobile phones are fairly ubiquitous but they are not a reliable method of ship-shore communication, especially when conditions are bad. Making sure that you have a working VHF radio and that you know how to use it is a sensible precaution whenever you’re intending a to make any voyage longer than a ‘quick trip round the bay’!