Together with my friend Ettiene we are planning to set course to the UK over the North sea in October this year with the MiniCat 420 inflatable catamaran of just 4.20 meters long and 2.10 meters wide. To prepare for it I participated earlier this year in the „Round of Texel” catamaran race with the same catamaran and in similar conditions. The „Round of Texel” is a race around the Texel island and starts on the North side of the island and races around the lighthouse over the North Sea to go around the Eastern Side of the Island crossing the Wadden-Sea back to the North Sea on the Western side. The MiniCat was not fast enough to complete the whole round trip around the island. However, it did perform well on the North sea with waves up to 2 meters high and a solid wind. Just a few weeks before the “Round of Texel” I tested the MiniCat on the North Sea with windforce 6-7.
MiniCat 420 Inflatable Catamaran
We will be sailing over to the UK in a MiniCat 420 inflatable catamaran. The catamaran is 4,20 meters long and 2,10 meters wide. It is equipped with a small electrical outboard engine to take us out of or into the harbor. I am the Benelux distributor of this great catamaran. Our company website for this great product is www.mini-catamaran.nl.
The trip is planned together with my friend Ettiene from South Africa for the 19th of October (weather permitting) leaving first the French coast to sail towards the UK. The return trip is (again weather permitting) planned for 2 days later on Tuesday the 21st of October back towards the French coast.
To be sure, I got some boating certificates (Int’l Certificate for Operators of Pleasure Craft, Klein Vaarbewijs 1 and 2), a radio license (Basis-Certificate Marifoon) and the Marcom-B restricted radio operators license. The last one allows me to use GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) equipment at sea. Just to make sure (our first plan was to sail from central London over the Thames river back home to Holland), I got the MiniCat boat registered (International Certificate) and insured to cover the trip over the channel from France to the UK and back.
In preparation for the trip I participated with the same MiniCat in the “Ronde van Texel” (Round of Texel) catamaran race in June this year. We both also did some training on the island of Texel.
Some of the extra equipment we will bring along normally use for my flying trips. For example, to fly over cold stredges of water (North Sea) in wintertime in a single engine aircraft, we already use survival suits. Seemingly, these suits seemed to be sailing suits as the “official” survival suits sold in the aviation market are way more expensive and do not offer a big advantage over the drysuits sold for sailing.
Next to survival suits and life vests we make use of a portable marine radio for radio communications with ships around us in the busy English Channel. As I am certified to use the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), the portable radio allows me to automatically send a distress signal, including my position, to boats around me with the push of a button on channel 70. The mobile radio is waterproof and even floats.
Radar Active Reflector and AIS Receiver
A passive radar reflector is something that does not work well on a small boat like the MiniCat 420 or it has to be of a massive size. If a passive radar reflector is tilted and not mounted perfectly vertical, the effectivity is mostly gone. So we installed the Echomax Active-X-Band radar reflector. The Echomaxreceives a signal from transmitting radar of nearby vessels and amplifies and returns a stronger signal. This increases the likelihood of detection and reduces the risk of collision. This device also works when the mast is tilted e.g. 10-20 degrees.
AIS stands for “Automatic Identification System” and transmits the position of ships over a radio channel to other boats around it. Some land-based AIS stations catch these transmissions as well and provide them to the public through the Internet. On my iPhone I have installed an AIS app that allows me to see all the AIS-equipped ships around me. You can also see the traffic at sea on e.g. websites and/or the associated iOS apps like www.marinetraffic.com.
MarineTraffic also has a small iOS app called mAIS, which is a ship position reporting app that we run on our iPhone in the background and which you can used to send our location information to MarineTraffic to include on their webbased map. It is the same map I will see on my iPhone again as long as I have a data-connection. It will then not be visible on the AIS screens on the large sea vessels around me, but I will see myself and the ships around me on my iPhone and this will help me to see my position better in relation to other boats around me. Also, people tracking our trip could use the Marinetraffic.com website instead of our satellite tracker to track us. For the AIS app to work and to see the ships around me, I need to be connected to the Internet. It seems reasonable that on the English channel we will be connected to a mobile network most of the time. In other times we have to depend on ships seeing us on their radar screen and on the radio.
There is always quite a lot of traffic moving through the English Channel as you can see from the images just above and below. At one time we found lots of fishing vessels, cargoships but also the tall ship Lord Nelson sailing through the English Channel.
iPhone as our Marine-map Plotter
My iPhone is going to be my marine-map plotter. To be sure it will not run out of battery or get wet, we will be using the solar-powered and waterproof Snow Lizard SLXtreme case. I have good experience with this case so far. It works perfect and allows me to chain the iPhone to my life-vest and can use it for many hours. It has an extra backup battery and can be recharged through solar energy. In addition, we will have a compass on board.
Navigation iPhone Software
We will be using the Navionics Marine app for iPhone app as our main source of navigation. Of course, we will have a separate compass amongst other equipment as backup. Below you see a screenshot of the route we planned.
As a pilot trained and experienced to fly in IMC conditions (instrument meteorological conditions) I do have a fair amount of experience looking at significant weather charts and planning for the weather to expect. I even developed an iPhone/iPad app called AeroPlus Aviation Weather app that is used the world over for weather planning. The planned trip is already late in the fall in the middle of October. The water temperature will still be quite ok mid October with a temperature of about 17 degrees Celsius. However, we might have to cancel the planned trip due to bad frontal weather ahead.
The MiniCat 420 is a small catamaran that can sail at sea in coastal regions. It is not equipped to meet heavy seas and bad weather. As such we will have to cancel the trip if the weather forecast on the morning of departure looks too bad. The trip itself is less than 6 hours, depending of course on wind, tidal and weather conditions.
Follow us on our next adventure!
We track our sailing trip from France to the UK over the English Channel using a satellite tracker. I use this same tracker for my flying trips as well. We will both be wearing personal locator beacons (PLBs), so that in case we do end up in the water, we will be wearing our survival suit and are able to send a distress signal out to the coastguard.
Link tracker: https://share.delorme.com/SjoerdJanterWelle