Rescue services

With the VHF on Channel 16, I can hear the Coast Guard but not (usually) the boats talking to them. As a result, I get one side of the conversation and have to piece the story together from that.

One day, the Coast Guard acknowledged a message from a private boat which had reported a cruiser aground at a named part of Lough Ree. The Coast Guard didn’t have a map of the lake and didn’t know where that was [why not?] but it seemed that the private boat was able to explain matters. It was also able to say, in response to questions, that three people were visible on board and that one was wearing a lifejacket or buoyancy aid.

The Coast Guard, after a while, reported that it had asked the Lough Ree RNLI lifeboat to go to the rescue, gave an estimate of when it would get there and asked the private boat to remain on station. The private boat evidently agreed to do so.

Some time later the Coast Guard reported that the lifeboat was on its way.

And some time later again the Coast Guard called the lifeboat and told them they were being stood down and could return to base, as the hire firm was arranging for a boat to be sent to the rescue. The private boat was told that it could leave the scene.

If I were the skipper of the private boat, I would be very pissed off and, next time I saw a boat aground, I’d be inclined to ignore it. That would not be good.

The problem here is that there are two competing rescue services. The official service [PDF] is the one that was called into operation by the private boat, which did the right thing in reporting the grounding. And the system worked perfectly after that.

It should be noted that a private boat cannot know what, if anything, is happening through the unofficial rescue service operated by hire companies on the Shannon: “unofficial” in that its boats are not Declared SRUs (Search and Rescue units), the hire firms (and IBRA) are not listed as Irish Search and Rescue Organisations and their operations are not coordinated by the Coast Guard.

According to the Carrick Craft Captain’s Handbook [PDF/Flipbook]

You will be given breakdown and emergency telephone numbers when you check in.

It also says

Running aground

In all cases immediately contact your hire boat base for advice using the number provided. In the interests of safety do not accept an offer of help from a passing boat. If needed, assistance will be quickly available either from your hire boat company or one of the associate hire boat companies who may be located closer to you. Your hire boat company will alert the necessary authorities to deal with any incident that may arise.

The bit about not accepting help from passing boats is OK, I suppose, until the water reaches your ankles.

But I suspect that the advice to hirers is based on experience: groundings are probably the most common form of accident, it is unlikely that the boat will sink, it is likewise unlikely that anyone will have been injured and it is probable that a dory or other workboat will be able to make any necessary checks and repairs, haul the boat off and admonish the crew.

However, there may be an element of self-interest in this too: if the hire firms look after these incidents themselves, they won’t find them covered in press releases from voluntary rescue bodies, with videos shot by boat-mounted cameras. I have heard it said that some folk — including private boaters — feel that rescuers’ press releases give the wrong impression of the inland waterways, suggesting that they are more dangerous than they really are, especially given that few rescues involve any threat to life. [That’s something I’ve heard, not my own view.]

It is entirely possible that I misunderstood, and have thus misrepresented, what was happening. But if I haven’t, it seems to me that there is a problem in the relationship between the official and unofficial rescus systems for hire boats. If hire company staff, who are paid for the job, can rescue afflicted boats, without having to impose on the volunteer rescue services, then that’s a good thing. But it would not be good to have private boaters ignore all hire boats in trouble because, some day, the trouble might be serious.

I do not know whether the hire firms and the Coast Guard have discussed these matters and reached some understanding or produced some protocol about when the firms will call in the official services. If they haven’t, it might be nice if they did.

And, in individual instances, the firms might tell the Coast Guard, and ask them to broadcast the fact, that there is a boat aground and that they’re on their way, perhaps asking private boats to keep an eye out just in case. Everyone with VHF will hear the news, but that’s still more private than having press releases and videos on websites.

 

Sewage

Having a boat with a holding tank and no bypass system, we take a keen interest in the availability of pump-outs on the Shannon. We used that at Dromineer before heading upriver, but then found that:

  • that at Castle Harbour, Portumna, seemed to have disappeared, probably as part of the harbour renovations; no doubt it will return eventually
  • that at Banagher was not working. There was no notice to say so and the Waterways Ireland patroller who visited the harbour was not aware of the fact. We notified WI but a repair team did not arrive
  • that at Shannonbridge was blocked by a private cruiser. A hire-boat tried to use the pump-out but the hose would not stretch to any position other than that occupied by the private boat. The hire-boat folk even tried to tie their boat to span the gap between the cruiser and the boat behind it, but the hose would not stretch far enough
  • at Athlone the pump-out on an outside hammerhead pontoon had been disconnected as the berth was now allocated to a trip boat. There was a pump-out at the inner end of the pontoon fingers but, while it might be possible to get in safely, getting out would have been pretty well impossible without hitting someone else’s boat.

We were not inconvenienced by this: we went to Quigley’s at Killinure and got pumped out there. But I was struck by the fact that the only other boats we saw trying to use the pump-outs were hire boats, so I looked at the Carrick Craft Captain’s Handbook [PDF/Flipbook] where I found, on page 8, that hirers are given pretty definitive advice about using their holding tanks and the pump-outs:

All boats are equipped with holding tanks for sewage. Tanks should only be emptied at pump-out stations. It should be noted that it is illegal to dispose of sewage overboard. Never moor alongside pump-out stations for longer than required to empty the holding tank.

There is more detailed advice on page 26.

The poor benighted foreigners take all of this seriously, not realising that, in Ireland, illegality is no reason not to do something — an instance perhaps of what Brian Lucey called a “preference for discretion“. But the point is that those I saw were taking considerable trouble to obey the Irish laws and were being frustrated in doing so. It seems unfair that they should waste an hour or so in trying to get a pump-out — or should endanger themselves in trying to get near the pump.

Some suggestions:

  • hirers might be advised to use the facilities at IBRA bases as much as possible, but not to rely on being able to do so on change-over day
  • Waterways Ireland patrollers might check the condition of pump-outs (and other harbour facilities) when checking boat numbers; they might report to the appropriate engineers
  • keeping pump-out locations free at all times would be a waste of space, but they might have markings asking boaters to move when someone does want to use the facilities
  • the operators of the Athlone marina might be asked to put a pump-out on an outside berth.

Oh, and folk might be advised not to swim in harbours ….

Weather

I had not realised that the times of the Met Éireann inland lakes weather forecasts, broadcast by the Coast Guard on VHF, had been changed. The times are now

06:15
10:15 repetition
13:15
16:15 repetition

MRCC Dublin, to whom I am grateful for confirming the new times, says

Standby on VHF Channel 16 for your local working channel.

In bygone days the Lough Derg and Lough Ree forecasts were five minutes apart, but now the initial call on Channel 16 is at the same time everywhere.

I found the new 10:15 broadcast to be particularly convenient.

Forecast format

However, one aspect in which I thought the Met Éireann forecasts (also available here) less useful than those from other sources (eg Windguru) is the absence of a forecast for wind gusts. On several occasions this year, the gusts were (a) almost continuous and (b) much stronger than the forecast wind speed. They thus had more influence on our trip planning than did the base wind speed. It would be nice if Met Éireann, and thus the Coast Guard, could include a forecast for gusts.

Hire boats

The hirers’ training materials I mentioned here give good advice about rough weather on lakes but, after seeing several hire boats cross Lough Ree in weather that kept us in harbour, I wondered whether the lakes forecasts are readily available to hirers. If they’re not, perhaps they could be transmitted daily by text message?

I should stress that I did not hear of any accidents caused by stress of weather, but some folk may have had uncomfortable trips.

 

 

A distinguished visitor to the Shannon

Dwarkanauth Tagore, of Calcutta, the distinguished and princely East Indian, who is making a tour of the United Kingdom, arrived in this city, on Tuesday evening with his suit [sic], in an elegant drag with four horses, and he put up at Cruise’s hotel.

The native Prince merchant partook of a dejeune at Killaloe on Tuesday. The City of Dublin Steam Company placed all their vessels on the Upper Shannon, at his command, and they were gaily decorated with flags, in compliment to the distinguished stranger, who left Limerick this day on a visit to Killarney Lakes, and is expected to call at Derrynane, the seat of Mr O’Connell.

Dwarkanauth Tagore dined and slept at Lord Rosse’s, on Monday night, where he examined the prodigious telescope — drove to Banagher, on Tuesday morning, and embarked on board the Lansdown [sic] steamer, proceeded through Victoria Locks Meelick, accompanied by Colonel Jones, and Mr Rhodes CE, also by Mr Howell, Secretary to the Dublin Steam Company. He was much pleased with the new works at Meelick, and also with the operations of a diver in a helmet, who exhibited the mode of using that apparatus.

The dejeune on board the Lansdown was provided by the Steam Company. Several ladies and gentlemen came up by the Lady Burgoyne to join the party of [at?] Portumna in the Lansdown. After partaking of the good cheer, they had dancing and music on deck till they reached Killaloe, much to the amusement of the stranger guest, who felt edlighted, not only with the scenery of the lake, but also with the company of the ladies.

Limerick Reporter 5 September 1845

From the BNA

Boat handling

One of the things that struck me, on our annual tour of inspection of the transpontine regions, was that most hire-boat skippers were very good at handling their boats.

The weather was very windy (more on that anon) and, on several days, we thought it too gusty for safe manoeuvring, but we watched hirers coming in to the various harbours. I don’t recall any of them making a mess of it, despite the wind, and some were remarkably skilful in challenging conditions. A family of Cheshire dairy farmers, experienced on the English narrow canals, were particularly impressive.

I had a look at the CarrickCraft/Waveline/Cruise-Ireland online training materials and I thought they were very good. [I haven’t looked at those of other hire firms: they may have equally good materials.] So was the Captain’s Handbook [PDF to Flipbook], which contains this excellent advice:

Take your time and carry out all manoeuvres slowly and deliberately. If you have the chance, watch a barge captain handling his barge. He is never in a hurry.

 

Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and O’Briensbridge

Boogie on over to the splendid David Rumsey Historical Map Collection and put

ireland shannon

in the search box. All going well, you’ll get a set of 14 pages published by Generalstab des Heeres (the German Military High Command) in 1940, with drawings, maps, photos and a page of text about the Shannon. The set includes Clonmacnoise (no doubt because the Wehrmacht intended to go there on pilgrimage), Foynes and, in particular, Ardnacrusha, O’Briensbridge, Parteen Villa and Killaloe.

Industrial railway enthusiasts may also be interested.

And the collection includes many photos of British ports and other installations.

Trigonometry and obfuscation

Every so often Waterways Ireland (whom god bless and preserve) sends out a Marine Notice to warn people of sporting activities, so that they can avoid them, and of one or other of the hazards of the navigations. One such, No 68 of 2016, issued on 9 June 2016, says (inter alia):

The attention of all is drawn to the dangers associated with overhead power lines in particular sailing vessels, sailing dinghys and workboats with cranes or large airdrafts.

Vigilance is required especially in the vicinity of slipways and dinghy parks, while voyage planning is a necessity in order to identify the location of overhead lines crossing the navigations.

ESB Networks emergency number is (353)1850 372 999 and Northern Ireland Electricity Networks is (44) 0800 616 817.

Then on 21 July 2016 Waterways Ireland issued Notice No 89 of 2016, which was specific (as far as WI is concerned) to the Northern Ireland navigations. Extracts:

Many sailboats have masts of 9m (30ft) or more and, as most of these masts are made of aluminium, they are an excellent conductor of electricity. If an aluminium mast or rigging come into contact with or too close to power lines, it could result in a fatality.

NIE Networks advises all boat owners to take some simple precautions to stay safe.

  • Plan your route carefully when transporting your boat to or from where it is being launched, making sure you have adequate clearance under overhead power lines. When you are stepping the mast or erecting long aerials, be sure to do so in an area totally clear of overhead power lines.
  • Once out on the water, if you are sailing on inland waterways or near islands or headlands, you should still look for overhead lines as they do cross over waterways. You must ensure that your mast or aerial has proper clearance from any power lines.
  • Always check your charts when underway to ensure you are aware of the location of overhead power lines.

In order to avoid hitting an overhead power line with a mast, it would be useful to know how high off the water, perhaps at Ordinary Summer Level, the power line was. Then you could subtract from that the height of your mast, and some safety factor, and decide whether you could safely sail under the line.

If you don’t know how high the power line is, you have to resort to trigonometry. My recollection of these matters has perhaps faded a little, but as I recall you stand a small boy of known height on your cabin roof and, with your eye level with his feet, you measure (a) the horizontal distance from his feet to your eye and (b) the angle from the horizontal to a line from your eye that touches the top of the boy’s head and the bottom of the power line. Then the small boy falls off the roof, you have to tack, your pencil falls overboard and it all seems much more difficult than finding the height of a tree. And of course you can’t measure the distance to the power line without sailing up to it, which is what you’re trying to avoid until you can decide whether you can safely do so. [Note: this paragraph is not to be used for navigation.]

Life would, therefore, be much easier (and safer) if you knew the minimum clearance under the power lines. Happily, NIE Networks is happy to tell people what it is; I emailed and a speedy response including this:

The clearance on all NIE Networks overhead power lines which cross over navigable waters is 10.5m (lower bank to line or earth). All overhead power lines are marked on navigation charts for the Erne and Lower Bann waters.

However, it should be noted that this is the clearance for NIE Networks overhead power lines and applicable to Northern Ireland only. Clearances for overhead power lines in the Republic of Ireland may be different and would require confirmation from the Electricity Supply Board (ESB).

Big it up for NIE Networks, then. But over several years I tried unsuccessfully to get the ESB to give me the equivalent information for lines crossing navigable waterways in the republic; it would not do so. Without that information, boaters cannot “ensure that [their] mast or aerial has proper clearance from any power lines”, so ESB’s advice is useless blather.

It is some time since I last asked ESB for information, and perhaps it has since been made available, but I see no sign of it on the ESB website. I would be glad to hear from anyone who can supply reliable information.

Patriyachtism

It will be recalled that, for many years, the governments of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Ireland subsidised the owners of private pleasure craft by allowing them to use the cheap diesel permitted for off-road use (not that farmers should get subsidies either). The EU (or whatever it was called at the time) told them to stop; they asked for, and received, several derogations to allow them time to comply; during that time they stuck their thumbs in their collective bums and did nothing. Eventually the EU got fed up and told them to get on with it.

The Irish government’s pretence at compliance was particularly ludicrous and contemptible. It said that yacht-owners (using “yacht” as shorthand for “private pleasure craft”) could continue to buy marked gas-oil (cheap or green diesel) at the rebated (cheap) price but that, once a year, they should tell the Revenue Commissioners how much they had bought, work out the amount of the underpayment and pay that sum to the Revenue.

I can’t imagine how the Revenue Commissioners thought that was going to work, but they seem to have been happy with a scheme that facilitated — nay, encouraged — tax evasion by those sufficiently well off to own yachts. Someone in the Irish Times, perhaps after having had his or her ear bent over a few pink gins at the bar of the George, referred to this as an “honour system”; there was no evidence that she or he had actually checked the compliance rate to assess the effectiveness of the scheme and the extent of honour amongst yacht-owners.

The figures for the year 2015, as of 15 April 2016, were kindly supplied by the Revenue Commissioners some months ago; here they are, with those for previous years.

For the record:

Year Payers Litres Amount
2010 for 2009 38 n/a n/a
2011 for 2010 41 n/a n/a
2012 for 2011 22 141,503.29 €53,398.58
2013 for 2012 23 301,674 €113,841.45
2014 for 2013 20 279,842.4 €105,561.74
2015 for 2014 26 289,151 €108,934.80
2016 for 2015 18 371,666 €140,021.51

I suspect that the increase in the number of litres paid for might represent the improved business for the hire fleets in 2015, but I would welcome information on the subject.

In 2015 the Irish Sports Council gave the Irish Sailing Association €1,121,900.

 

A canal song

On Youtube, a thing on tinterweb, music on a narrowboat on the Union Canal in Edinburgh.

Tralee Ship Canal

The new ship canal at Blennerville, Tralee, has lost three foot of water out of twelve since its construction.

Catholic Telegraph 8 May 1852

From the BNA