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The following article appeared in the March 2004 issue of GAM on Yachting.  The author, Peter Ashby, was ham student #77.  He acquired his licence in 1995. 



"Da-dit, Da-dit, N."

"Dit-da, Dit-da, A."

It is February in Toronto. There is snow outside. The hall is full of boots and the coat rack is overflowing. There are ten of us in the sitting room. We are parked on the sofa, the armchairs, upright chairs from the kitchen, the stairs. Each of us has a Morse key. We are learning the code. Just as our concentration is fading, there is coffee with cookies in the kitchen. Then back to our places for a talk on frequencies and skip zones.

Little by little we progressed.  We listened to tapes of code at five words per minute and learned to interpolate and make sense of it.  We gradually began to understand the code without thinking.  Each week we were challenged but not discouraged.  It was a skilful education process.  This is how Charles Leggatt, VE3CFL, helped yet another ten sailors get their HAM license.

In November Moira and I left Beaufort, North Carolina, for Bermuda and Antigua.

"This is Southbound Two, Victor-Alpha- X-Ray, 498, Golden-eye.  Good afternoon.  How are you making out?" 

This is the moment we have been waiting fur. Herb Hilgenberg has studied weather patterns and has provided weather predictions on short wave radio for sailors for years. From 2:30 to 3:00 each day about 80 yachts from all over the Atlantic check in on 12359. Herb groups them by area, calls each yacht in turn giving specific weather information and advice. He does this seven days a week He is a hero to all sailors.

"Southbound Two, this is Golden-eye at 32 North 72 West. How copy?"

"I read you loud and clear.   That low I mentioned yesterday will move out into the Atlantic. Tonight you will have SE 15, on Wednesday the wind will build to 20-25 kts. and by Thursday morning 30 kts. gusting to 35, The front will pass you about noon and the winds will clock to NW 25-30 and dissipate fairly quickly. How copy?"

"Got all that, Herb, thank you."

"Have a good watch."   And so to the next yacht. The fronts came just as predicted and we were prepared for them.

After a few days in Bermuda we headed south.

"Good morning all. This is Victor Echo Three Echo Golf Mike, net control for the Mississauga Maritime Net, located in the YYZ area broadcasting on 14.122.5.  Any urgent or emergency traffic come now.   Any maritime mobile underway come now." 

"Victor Alpha Three Papa Tango Alpha"

"Good morning Papa Tango Alpha. How can we help?"  

 "We are at 27 N 63W.  All well on board."

"Roger, we will e-mai1 your position to Debbie."

The net is a remarkably effective organization. There are shore stations in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, the Maritimes, Andros Island in the Bahamas, Bermuda and Jamaica, each manned by a dedicated HAM radio operator. Wherever your boat is, at least one of these stations can pick you up clearly and relay to the others.

The group updates the boats' locations each day, can pass on messages by phone, email or by a phone patch. We got to love the cheerful morning chatter and news of Canada (-4 degrees, snow!). The net emailed our position to our daughter each day and, incredibly, we could speak to her from mid-Atlantic through a phone patch. We are still astonished that our little radio and backstay can transmit signals which can he picked up thousands of miles away and extracted from the electromagnetic chaos of this busy planet.

The news was not always welcome.

"Papa, Tango, Alpha. A message from your daughter. The furnace in your home has broken, The serviceman has been called."

But thanks to the net we were able to deal with that one too.

*         *         *         *         *

Well, we got to the Caribbean, thanks to Herb, and we are now sailing down through the islands.

"This is KV4JC in St. Croix for the Caribbean Maritime Mobile net on a frequency of 7241. Any check-ins before George gives the weather report?"

We listen to the other boats checking in and call in with our position. Over the last few months we have come to know many boats by their names and call signs. We can recognize Canadian cruisers by the prefix (VE or VA). Often, when we pull into a new anchorage, we recognize a boat name that we have heard on the HAM frequencies. We dinghy up and say hello. After all they are practically old friends.  The HAM works as a sort of club. In this way we have met some wonderful, adventurous people. We have a growing cadre of good friends. We can contact them through the net and find out about good anchorages and where to get fuel am visions.

Following the check-ins, George gives a summary of the weather. This is not nearly as constant as you might suppose in the Trade Wind belt.  Depending on the pressure gradient between the Atlantic high and the equatorial low, the Trade Winds can be 15 knots or more than 35 knots. But with these reports we can plan comfortable ocean passages between the islands. There are at least three of these weather nets and there is the Safety and Security net (8104) that reports departed dinghies, new fees, thefts.

         *         *         *
It is now February and we are in the Tabago Cays. From our cockpit we can see a white sand beach, the lagoon graded from deep blue to creamy turquoise and, beyond the reef, the ocean flecked with white caps. We heard from the net this morning that it is snowing in Toronto. We imagine the snow gathering on the windowsills of a neat little house with a model sailboat in the window where we learned a skill that has made all the difference to our trip.

*Peter and Moira Ashby are long-time members of Queen City Yacht Club and cruise extensively in their yacht Golden-eye.

Peter Ashby's log book is available at the Queen City Yacht Club's web site.













Congratulations to 

Jeff D'Aigle VE3VLT,

who has recently become our 

Second Vice President 



The Toronto Marine Amateur Radio Club

Phone:  416 486 6025  

Fax:  416 486 0417

Email:  ve3cfl@rac.ca


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