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History Shouldn't Repeat Itself, But It Does.
by Charles Leggatt VE3CFL

This article is about the importance of having "long-range" communication facilities onboard sailing vessels.  

Charles Leggatt (VE3CFL),


Toronto Marine Amateur Radio Club  

On November 16, 1982, South Bound II, under skipper Herb Hilgenberg (VE3LML & VP9LM) set sail from Beaufort, N.C. with his wife and two young children, aged 6 and 14.  Herb had no long-range communication facility such a marine or ham SSB (Single Side Band) onboard his vessel.  During the passage, they were hit by one violent storm after another, and in the process, Herb broke his arm (1).  Fearing not only for his own life, but also for that of his wife and children, he struggled on in great pain.  Six days later they arrived in the Virgin Islands.  Thankful for his life, he decided then and there that he would never go blue-water sailing again without having SSB capabilities onboard.
Secondly, realizing the poor weather reporting systems that existed in those days, he would study weather and all its variations, and start a weather network for sailors at sea.  Those of you who have used Herb's daily SSB network, know how terribly important this life saving facility has been over the years (2).  Herb had decided that 'History', as far as he and his family were concerned, 'would not be be repeated.'


Moving forward in time, it was late fall of 1988.  As I sat at home one Sunday morning, the telephone rang with a request from a group of sailing pals.  They had earlier gotten together and taken a blue-water sailing program.  It involved, as I remember, a professionally supervised sail-training program from Toronto to Bermuda and back.  It covered celestial navigation, chart work and, of course, vessel handling under all situations.  The vessel had a SSB receiver on board, but no transmitter.  In short, they had no long-range communication capability.  Off the coat of Bermuda they were hit by a tremendous storm.  They could hear other vessels calling for help, but they were too far offshore for VHF communication.  They were alone with the very real possibility of losing their lives.  The memory of that fear and the concern they had, at the time, for their families were understandably high as they talked to me that Sunday morning.

Herb Hilgenberg 

(VE3LML & VP9LM)  

Their request was simple.  As a group, they had collectively agreed that they would never go blue-water sailing without SSB/Ham or SSB/Marine transceiver equipment onboard.  They now wanted to know how to obtain a course of instruction that would give them that SSB capability.  For them, there would be no repeat of history.

The call had been made from the Toronto Sailing and Canoe Club.  I joined them to discuss the problem.  The outcome of that meeting was the founding of the Toronto Marine Amateur Radio Club.  We would teach them.  

That was fifteen years ago, and in the intervening years, close to 380 member of the sailing community (and others) have taken the course of instruction and gained their amateur licenses.

In 2003, at a meeting of the World Cruising Club (WCC), held at Ashbridges Bay Yacht Club, Herb Hilgenberg was asked how many lives he thought he had saved over the years.  He answered, "We gave up counting at 25!"  Had those 25 plus sailors not had long-range communication facility, they would in all probability, have lost their lives.


What choices are available in 2005 for long-distance communication at sea?  

  • Cellular phone; 

  • the GMDSS (Global Marine Distress Safety System), which is not to be used in the Great Lake, but only off the coasts; 

  • and, of course, Marine and/or Ham Single Side Band (SSB) radio.


Schooner (Summer 2000) on

 St. Margaret's Bay, Nova Scotia 

 by Howard Dickson (VE1DHD)  

If you are planning blue-water sailing check www.tormarc.com for more information on the 'what and where' of long-range communication and 'the how to get it'.


For more information on the fascinating story and history of Herb (VE3LML & VP9LM) the following may be of interest: 


(1)  A VOICE FROM THE NORTH - Canadian sailing enthusiast Herb Hilgenberg helps mariners by providing weather forecasts and has assisted the Coast Guard during Search and Rescue cases.  

Story by PA3 David Schuerholz, US Coast Guard Atlantic Area Public Affairs

GO TO:    http://www3.sympatico.ca/hehilgen/uscg.html




(2)     SHIP-ROUTING / WEATHER FORECASTING for the ATLANTIC - "A dedicated hobby" (Since 1987)

   GO TO:   http://hometown.aol.com/hehilgen/myhomepage/vacation.html













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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