Friday, September 2, 2011

The Power of VHF

An important part of my kit on this trip was a hand held, waterproof VHF radio. Primarily for localized weather reports, but also for communication with vessels while paddling. I envisioned my VHF being for primarily weather and the occasional 'securite' call. A securite is a process whereby you let vessels - or potential vessels - know of your position and intentions. It is essentially a warning. When I thought of securite calls before the trip I thought of alerting vessels in our vicinity to our plans for a crossing. It would sound something like this: Securite sécurité sécurité. To all vessels in the vicinity of Cape Fanshaw. Please be advised that two kayaks - one red, one white - will be crossing from cape Fanshaw, west to the entrance of Seymour Canal. We will be traversing both the finger islands and the brothers on a heading of 280º. Our approximate crossing time will be three hours. Thank you. This is a fairly basic securite. It is telling vessels the intentions of two - hard to see, invisible on radar - kayaks as the move across a channel, perpendicular to powered boat traffic. While I have done securite calls in Alaska before I didn't get to make this kind of call on this trip. In fact for the first time in my life a securite was made so I would know the intentions of a vessel. A much larger vessel. As we were paddling towards Juneau we had to do a five mile cross with an island in the middle. The crossing would bring us across the Tracy arm, a popular destination for cruise ships to see calving tidewater glaciers, but we would be moving parallel to the main channel. As we concluded the first half of the crossing - to the island in the middle - I noticed an increase in boat traffic. A number of small fishing vessels, a black hulled ship - that we later identified as U.S. Coast Guard, and a large white Cruise ship. Because traffic was building I decided to take the VHF out of its pelican case in my cockpit, turn it on and attach it to my PFD. I only did this because I wanted to monitor the radio traffic - if any - in our vicinity. Less than five minutes later we heard this: "Securite sécurité. This is the Carnival Spirit. In approximately ten minutes we will be entering the Tracy arm." Sarah and I discussed this - in a mildly frantic tone of voice - for a few seconds. His course would take him directly across our paths. and while we had the right of way 'legally', he had the right of tonnage. We decided to make him aware of our presence. I responded: "Securite, sécurité, Carnival Spirit, please be advised you have two kayaks on your starboard side." He immediately responded: "Confirmed! We have a visual on you and will be passing you on our starboard side." Translated, this was him telling us that 'we see you, and you should really stay right where you are in the vicinity of that island, while we cut in front of you.' I responded again: "Carnival Spirit, we are holding our position until you are passed." Translated, Okay, you win. we aren't moving. This illustrates perfectly the use of VHF and its importance. Sarah and I did discuss one thing though. We are curious if the cruise ship made the securite because the Coast guard was there - listening to the entire conversation. If the coast guard hadn't been there would they have just gone, passing in front of us? We hoped to see the ship in Juneau. I promised Sarah that if it were there I would get us on board and talk to the person on the other end of the radio. But Alas by the time we got to Juneau the ship was gone.

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