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MOD dinghy sailors plot charitable course

7 March 2016
A Royal Naval sailor and an MOD worker are hoping for fair winds and tides when they tackle an overnight charity dinghy sail between two naval bases.

Leading Seaman Phil Slade and Ministry of Defence employee Mark Belamarich are planning to sail about 170 miles from Plymouth’s Royal Navy and Royal Marines Sail Training Centre Camber on Plymouth Sound to Whale Island in Portsmouth.

The challenge is in aid of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity and the intrepid pair hope to complete it in 40 to 50 hours, depending on wind levels and timing tides right.

Phil, who works with 30 Commando at Royal Marines Stonehouse, managing the sailing centre, stresses the pair are using an unmodified basic 14-foot dinghy – a robust stalwart of the UK armed forces sail training.

Besides running the risk of being hit by larger vessel and sunk, we will also have the challenge of navigating without day time visual aids or radar.

Leading Seaman Phil Slade

“We are doing this the hard way by taking a basic dinghy which most members of the armed forces who learn to sail will know well – the Bosun. 

“This is an old class of dinghy and we have only made three minor modifications for safety reasons – a magnetic compass, a radar reflector, and a light because we will be sailing in busy waters in the dark, ’’ he said.

The expedition is unusual for choosing to sail a small dinghy in the dark.  Phil said:  “There are obvious reasons why small boats don’t sail in the dark – it is potentially dangerous. 

“Besides running the risk of being hit by larger vessel and sunk, we will also have the challenge of navigating without day time visual aids or radar.’’

Dinghies are prone to capsizing in gusty winds and this is easily rectified by trained crews.  However, at night the righting of an upturned dinghy is a much more difficult.  He explained: “Righting a dinghy is relatively easy in daylight.

‘’But there are risks at night which include losing touch with each other and getting tangled with ropes and rigging which could end the challenge prematurely.’’

Navigation will not be easy because dinghies do not have the electronic aids that a yacht can carry and dinghies do not have the space or the stability to effectively read charts and plot:

“We will be relying heavily on our skills and experience. So much of sailing is visual which you don’t realise until you lose that aid. 

“Basic sailing involves constantly adapting to clues on the water and the movement of the sail as to where the wind is shifting – but we will be denied all that, which all makes this an exciting and fulfilling challenge,’’ said Phil.

The pair will be doing without sleep and snacking on high calorific rations to survive the highly physical nature of sailing for long periods. 

In order to hit the tides at the right time round the Isle of Wight in the Solent they are hoping to maintain a certain speed with the right wind, otherwise they will have to decide whether to take a land break.

 To make a donation for the June event please go to:

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