June 2, 2010

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is Pangolin! Pangolin! Pangolin!

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 12:35 pm

Papa, alpha, November, golf, oscar, lima, india, November.

Pangolin is a narrowboat, 62 feet long and 6.5 feet wide.  Her normal maximum speed is four miles per hour, cruising along the chest-high water of the canals of Great Britain.  In an emergency the best plan is to step onto the towpath.

Just for fun, I thought my visiting friends and I would have a run down to London, and, because it is there, we might cruise up the Tidal Thames, past the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge.

I told the plan to my younger son, who gasped, But that’s dangerous!

Well, it is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and it is a bit dodgy in a narrowboat, but I’ll have savvy boaters with me (not that they have ever before been on a boat anything like this one…).  Whatever else it will be, our journey will be an adventure.

Although I had repeatedly been assured that narrowboats were exempt from the requirement to carry a VHF radio on the Thames, last week I learned that that exemption was withdrawn 3 years ago from all boats over 45 feet.  Pangolin – papa alpha November golf oscar lima india November – is 62 feet.  I needed a radio, a license, and a certificate of competence, fast.

My friends could bring the radio, and the license is free and routine.  But the certificate of competence was another matter.  To get the certificate required that I attend a full day course in radio use, terminology and procedures, and pass an exam at the end of the day.

Since these certificates are meant for people who are wandering around the Atlantic in yachts (and, by the way, radios are merely recommended for them, not required as they are for me) the courses all take place by the seaside.  Oxford is almost as far from the sea as you can get on this small island, and the only course I could find at late notice was near Portsmouth, a hundred miles away.

I spent the day learning to make Mayday calls.  I also practiced how to call my friends on the radio to arrange to meet them later for dinner (except I have no friends with VHF radios), and I memorized the correct channel on which to call a marina to book a berth for the night. I asked why I wouldn’t rather call my friends, the marina, or even the Coastguard on my mobile telephone.  Well, yes, I must admit that is what I would recommend, said the instructor.

I had to learn a lot of acronyms.  For instance, my new license will allow me to carry one (but only one) E.P.I.R.B (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beam) in case I get lost.  It looks like a nice bit of kit, activated on contact with water, so that the search and rescue helicopters can pick up your signal and find you wherever you are.  But I think it might worry the ducks. It probably would work better to get out of the canal and wander up to the pub to ask if anyone had missed me.

There were lots and lots of spelling exercises involving the International Phonetic Alphabet.  And we all had to practice saying “Over” quite a lot, and “Out” now and again. 

I also learned that the French had cleverly hijacked the radio language (everyone was unclear on how they had pulled this off).  The keywords are all in French, but Anglophiles have retaliated in their usual fashion, by getting it all wrong: the French demanded M’aidez! Help me! And Brits responded Mayday!  Help me!

In class we did a lot of role play with our radio practice and spelled out many disasters: Foxtrot! India! Romeo! Echo!  I would have thought I was in a B movie, except that in the movies the men are a whole lot better looking.  I was the only woman in a class of six middle aged boaters, all of whom (including me) had too much hair, but at least mine grows mainly on the top of my head.  Theirs grew everywhere else.

I passed the exam, and the trip is still on.  So that you can follow our progress, I’ll try to be a more regular blogger.

 Or, as we radio buffs like to say, Seelonce feenee.


  1. Stepping off the boat onto the towpath and walking up to the pub, there’s the ticket. Thanks for the giggle!

    Comment by Lavenderbay — June 2, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

  2. holy cow! 62′ long and 6.5′ wide? that doesn’t sound very maneuverable, especially in the shipping lanes! your son is right….that’s dangerous!!

    but….who knows? it may be fun!

    bon voyage!!

    Comment by m.e. — June 2, 2010 @ 6:59 pm

  3. You’re going to have an adventure! How fun! I can’t wait to hear all about it. Will you be taking a camera?

    Comment by Twenty Four At Heart — June 2, 2010 @ 7:01 pm

  4. Whew, I’m glad the mayday was only a role play – I thought I’d be reading about a disaster in this post!

    Comment by Liz — June 2, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

  5. Is like the boat in Young Adam? You need Ewan McGregor to spice things up, not hairy old guys.

    Comment by Hattie — June 3, 2010 @ 9:24 am

  6. I hope you post photos of this most excellent trip.

    Comment by Pseudo — June 3, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

  7. Been there, done that, Duchess. And now I’m the radio officer on Slan Abhaile!

    It’s a weird language, is radio-speak, especially with the bad French. (Wouldn’t a French person say “Aidez-moi” rather than “M’aidez?”) The weirdest of all is Pan-Pan, for a non-life-threatening emergency. And it’s made even weirder by the way Americans say it – “Pon-Pon” is what I hear coming from the USCG in Buffalo.

    Have a great trip. Or, as they just might say in France, “Bravo Oscar November – Victor Oscar Yankee Alpha Golf Echo!”

    Comment by Tessa — June 6, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

  8. I’m impressed. Just knew you were an adventurer by nature. Promise me we can do something boring if I ever come to visit.

    Comment by Ruth Pennebaker — June 6, 2010 @ 1:36 pm

  9. Well, we do use some French expressions that we haven’t messed up, so bon voyage, au revoir, and don’t get mal de mer en route! Look forward to reading about it.

    Comment by Janet — June 8, 2010 @ 6:41 am

  10. Hmmm…this post is six days old so I’m hoping you’re having good adventures that we’ll hear about soon.

    Over and out.

    Comment by Jan — June 8, 2010 @ 10:56 am

  11. Ah, Jan, that’s the trouble. If anything, I am a writer rather than blogger. I need time to filter (and censor) what’s going on. I’m probably hanging out in the wrong medium.

    Comment by Duchess Omnium — June 8, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

  12. You made me laugh. :)

    Comment by Midlife Slices — June 8, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

  13. No you’re not. Hanging out in the wrong medium that is. Blogger/writer — you’re the duchess of both/and. Avoid any typhoons please between where you are and London.

    Comment by T P — June 10, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

  14. […] I had a license to operate it. I comforted myself by being quite sure that if I hadn’t bothered getting the required certificate, they would have surely demanded to inspect all my […]

    Pingback by DuchessOmnium - Island to island » Captain’s Log day 16: Victoria Park to Limehouse, up the tidal Thames to Teddington, and back to Hampton Court — September 18, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

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