Face to Face with UK Border Force: Lessons Learned


Graham Sykes has a hectic training weekend with a last minute ship change, Border Force scrutiny and an overheating engine

Border Force ships patrolling the Channel and the UK coasts are part of every seafarer’s reality in the post-Brexit environment, with a focus on protecting our borders from illegal migrants and imports illegal from the EU.

Our experience over a weekend in May taught us a few lessons.

We had arranged a yacht for the weekend specifically to accumulate miles for my Yachtmaster Offshore practice and for two friends getting ready to take their RYA Day Skipper practice.

On Thursday evening we were informed that the ship was out of order. We had a late conference call and decided to charter a yacht: it drove the prices up and one of our crew gave up, unable to justify several hundred pounds for a weekend of sailing.

The weather forecast was grim and we suspected we might be confined to the Solent, although we made plans for passage to Weymouth or Poole from Northney.

Skipper and companion on board View of Lymington before their meeting with Border Force

The next day, I negotiated the bareboat charter of View of Lymington from Four Seasons Yacht Charter at a very reasonable price.

Advantage is a Jeanneau 43, so our crew of five looked forward to the extra space – it would have been a lot cheaper if we had been able to recruit five more crew members.

We were indeed short of manpower but there were no novices on board so we went. Advantage is based in Haslar Marina, whom I know, me and two crew members.

The passage plans have been revised giving us several options depending on the weather and the feeling of the crew beyond the Needles.

On Friday evening, we carried out a safety check and briefing on this unknown vessel. On Saturday morning Weymouth looked possible so we slid to the top of the tide and left Portsmouth via the Swash Way.

As we left Haslar, a border force ship also slipped and became our shadow, down to the Needles.

A graphic showing the passage plan of a yacht around the Isle of Wight

Credit: Maxine Heath

The falls were wild but we managed to cross in 15 minutes for a more pleasant movement. We headed for Weymouth, which, with a strong Force 5 to the west, would mean fighting to the end.

We were double reefed and although a handful in the gusts Advantage was very manageable. About five miles offshore a gale warning was issued for the next day from Portland to the Isle of Wight.

It would be a race from the west and therefore would require training to the house, with contingent risks.

We had a cockpit conference and decided to turn east to circle the island instead: it would give us the same distance but without having to run into a strong wind and a return trip potentially horrible.

We went 10 miles offshore to provide a new experience for some of the crew. After encountering Needle Falls we were keen to avoid the falls off St Catherine’s Point.

Graham Sykes has been sailing for 56 years and has just graduated as a Yachtmaster.  He is Ambassador of the Morning Star Trust

Graham Sykes has been sailing for 56 years and has just graduated from Yachtmaster. He is Ambassador of the Morning Star Trust

The sky cleared and the wind settled down to a stable Force 5 level while staying to the west. balance the jib and mainsail.

Advantage turned out to be a good training ship, although we never really mastered single-line reefing.

Despite the problems, putting and shaking the reefs was the order of the day and it was a good learning experience. We have had many happy hours of sailing on this easterly course.

Late in the afternoon we turned to a beam scope towards Portsmouth. This involved putting back the reefs and partially furling the jib when the wind picked up.

Once we established a good balance, we sailed comfortably in beautiful sunshine.

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About 15 miles from Portsmouth we were called over the radio by a Border Force ship. Searcher: “Was I the owner of the ship? “

I explained that it was a bareboat charter. “Where was I from? I said we left Portsmouth that morning and they followed us to the Needles.

– But sir, you come from the south-east.

I explained that we were trying to make a 65 mile trip.

“How many people do you have on board? ‘Five,’ I replied.

‘What nationality?’ “All British. “

These questions have been asked several times in different ways. “Where is your home port?” I said Haslar Marina.

The next question overwhelmed me: “What bunk number? I had no idea !

All I could say was towards the end of Finger F, opposite Searchermoor.

This they accepted, and we continued on to Portsmouth. Searcher was our shadow two or three cables apart.

When we got to Haslar the crew were attaching bowlines and I was filling in the log when we were hailed by Searcherthe second officer and two crew members.

Seeker, the Border Force cutter overshadowing Vantage in the southeast of the Isle of Wight

Searcher, the Border Force cutter that follows Vantage to the southeast of the Isle of Wight

The same questions were asked several times until the border forces officers were convinced that I was not trafficking people or drugs.

Everything was well behaved and the next day they greeted us and waved for us to bring Advantage at home, and I felt able to yell jokingly: “Five on board, all British citizens.”

On Sunday we stepped out of Portsmouth Harbor, turning west at the Outer Spit South Cardinal. We were upwind and double reef.

She really needed a third reef, but reef number three was not intended for a single reef, so it would take us a while.

When a 30 knot gust hit, we made a unanimous decision to come back and explore Portsmouth Harbor, which neither of us had done before.

We enjoyed a splendid navigation to Frater Lake where we dropped anchor, had a leisurely lunch and did some mapping work.

As we were all tired from the day before and had to make long trips by car, we decided to postpone Advantage back an hour earlier.

Engine on, mooring and heading for Haslar. As we passed the moorings on the west side opposite the Portsea Channel, an engine alarm went off. He was overheating.

We cut the engine, pointed Advantage at the edge of the channel and dropped anchor. The engine compartment was very hot. The initial inspection showed that all the belts were intact and properly tensioned.

The seawater filter was clear; there were a few quarts of cool, sweet tasting water in what had been a dry dock that morning; no signs of oil infiltration or cracking of the housing; the engine oil had a silky feel and no signs of emulsifying.

We let the engine cool for half an hour and, thinking there might be a problem with the freshwater cooling, carefully opened the cap, using tea towels in case there was still some. under pressure.

However, it only took a third of a kettle of hot water. The whole time we were talking to the owner on the phone.

A quick engine kick proved that no water was coming out of the seawater outlet. We removed the turbine cover and sent a photo to the owner.

I thought the turbine looked warped but was assured it was new and fitted this week.

The next step was to replace the turbine cover and disconnect the hose from the outlet side of the turbine housing.

When we briefly started the engine there was a good flow of water.

The hose was reattached, the engine started, and water was coming out of the exhaust as it should. We could see good flow through the seawater filter.

The owner speculated that a plastic bag or other debris might have blocked the entrance and then released when we depressurized the seawater cooling system.

Two days later a similar overheating occurred and it turned out to be a faulty wheel, so my point of view prevailed.

Face to Face with UK Border Force: Lessons Learned

  • Reef lines: Make sure you know how the reef bumps work on the ship you are taking out, especially if you know you will need them. The simple reefing system on Jeanneau boats requires that the halyard does not drop too low as the reef line pulling the tack point down must have an upward movement, otherwise the block on the tack point of the sail warps along the boom and all you do is braid copious amounts of friction.
  • Bring an ID document: I always take my passport at sea with me and insist that my crew do the same, even if we are going along the coast.
  • Stay calm: The Border Force crew was doing their job, well mannered. Taking a cheerful, relaxed approach and not being on the defensive helped make the situation more cordial.
  • Know the history of your boat: Even if an engine is well maintained, it can still go wrong. Ask when the engine was last serviced and what was done. If I had known that the turbine had been changed and the engine was overheating, I would have started by changing the turbine.
  • Be adaptable: Every time we go out to sea, however well prepared we are, things don’t always go as planned. Keep a cool head.

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