5 amazing facts about the SOS distress signal – Contrary to popular belief, SOS does not stand for ‘save our souls’ or ‘save our ship’. Nor does it mean ‘send out succour’. SOS actually stands for nothing at all.

The SOS distress signal has been a staple for emergency communication for 110 years, and although communications technology is very different now to the days of Morse Code, the term is still widely used today.

The SOS distress signal was the work of the British Marconi Society and the German Telefunk, who established it at the Berlin Radio Society on October 3, 1906 – although it wasn’t properly introduced until July 1, 1908.

To celebrate this landmark occasion, we take a look at some of the interesting SOS facts from across the last 110 years:

SOS does not stand for anything

Contrary to popular belief, SOS does not stand for ‘save our souls’ or ‘save our ship’. Nor does it mean ‘send out succour’. SOS actually stands for nothing at all.

SOS was selected purely because it could be very easily transmitted in Morse code during distress · · · – – – · · · (dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash, dot-dot-dot). Only later did the likes of ‘save our souls’ emerge.

The SOS signal was first used in 1909

SOS was formally introduced on July 1, 1908 and almost a year later it was used by the Cunard liner SS Slavonia on July 10, 1909 during a shipwreck off the Azores, Portugal.

All on board were rescued, and some of the cargo – which included 400 bags of coffee, 1,000 ingots of copper and 200 casks of oil – were salvaged from the wreckage before it was completely abandoned.

SOS took a while to be adopted

Even though the SOS distress signal was made official in 1908, it took some time to be widely adopted. So much so that in 1912, the radio operator aboard the striken Titanic used the old CQD distress signal first before he joked that they may as well do the new SOS distress signal too as they may never get a chance to try it again.

Think you know Morse code? Try their quiz.

Courtesy of Jamie Harris on BT.com



Trying to make ends meet in Key West

We’re making this up as we go along…

Makara in Key West

As you know, we are done with the major repairs on the boat. We have moved into a marina at great expense so that we can enjoy lots of water and air conditioning onboard. The credit card bills for all of the upgrade equipment have come due. The reality of the cost of living here in such a popular and beautiful place is currently upon us. We recently discovered that our original plan of renting rooms on AirBnB to pay for everything had a major flaw in it.

no airbnb

Since we are technically in a slip that is deemed by the city-owned marina as “transient” and not “commercial” it is a violation of city code to accept any payment for use of the boat while in this location. We were reported by another charter boat in the area for having an AirBnB listing. We are lucky that we didn’t get kicked out of the marina or fined for it. We had a discussion with the Marina Manager and have come to an understanding. No more earning money from this slip, which is fair. So, we have removed the boat’s listing. So much for making extra money that way. The Mexican vacation rentals are doing well, however, it is going to be slow season from September through November down there.

pile of paperworkGetting a commercial slip and trying to pay for it with charters requires a business license and a captain’s license. We don’t have either right now. We heard there is a very long waiting list (as much as 10 years and possibly longer) for those coveted commercial slips here in the Historic Seaport. We weren’t planning to stay in the area past January anyway. We don’t want to leave Key West in order to find a commercial slip in some other part of the Keys or Florida, so that’s not going to happen either.

It’s time to find a job around here.


Lindsay has been hired by Diver’s Direct in a retail position. That will definitely help her with something to do during the day, but it’s not going to pay her very much. In fact, if all we had was here paycheck, it wouldn’t even pay for the monthly slip rent. It would take about three weeks worth of pay to have your own apartment down here, but that’s another story. Being employed is a move in the right direction and will open her up to new contacts and opportunities around town. It also comes with free scuba diving trips. That’s a nice perk. She is also volunteering with the SPCA, which might help with networking, but it’s more about being around dogs, which makes her happy!

USCG Master Expired

I want to work as an “on-call” Captain on a local charter boat, but my USCG license expired. I missed the chance of an easy renewal process when that happened. I am in the process of taking the required classroom courses all over again. Luckily I can do that online. The next examination date was June 18th, so I got that out of the way. I had over 60 hours of study to get through before I could take the exams. So now it’s another situation of waiting.  The application process is supposed to take about a month before I get my document, so hopefully it will show up soon. I need that document before I can even ask to be hired to drive a boat around here. I should have started months ago!

waterfront brewery

My other idea to make money was to find a way into the Waterfront Brewery and prove my worth somehow. I have been networking for a couple weeks to carefully and ask the right people about volunteering there. The commute would be easy, since It is located at the head of our dock, a couple hundred feet away. It sounded like a fun idea and certainly would be convenient.

A couple of months ago, at a bar, my friend Mary Jo pointed out one of the partners of the brewery, Chris. I introduced myself to him and chatted back and forth with him for a couple of minutes. After emailing him and pitching the idea of volunteering, he immediately forwarded my info to the head Brewmaster, Justin, which was very cool of him. Unfortunately, Justin told me that volunteers are not allowed for liability reasons. He did tell me that he wasn’t busy today and to stop by to meet him. I just got back from that meeting. He mentioned that they are getting ready to expand the brewery with some more fermentation tanks in about 3 months. He recommended that I apply for work in the brewery / restaurant so that when the tanks come, he might need help in the brewery. The transition into the brewery would be easier if I was already employed there. I just filled out my first job application in many, many years. That was weird. We’ll see what happens!

So for us, it’s all about networking and persistently seeking out new opportunities. Staying positive also helps!

Situational Awareness: A sailing lesson in life


by Matthew Reid
I have had some time recently to muse upon all the lessons sailing has given to me and am constantly amazed at the length and breadth of the spectrum of overall knowledge learned, as well as the countless ‘pearls of wisdom’ imparted.

Sailing as a sport and recreation has lessons at all levels of skill. In the beginning, you learn basic knowledge of wind, waves, lift, etc., just as part and parcel of learning the physical mechanics of sailing. A by-product, if you will. You also learn to put things together and take them apart. However, I am going to skip ahead to some of the lessons I have garnered in the last few years.

In this essay, I am going to focus upon Situational Awareness–something that many of us fail to use in our everyday lives, on an ever-increasing basis. In fact, it looks like from the first generation of smart phone users and on, people are going through the motions of life with almost zero awareness of their immediate situation and are looking down, fixated on the screens of their phones.

As any experienced sailor knows, whether on the racecourse, open ocean, or just coastal cruising, you need to stay aware and alert for a multitude of reasons. You need to be watching the wind and constantly monitor its strength, direction and tendency. You need to be adjusting the sails as well, a roving eye taking in the detail of the shape. You need to be very aware of the boats around you, if on the course, or in general while out for a cruise. You need to be aware of where everyone is on the boat, as to make sure all are accounted for. You need to be aware of feedback from your instruments, to better your performance. And more, much more if you think about it.

The better the team, the more obvious it is that all members of the team possess a very high level of focus and situational awareness. Distractions are minimized and the common energy helps the team in communication and overall performance.

The thought occurred to me that sailors, especially offshore sailors, use all the five senses (and sometimes a sixth sense) on an on-going basis. Sight, touch (feel), and hearing are fairly obvious. However, taste and smell are prevalent as well. Offshore, you must constantly be smelling the engine room, bilges, tanks, etc. leaks of one sort or another are often detected by smell. Taste is common as well. We all taste the bilge water to see if it is fresh or salty, has diesel in it, etc. Nasty, but it has to be done.

Those who have spent countless nights offshore also know that if you wake up to ‘something’, then the odds are it is SOMETHING. A nagging noise, barely perceptible, an unknown odor or odd feel to the motion of the yacht. The lesson learned hear is: If it wakes you up or disturbs you, deal with it immediately. Find out what it is, make your analysis, and execute the cure.

It is much easier to drag your tired bones out of the bunk and do the job immediately, than it is to wait. For the second lesson learned is small mistakes or problems lead to big mistakes and problems and disaster may not be far behind.

As a Captain, I spend hours looking at the yacht, knowing each screw and connection, cognicent of the places where issues have been known to occur and checking them regularly. It is amazing to me how you can look at something, literally stare at it, and not see a flaw or problem. Then suddenly, a quick glance somehow brings it to your awareness and you take care of the issue.

This all leads me back to the idea of basic situational awareness. As sailors, it is something that we learned on the water, perhaps not even thinking about it consciously. It is part of the learning curve of the overall skill set sailing requires.

The cool thing is, it can be practiced constantly, wherever you are. You take in your surroundings, make mental notes of things in general and then watch for changes. Just practicing being of aware of your environment and the activities going on in it can help your ability to focus and process information while on the water.

I like to remember to practice it whenever I am in any social situation. For instance, at the yacht club, a restaurant, walking on the street or hanging out with the family at home. When you are situationally aware, you begin to notice who is not paying attention and who is, if anyone.

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Navigating By the Stars


I’ve always wanted to continue my Yachtmaster education by learning celestial navigation. Lindsay and I got our RYA Yachtmaster Offshore Certifications in 2009 together in Cowes, Isle of Wight, England. It was challenging and very fun to do together.

Yachtmaster training is complete, we passed!
Yachtmaster training is complete, we passed!

It landed us a job in Belize in the end, but that’s a story in the archives now. Anyway, after that I was just sure that we would quickly get certified as RYA OCEAN YACHTMASTERS.

The RYA Yachtmaster Ocean Certificate has three parts:

1) THEORY – The RYA Certificate of completion is given after 40 hours of theory and written exam. This can be done online nowadays!

yachtmaster ocean theory

2) PRACTICE – An 800 nm journey offshore in a specified manner, in control of the vessel, successfully using celestial navigation along the way. Maybe we can incorporate this on a TALLSHIP vacation. Maybe, I’m still researching this.

yachtmaster ocean practical

3) EXAM – The Yachtmaster Ocean exam is an oral and written test of the knowledge of ocean passage making including planning, navigation, worldwide meteorology, crew management, yacht preparation, maintenance and repairs. We will also be questioned on sights taken at sea during an ocean passage.

yachtmaster ocean examination

This part can be pretty tense. The examiner is under no obligation to certify anyone, just because they paid for it and went through the steps. The applicant must instill confidence in the examiner, enough so that they would trust you with their family’s lives. That a lot of trust!

I thought it would be a good idea to put significant pressure on myself and confidently ordered business cards with the RYA Ocean Yachtmaster certification already listed.  But running the dive shop became more important. Three years later we are still not certified. I’m feeling the pressure now!

2014-12-25 10.22.42

So in order to make this thing happen, three years ago I went ahead and ordered a beginners sextant, which is used to “make sightings” but I have no concept of what I am looking for. I needed to study first. That’s what books are supposed to teach us, right?

Tadd’s not sure how to use this sextant thingy.

Here is the book that RYA recommends to read before starting the five day course. I’ve tried to read this book more than five times, with serious intent. I don’t think it’s written in a way that I learn. I THINK I GET IT UNTIL I HAVE TO ACTUALLY SOLVE A PROBLEM. Then I realize I’m crap at it.

photo 2

So I stopped trying. It seems appropriate that most of it has molded and the pages are ruined now.

photo 1

So today, Christmas day, I’m giving myself the gift of renewed enthusiasm and signing up for the online course to getting started again.

Yo ho ho, sextant, azimuth, rhumb.

Off to become Dive Instructors now

While we were traveling around Guatemala, Tadd & I were reminded, by a random poster in a random backpackers hostel, that we had considered becoming PADI scuba instructors when we had finished our Divemaster in 2009…

So fate or whatever kicked in, and we found out that we had just enough time to whizz off to the island of Utila off the north coast of Honduras, and do just that.

We grabbed up our backpack and all our diver gear and jumped in the first collectivo headed the right direction…
I took this while we still had room to take pictures
After crossing the border to Honduras, without much formality, we avoided the enticement of the taxi drivers and packed onto another ex-school bus headed to Puerto Cortez
We jumped off that bus, ran across the road and onto the next bus for San Pedro Sula
And after yet another bus, we made it to La Ceiba… but sadly not it time for the 4pm ferry to Utila… so we had a night to enjoy the “delights” of this coastal town.
Utila’s a great island, just 18 miles north of La Ceiba… full of backpackers and divers
With some interesting buildings
We spent most of the next two weeks either in the classroom, pool or shallow open water learning the ins and outs of safely teaching people to dive… and then we were ready for the two days of evaluations…
By this stage we were almost done and all very confident that we were going to pass…. Yay!
Tadd with our instructor Matt Awty
And me with our other instructor Rich Astley
We graduated amidst a great bunch of people at BICD… all-in-all a great bunch of people and fabulous instructors!!
There was quite a celebration with all our new instructor colleagues!
But before we knew it, it was time to make the slog back to Guatemala… our first mode of transport of the day…
and Tadd’s first Tuc-Tuc ride
It’s amazing what comes aboard the ferry with you sometimes!
We thought we were pros on the overland travel thing… until we discovered that heavy rains had washed out one of the bridges just on the Guatemalan side of the border… so the resourceful locals had set up lancha trips for a small fee
All part of the adventure!!
So we made it safely back to Rio Dulce, Guatemala and to our boat… just in time to pack up and head north.