A Radio Call

10 Apr

April 8, 2019/Day 185

Noon Position: 30 35S  23 41W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): ENE 7

Miles since departure: 25,405

Avg. Miles/Day: 137


A fast night. Somehow I found Monte’s sweet spot, and with two reefs in everything, I didn’t have to touch sail or tiller line all night. And our course, 30 degrees on the button. Excellent. Rough, but excellent.

Today has also been fast. We’re averaging 7 knots at moment, but the wind is beginning to ease. I think morning will initiate the next chapter of this northing saga: Getting Through the South Atlantic High. At moment there are nearly 600 miles of light to no wind between us and the Trades. It’s a broad swath, this calm. No going around it. Time to break out the oars.

Just after writing last night’s litany of complaints, the VHF radio sounded.

“Mohla, Uloos.” it said. The signal was strong; the vessel, close.

I dashed on deck to check the horizon for lights, a fishing boat without AIS hailing its partner, perhaps? The only ship on the scope was a bulk carrier named BK ALICE; she had passed unseen half an hour ago, was now well to the SE.

Nothing on the horizon.

The radio again. Same call. Very strong.

“Mohla” and “Moli” are not such similar sounds but similar enough to warrant an exploration. I grabbed the mic and said, “Uloos, sailing vessel Moli.”



“This is Uloos,” said the radio.

“This is Moli, did you call for Moli?”


“Yes, Moli. Yes, yes, I called.”

“Good evening,” I said, and then, not knowing how to proceed, “How may I help you?”

“Yes, hello,” said the voice. “I just want you to know that I think it is very brave, going to sea in such a little vessel. It requires very much courage.”

The voice, from a man I judged to be in his thirties, spoke softly and with precision. The accent, I thought, might be Indian.

“Thank you,” I said. “What vessel are you calling from?”

“Uloos, the ship, we have just passed.”

“Oh, are you the BK ALICE?” I asked.

“Yes, yes, that is me. Alice. Yes. Alice. I just want to ask one question. How do you do for food? And for fuel? I mean, on such a small boat, how is there room?”

I explained that for a singlehander, my boat was not very small, that I could easily carry a year’s supplies. That being a sailboat, I mostly sailed and so did not use much fuel.

“And where are you bound?”

“To St John’s, Newfoundland; then the Arctic and home.” I briefly described the Figure 8, the southern ocean rounding, the Northwest Passage, 180 days at sea, etc.

“Ah, that is very good. A very beautiful voyage. I have very much respect for your voyage. Thank you for your time, and I hope you have a good evening…”

“WAIT, wait,” I said. So typical, these ship guys…one question and they ring off. “And where are you bound?” I asked.

“I am bound for Kandla, India, arrive 5th May.

“And what is your position?”

The man began to run through his coordinates, “Thirty two degrees, zero three decimal five minutes south…”

“No,” I interrupted, “I mean your position on the ship, your job.”

“Oh, I am the first officer. My name is Biko. I am from Indonesia.”

We signed off soon after as my transmissions had been deteriorating during the brief call. Mo’s masthead VHF antenna quit months ago, and I’ve been using the spare mounted on the radar arch; thus, my rage is poor.

But, though brief, and for reasons not entirely clear to me, the call was a real pick-me-up. Sure, it is pleasant to be appreciated, but it was more that–something to do with receiving respect from a professional mariner, a man who makes his living out here.

This article was syndicated from The Figure 8 Voyage


  1. David Comando

    I am following, and enjoying your journey from the comfort of a couch. Delighted to hear about your encounter with a fellow mariner who appreciates the rhythm of the sea, and the courage of a solo sailor. Fair winds.

  2. Norris Larson

    In the old days ships would have packets of mail ready to hand on to passing ships that might be going where the crew hailed from. In those days, crew on a ship were often from he same town and most passing ships were from handful of mostly European or North American countries.

  3. Harry Juris

    A graduate of California Maritime Academy, I sailed as 3rd and then 2nd Mate in the early 60’s. In those days we did not have “Bridge to Bridge” radio on most merchant ships and when we met another ship we would communicate by flashing light using Morse Code. After sending the letter “A” 3 or 4 times to attract the other ships attention, the (almost) universal greeting was “What ship? Where bound? Sometimes depending on the speed of the two ships, and whether they were crossing or meeting head on, those questions and answers by both ships were about all we had time for before saying good night. Occasionally we would overtake or be overtaken with just a few knots speed difference and the conversation could last for an hour or more. On a few rare occasions it turned out we were going to the same port and we could actually arrange to meet for a drink ashore or invite our counterpart to join us for a meal aboard if the ships chief cook was one we could be proud of.

  4. Firstlast

    Long distance pleasure yachts and professional mariners, especially those that have long hitches and long transit, we become lonely, even with a full compliment of fellow mariners aboard. It’s a lonely life. The First Officer sighting you, in the vast and endless space, in a small craft, can only emphasize both your common lonliness and the dread held at bay.

  5. Michael Bowe

    Good story!
    Since I installed Vesper AIS, I’ve had similar interactions.
    I’m Michael on Patanjali, A Catalina42 presently in Russell, NZ.
    Waiting on weather to sail back to Fiji.
    Six years off and on but can’t seem to quit the South Pacific.
    Usually solo but crewing up for this passage. I really like to have someone in the cockpit on the dog watch so I can get 4-5 hours of sleep!
    Fair Winds, Brother

  6. Peter Gudgeon

    Great conversation / storyline .. and congrats to two seasoned mariners. Good to know that such chivalry and bonhomie still exists at sea.

  7. Mic

    And for reasons not entirely clear to me, your short story left a lump in my throat as I imagined two solitary sailors making a human connection on a big ocean.

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