Wednesday, May 18, 2011

ARC Staffer Nick at Bermuda Radio

One of the most interesting things we did while in Bermuda was a visit to the Bermuda Radio station. This is the control center for vessel traffic, weather, radio announcements, security for the island, search and rescue, after hours airport operations, etc. It is one of the finest facilities in the world. You name it, they coordinate the resulting actions even though Bermuda does not have a Coast Guard or Navy to supply the manpower and equipment.

From their perch on top of the hill in an old fortress, they can see everything that goes on around the island in a 40 mile radius. So the drug runners eight miles off the coast were caught in the act! It is extremely important as the whole island is surrounded by reefs and boats can only enter in specific locations.

There are several computers that track all vessels. When a vessel is about 30 miles out, it is to contact Bermuda Radio by VHF radio and give their name and location. Then the "blip" on the screen is given a name and they follow you into the harbour. They will guide you in if needed. This turned out to be very helpful to us.

We arrived in the area just before midnight last Friday. The entrance to the Town Cut is very challenging as it intersects with the channel taken by the cruise ships. As a result, the area is congested with red buoy lights. I was below deck on the chart plotter and a walkie-talkie directing the crew. Since I could not see what they were seeing, I did not realize how confusing it was above.

All I could see was the screen and the direction we were traveling. The further they steered us off course, the more I yelled "turn to port" over and over. Finally, I stood in the companionway and hollered, "What is it about "port" (left) you don't understand?!?" I could see us going up the cruise ship channel and getting near an area of 1-2 meters of water with a rocky bottom in our path if they turned in the wrong place.

This is what Bermuda Radio sees from its perch on the hill.

Next I saw Trillium turning around the other way - to starboard. Just then Bermuda Radio called us to see what was going on. Fortunately, the crew saw S/V Magnetic Sky coming up behind and decided to let them go through the channel and Town Cut first. Then we followed them in. Thank you Magnetic Sky!

At the time, it was alarming not to know where to go. Afterwards, we had many good laughs about "port."

I was surprised to see only one person manning the whole operation on the week-end and at night. I guess there is not as much traffic then as during the week days. During high traffic areas and hurricanes, other staffers are on duty. They even sleep on the floor in sleeping bags to keep up with the round-the-clock demands.

They also coordinate efforts with the various Coast Guard stations on the east coast of the USA. In the photo at the right, we are looking at the map of the areas covered by joint services. The gentleman in the navy shirt is the officer on duty.

It was very interesting to see the technology and meet the "voice" at the other end of the VHF radio. In my experience, the professionals talk too fast and often have an accent so it is difficult to pick up every thing they are saying. I have also noticed the Navy or Coast Guard voices in the Chesapeake Bay speak too fast to understand - at least for us.

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