Ocean College

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Sails, buoyes and distress

Date: 25th of October 2019
Author: Max
Position: Street of Gibraltar 
Geographical Position: 32°48‘1‘‘ N / 10° 21‘9‘‘
Etmal: 137sm

The Mizzen is the mast in the back, the sail highest up on the main mast is called the royal and the Pelican got 12 rocket flares with it. Did you know that? I suppose you didn‘t, but neither did anyone of us. At least until today at 8 am, when Captain Ben had the first lesson with us. He told us about the names of all sails, about different parts of those sails, and flexed with the special rigg (all of the sails and the ropes that got anything to do with the sails) of the Pelican. If you don‘t know anything about sails, this is what we learned today:

Sails and their shape

Pelican im Sonnenuntergang

As you might now, the Pelican got three masts, and all of them have got different sails on it. For example, on the main mast, the middle one, there are square sails and on the other ones there are triangular shaped ones. Also, every single one of the sails got its own name, for example the most aft sail is called Spanker and the one under the royal is called T‘gallent. For every square sail there are six ropes, called sheets, clews, leeches and two or three bunts which you need to hawl or ease (pull or let go) if you want to handle those sails. But also for every triangular shaped sail you need many ropes if you want to work the sails.


Imagine you want to go to the English Channel. There, you aren‘t allowed to go anywhere you want because there may be rocks or other obstacles under the water which you can‘t see. To prevent any damages or collisions there are various types of buoyes which are little baloon-like balls in the sea that are chained to the bed of the sea. There are different types of buoyes, some of them show you that there is a shipwreck under the sea, some show you the way you have to go and other ones let you know that you‘re in safe waters. All buoyes flash at night, so you can spot them easily and every type of buoye got a different pattern of light. 

In Europe, Asia and Africa, there is one type of buoye system, and in North and South America there is another system, but those only differ in minimal details. The last buoye Ben told us about is the “port preferred channel buoy“, but we all got no idea what it has to say.


If you hear the call “Mayday Mayday Mayday!!!“ in the radio, it means that someone is in immediate distress and needs help right now, because there is something going horribly wrong on their ship, for example a fire, a pirate attack, or in the worst case, the ship is sinking.

If you are in distress, you can put up a special flag, you can fire flares (not in the direction of the wind, as Ben made very clear), or send the radio S.O.S.

If you are in distress, you have to say MAYDAY at first, then your ID, your position, that you are in distress, you have to call for assistance, tell the number of people on your vessel, any addidtional information which is important and than, if you want a response “over“, and if not “out“.

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