How I passed my Yachtmaster Exam

In late October 2018 I took my Yachtmaster Coastal examination. I read a number of helpful blogs on the subject beforehand, and so I thought I would contribute my own experiences in case it is helpful to any other candidates. For example I enjoyed Sarah Shepherd’s report, and especially this brutally honest account “How I failed my Yachtmaster”.  My exam seems to be different to most other reports as it took place entirely at night and did not involve any significant passage, except for a last-minute one before the exam started!

A short passage to the start

I was taking the exam in an old 32ft Westerly called Karic. Karic is owned by The Sail Boat Project, and I had taken my RYA Coastal Skipper Practical course with them a few months before. I did not take a YM prep course, but spent some time getting comfortable with the boat before the day of the exam. Since we knew from the timing of the exam that it would take place entirely at night, we spent the two days mostly practicing pilotage in the dark.

On exam day, after spending the day getting the boat ready for the exam (fan belt changed, cockpit sole epoxied, ensign hoisted, danbuoy repaired) we were waiting in Chichester Harbour for the examiner. Just a few hours before he was supposed to come, he called up to say that the weather forecast had changed.

There were strong southerlies and the examiner was concerned that, if these continued, we might not be able to get out of Chichester at the time of the exam. If we could not get ‘out to sea’ the exam would not be valid. He suggested we sail to Portsmouth and do the exam there. This was a tricky proposition on a number of levels – we still had a crew member on their way to Chichester, and there were logistical issues with getting the boat back after the exam.

Although it was forecast to drop, a good force six was blowing in the harbour as we mulled this decision. It seemed wise to start out doing what the examiner suggested and he’d always seemed rather reluctant to travel over to Chichester anyway. So in the end we had a nice 3-hour sail over to Portsmouth before the exam started. As we left the wind dropped, so we were motoring out of the harbour in a flat calm, cursing the examiner’s cautiousness. It was pretty bumpy over the bar, however, and could have got rather exciting on the ebb if the wind had not moderated. A solid breeze took us across to Portsmouth with a bit of help from the engine. Haslar Marina gave us a hammerhead berth near the entrance because I told them it was for an exam, bless them.

The examiner is on board

So we started the exam, already quite tired, at about 7pm, and it ran until after 3am. Entirely in the dark. As the examiner arrived, I was cooking up some dinner, which my first mate, Ed, noted was the first time I’d cooked dinner all trip. Usually I had had my nose in a pilot book or tide table. We ate some food and then started by going through my ‘homework’ which was a passage plan to Poole from Bembridge. Because I had done this plan at home, I had not marked the route out on the ship’s chart, and was advised that I ought to have done so. All other aspects of my plan were considered OK, though.

Then we had an hour or so going through all the safety equipment and finding out if I knew how to use it. he got me to take out and demonstrate the use of all the flares, and even the fire blanket. How do you hold a fire blanket? Do you launch a parachute flare into the wind or downwind? What end cap do you remove? How do you light it? He wanted me to explain mayday procedures, demonstrate how to use the VHF radio. ‘What would the options be when you press the distress button?’. He asked me about all the electronics, what they did, how they were configured on that particular boat – AIS/GPS/Radar/Chart Plotter/Log/Depth. What would you take in a grab bag? How does an EPIRB work? He asked me the location of all the seacocks, bilge pumps, fire extinguishers.

I was asked to do engine checks, the fan belt (which we’d bought and replaced earlier that day) had worked loose and he asked me to tighten it. “How many cylinders does this engine have?” – I didn’t know (it’s 3). He also asked me how I would change gear if the gear shift cable broke – wanting me to locate this cable, which was pretty tricky – I had no idea where it was, but peering around while getting someone to shift the throttle I eventually identified it right at the back of the engine block.

Conscientious Pilot

Then we went out to do a pilotage up to Port Solent, which I had been warned about a little earlier in the day, and already had a written plan for.

On the way he asked me to identify lights, flags and sound signals, or quizzed me on anything else which came to mind. This sort of questioning is quite wearing, especially at that time of night. If my curious crew mates asked the examiner follow-up questions, he would immediately spring them on me instead. So in the end they decided that as much as they’d like to know the answer to some of these questions, I’d probably appreciate them keeping their mouths shut!

On the pilotage exercise up through Portchester Lake, towards Port Solent, we identified bearings, light characteristics and the distance between lights. As we passed unlit poles we used a torch to read off the number. All of this was conducted without GPS/Chartplotter and under sail in a moderate and forgiving breeze. The examiner stopped the exercise after a fairly short time because, he later said, ‘your pilotage was outstanding’.

Man overboard in the dark

Then there was a man overboard drill. The examiner had brought a glow stick which he tied to the usual fender and coil of rope as the ‘casualty’ and tossed it overboard. We were under sail, and I was not at the helm. It was not a great success.

The main issue was that I took the boat some distance from the casualty to give myself a nice close reach back towards it. This would have been sensible if recovering under sail, but since I was using the engine, was unnecessary. Going further from the casualty than I needed to increased the risk of losing sight of them. I should have crash tacked immediately, especially since the boat I was on hoves-to very well.

There was also delay while I send someone below to pretend to send a mayday on the VHF (I’m not sure if the exercise requires this), and some confusion as I tried to take over the helm while also instructing the helmsman to start the engine (which meant they were blocking me from the wheel). We got a torch and gave it to the person pointing at the casualty, which was seen as a nice touch, but also caused further delay.

We started the engine and motor-sailed back the the casualty, rolling up the genoa as we reached the spot, and picking the up on the leeward side.

So I got the boat back to the casualty, but taking much more time than the examiner thought I should have. The atmosphere on the boat, which had been convivial, became rather dark. “What should you have done?” the examiner asked sullenly. I gave my by now rather nervous answer. “Then why didn’t you?” he rejoined.

This, apparently, might have been curtains for an ‘Offshore’ ticket, but as I was doing a ‘Coastal’ exam I was allowed another attempt at it later.

Sailing onto a buoy, badly

We then went to pick up a mooring buoy for a ‘rest’. I was instructed to sail onto one which, peering in the dark, I could just about make out. Out of season, there were not many boats, and it being dark, they were not easy to see. One nearby boat I identified as a possible hazard, but I didn’t take note of the way the boats were lying, and therefore missed vital tidal information which would have been more obvious in the light. I was also still rather stressed out from the MOB exercise. So I was not really taking account of the tide, instead sailing the boat as if she were a dinghy on a lake. The winds were light and the boat quickly lost way when tacking, and she would bear away and slide to leeward/downtide, and only after gathering some speed on a beam reach would she would bear up again.

Because of this, at one point I had to start the engine to avoid hitting a moored boat. My first approach was not very good and, having lost ground, I tried to pick the buoy up on the windward side which did not work (and was never going to!). The second time, my line was good, but I eased the sails slightly too early and so ended up short. On my third approach I picked up the buoy perfectly at the lee shroud. Again, the examiner felt I should have performed better than this if I had been going for an ‘Offshore’ ticket.

Off the charts

The next exercise was a ‘chart’ exercise. The examiner wanted me to take the boat to an exact and arbitrary location on the chart, and drop anchor. In fact there was a misunderstanding where the examiner had stipulated a particular point (a letter in the wording on the chart) whereas the crew and I had understood I could choose any point on the sandbank. In this case I think the examiner was not clear enough, and since I had marked the exact spot on the chart I intended to take the boat, he accepted my location as being the target.

Using a combination of transits and bearings, backed up by depth soundings with tidal height adjustments, we found my ‘spot’, and dropped the hook on the correct amount of chain.

However when we checked with the GPS we were slightly out. Fortunately, the examiner remembered that one of the charted objects I had used for my position had been moved very recently. The local Gosport youth had been given to smashing the light, so they moved it slightly out to sea. Therefore my methods were considered sound and this was a good pass.

Motoring back to Haslar, the man overboard was thrown in once more, and the examiner said “I want you back next to that in 20 seconds”. Already at the wheel and with no sails up, I swung the boat around and stopped sweetly besides the glowstick.

Going backwards

Then it was back to the marina, where I was asked to berth the boat in the more awkward direction, requiring a short turn and then berthing starboard side-to when this boat kicks strongly to port in reverse. I slightly overstood the berth, so was about to turn around laboriously and try again when the examiner asked if the boat would reverse in a straight line. “I don’t think so, she kicks heavily to port” I replied. “Try it,” he suggested. At slow speeds Karic will turn very sharply to port when in reverse. But once making some decent way in reverse, she started to track straight and I was able to actually steer. After a burst of this I was able to slide gently into the berth.

Finally I had an iPad test on colregs, lights, shapes and sounds, and was asked to evaluate some recent meteorological charts.

A debrief with the examiner, and the two less-than-perfect manoeuvres were flagged up, but otherwise it was considered a very solid pass. Now it was 3.30am and I stayed up for a quick drink with my crew, and then turned in for a well-earned kip.

Justice4Grenfell ‘Three billboards’ protest


Premonition is proud to work as the web designers for the Justice4Grenfell campaign. Recently, in collaboration with some very smart folks, we helped them achieve a lot of renewed publicity.
Since the group was formed, just after the shocking fire that claimed so many lives, Premonition has looked after the Justice4Grenfell campaign website. We’ve helped the group to build their online presence from a standing start. Recently J4G were approached by a major London advertising agency (BBH) with an idea to use the protest technique from the multi-Oscar nominated film “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”. With help from this agency, the group hired three billboards on vans and drove them around London. They were parked in front of parliament, major London landmarks and in front of the tower itself. Working with the PR firm MC&T, photographs and video from this were pushed to media outlets worldwide.

Press response

The stunt was featured in most TV, press and online UK media and in many US media outlets. Online news networks covering this include:
LBC, CNN, BBC, Independent, Guardian, Standard, Mashable, NME, Metro, Daily Mail, GetWestLondon, Sputnik, Mirror, Huff Post, Business Insider, Washington Post, LadBible, Vice, ABC (australia), CBS, ibTimes, Timeout, Telegraph, and many more

Getting the website ready for the off

We were expecting a big rush of traffic, and so the infrastructure around the website needed to be beefed up. Serious peak traffic protection was put in place and the site in fact got hundreds of thousands of visits over a 2 day period without any problems of downtime. We used Cloudflare for the load balancing, and made sure that all images were served from a CDN. As a result, the website actually ran faster than it had before, even during the times of heaviest traffic.

How can I increase emailing list sign-ups on my charity website?

Although this is written for charity websites, most of the points apply to ANY site which is looking to grow its mailing list.

Many of our clients run emailing lists for their customers or supporters. Usually, they use the website to help grow the list. If growing the list isn’t a top priority, often just a single sign-up form is put in the sidebar, or on the ‘contact us’ page. Although this does give people an opportunity to sign up to your mailing list, if that’s all that you are doing you are not making the most of your traffic for sign-ups. But before we start – is it really worth the effort?

Email marketing really works

Getting you message to a growing list of people who are interested in your cause is a great way to increase donations, loyalty and engagement. It’s a helps you stay in friendly, easy contact with potential supporters who will think of you when they are ready to start supporting you, and gives you a resource to draw on when fundraising or finding volunteers.

Make content your audience want to read

You need to create regular, interesting and useful content and keep on plugging away at it. If you’re a charity, great content could include success stories (don’t forget a bit of ‘happy’, from time to time!), crisis updates and campaigns. When emailing charity supporters, pat them on the back sometimes, as well as telling them about the suffering you still need to tackle – and the money you need to do it! If you’re a business you can showcase new product lines, individual product features, or new services.

Think about your audience – not just your charity’s goals

You don’t have to confine yourself to your charity’s immediate concerns. Think about content that could be useful or interesting to your target audience, and see if you can supply it. Even if it is not directly related to making sales, if it is useful to your users then it will add value to being on your email list. 

Some email content can be recycled

Email list services like MailChimp allow you to schedule emails to send to new sign-ups, so that you can, for example, send a weekly series of introductory emails to new sign-ups without any further effort. In this way timeless content you create can be reused for new subscribers.

So how do I increase the number of sign-ups?

Now you’ve thought about your content strategy, you need to grow your audience for it. So here’s a run-down of techniques you can use to increase the number of people signing up to your list from your website.

Make it easy!

Users aren’t often going to hunt around for the email sign-up form. And if they only see it once, this might not be enough either. The key is to give them plenty of opportunities to sign up, whenever they think the site has delivered and are ready for your call to action. Giving them lots of opportunities means having multiple sign-up forms and strategies. We’ll show you some examples (coming soon).

Effective calls to action

Depending on the context and space available, you will want a short snappy one-liner, or a statement plus a few bullet points. What can your readers expect to learn? How will it benefit them? What will it help them to achieve? Use a different call to action in different spaces, because you are going to have several places where people can sign up. You should design your signup forms carefully to make sure they are on-brand but present themselves strongly to your audience. You’ll see some examples (coming soon).

Where can you put sign-up forms?

There are quite a few places you can put sign-up forms. If the emailing list is a seriously important part of your marketing strategy, you should probably use quite a few of these at once.

  • Sign-up form in a sidebar 

    The classic location, but many times users can be inclined to ignore sidebar content so for maximum conversions this isn’t enough.

  • Bar above the header

    A prominent placement, you can put a signup form right at the top of the page above the entire site.

  • Feature box on home page

    Your home page is probably one of the most busy pages on your site, so to use a part of this page to get a decent call to action in front of your visitors is often a great idea.

  • Footer or PS

    Adding a PS to a blog post makes it one of the most-read parts of an article. You can use the ‘PS effect’ to get a signup opportunity front of your visitors. Or, more conventionally, you can simply add the signup form to the footer of every page.

  • Slide-up/javascript lightbox alerts

    These techniques use scripting to make a signup form appear in the foreground of the site once the visitor has scrolled a certain distance down the page. The idea is that at this point they have found value in the site and so may be responsive to the call. They can be easily dismissed and a cookie set so that they will not appear again for 30 days (or whatever you choose). These are more ‘in your face’ than the standard sidebar box, but they are so very effective that if building your emailing list is important to you then you should consider this OR…

  • Exit-intent pop-up alerts

    Special javascript can detect when your visitor is thinking o leaving the site, and display a ‘last chance’ opportunity to sign up before they go. The advantage of this is that you do not disturb your visitor while they are reading the content, but as they leave, you display a box to try to capture their details before they leave. One disadvantage is that these systems track mouse movements to work out that the visitor is going for the exit, so they don’t work on mobile. For mobile use, the slide-ups (above) will be a better bet. You can combine the two, as long as you only have slide-ups for mobile and exit-intent for desktop users.

You can double the number of people subscribing per month

In this useful experiment, Buffer Social added multiple ways to sign up, and some more, to see what effect it would have. They doubled the rate at which people were subscribing. The top sources for them were:

  • 37% Slideup panel (But note that they did not try any other pop-up or exit intent alerts, which are also said to be extremely effective)
  • 34% Signup bar at the top of each page (they used a ‘smart’ bar which tailors its offer to the user, and allows testing of straplines)
  • 15% Feature box on the home page

Try it out yourself, or get us to help!

If you have the skills to implement this on your site, get out there and make it happen. If you need some help then give us a call. We should be able to help you double the rate at which you get visitors to subscribe to your charity website emailing list.

Website maintenance service


Premonition have just launched a maintenance service for WordPress websites.

Why you need to maintain your site

We’ve noticed that our clients tend to find it quite easy to update content on their sites, but much more daunting to keep the site core software updated.

The trouble is, if the sites are not kept up-to-date, they can be left vulnerable to hacking when security flaws are found in old software. And although updating the software is usually trouble free, there is a justified concern that it can occasionally break things. This happened recently to a client and it spurred us to create this service to protect our other clients from experiencing this in future.

In another incident, one of our clients was hit by this hacking attack, which also affected’ tens of thousands’ of other sites and was reported by the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-38930428 Fortunately Premonition were able to repair the damage, secure the site and have them back up and running within a few hours. But this could certainly happen to you if you’re not on top of updates and security.

Here’s a rundown on other reasons to keep your site up to date. It also includes a guide to updating the software yourself if you’d prefer to do it that way.

The new service

  • Core software Update wordpress core software within a few days of any release – immediately for security-only updates
  • Plug-ins Update all plug-ins (third party software that helps run your site) monthly as new versions become available. This is done by manually logging in.
  • Back-ups Perform regular site back-ups to roll back to in the event of any adverse event
  • Virus scan We will perform a weekly scan for malware to check if your site has been invisibly hacked.
  • Hacked sites fixed We will fix the site at no extra charge if the site is hacked.
  • Update problems fixed We will fix the site at no extra charge if there is any problem during an update, whether from a failed update attempt or a software incompatibility.

Get in touch to sign up or find out more.

My CSS discovery

While designing a website a few years ago, I discovered a way to serve CSS differentially to certain browsers. This was big news at the time to web designers who were struggling to work around certain bad behaviours from those browsers. The browser in question was Internet Explorer for Mac, and here is the page detailing the discovery. It has been dubbed ‘The Premonition Hack’

Lyrics: Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts For Soldiers

40s-sewing-business
Note: This song has verses, which are not very funny and I have not included them below (you can find them here). Instead there are 2 new versions of the chorus to cover the Navy and Airforce. The new verses are much more difficult than the original, you might need to slow it down! If you sing it in public and video it I would love to see the results.

Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers

Original Chorus, R. P. Weston
Sister Susie’s sewing shirts for soldiers
Such skill at sewing shirts
Our shy young sister Susie shows!
Some soldiers send epistles,
Say they’d sooner sleep in thistles
Than the saucy, soft, short shirts for soldiers sister Susie sews.

Additional Choruses, G. Sheridan
Cecily sits shelling shrimps for sailors
At sedentary shrimp-shelling sweet Cecily excels
Some sailors send dispatches citing shoddy shrimp she catches
For the salty, sour, shrivelled shrimp sweet Cecily unshells

Pippa puts pink piping on for pilots
Pip pins pink piping parts on purple Polish pilot’s pants
But prissy Polish pilots hide the pretty pink in public
And prefer pale purple pantaloons to Pippa’s pink-piped pants

Steady on, Chaps! Sunday Afternoon, March 2nd 2014

Swing music and social dance opportunity.

Luna Lounge, Leytonstone, (map)
Sunday March 2nd 2014, 4pm-6pm

 

steadyon

Steady on, Chaps!” play live swing music on Sunday 2nd March from 4-6 at the Luna Lounge (next to Leytonstone tube). Hot-Club style rhythm section with trumpet and vocals. It isn’t an organised social dance but there is a wooden floor and some space to dance. Free entry.

Expect classics like: Ain’t Misbehavin’, Hello Dolly, Sunny Side of the Street, All of Me, I can’t give you anything but love, and other dixie and standard jazz tunes. We will do our best to play any requests for swing/dixie/jazz material.

Responsive web design and all that jazz

You might have heard of ‘responsive web design’, one of the biggest changes to happen in web design since the demise of Flash. It’s all about getting your content to appear appropriately regardless of the device it is being looked at with. On a phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, portrait or landscape – it should adapt to all these possible viewing devices.
We’ve been building all our recent sites with this new technology and cemented our skills in this new paradigm. The exciting thing about web design is that it never stands still! One of our latest successes is the new responsive web site for alternative jazz chantress Irene Serra.

irene
Irene Serra is a singer with roots in jazz and projects embracing cross-over pop and electronica.
We’ve given the site a dark and sultry look and spiced it up with the very latest web technology.
We’ve implemented a jquery animation, which will work on all modern devices, leaving behind the flash plug-in content of old.
A showcase responsive site, this site combines content from twitter, soundcloud and youtube, and presents it so it is viewable on all devices. The site adapts depending on the device viewing it, so it should look as good on a Tesco’s tablet (the beautifully named ‘hudl’), or last year’s Samsung, as it will on whatever Apple release next year.

Developing a new identity and responsive website

storey2

Identity and Responsive Web Design for Storey Communications

Storey Communications is a new communications training organisation launched by the veteran ‘comms’ expert, Campbell Storey. We developed a new identity for the brand, and designed a responsive website which adapts itself to work across desktop, tablet and mobile spaces.

The identity process

We conducted a thorough briefing with Storey’s, helping us to gain an understanding of the direction of the company and helping them clarify how they wanted it to be represented. We discussed:

  • Products and services
  • Historical background and state of the market
  • Strengths and achievements
  • Competitive positioning
  • Goals for the campaign
  • Target audiences and their demographics
  • Clarifying the message
  • …and more.

After this thoroughgoing analysis, we researched graphic design ideas to get an idea of how Storey’s felt their organisation should be represented visually. We created bespoke mood boards like the one below as a springboard to discuss our various design ideas and, through these discussions, get a real handle on the sort of things that would work for Storey Communications.
logo-moods
Then we came up with some logo design concepts:
our-logos
The logo on the right was the chosen and after some very minor tweaks, we had the new logo for Storey’s:
storey-logo-sm

Lambeth Palace Guidebook

Premonition have recently finished the Guidebook for Lambeth Palace. The design of the brochure is understated but classic with a hint of age in the dark sepia text and cream paper. Premonition took a lot of the photos as well and it was a real joy to be let loose in such a historic and beautiful building with my DSLR. We also worked (co-)art directing the shoot with Prudence Cuming Associates who brought in the big guns with their Phase One large format camera and took pictures with astonishing detail. All the pages here feature pictures by Geoff from Premonition Design. Because we were working closely with the Archbishop’s office, we were invited to his Christmas reception, and we met the man himself. He does seem extraordinarily nice for someone in high office and Geoff’s opinion of him was further bolstered when he read in the Big Issue that, before he was a Bishop, Rowan Williams was arrested for singing Psalms at a CND demo outside RAF Lakenheath. Respect.