A Conversation Between a French F111 Fighter Jet Pilot, a Kiwi Yacht Skipper and Everything in Between.

In the early 1990’s I travelled from my then home in Germany to Gibraltar to help an old friend out with a computer installation he was working on.
A co-worker said to me “Greg tells me you’re a sailor. There’s lots of delivery work available here if you want some work delivering yachts around the Mediterranean or across the Atlantic to the Caribbean! “
My ears pricked up instantly, my life was about to take off in a whole new direction !

The mere thought of someone paying me to do something I was passionate about was truly exciting.

Pete’ asked me what ‘tickets’ I had, because for insurance purposes in Europe you had to have a recognised captains qualification to head to sea commercially.
I joked in reply “I have a bus ticket from Malaga and a train ticket from Madrid”. We gelled instantly !
He was both a computer programmer and a yachting instructor at the Royal Yacht Association affiliated Gibraltar Sailing School and he had a new student ! The irony of your resident Irish Republican completing a ‘Royal Yacht Association’ qualification triggered much mirth!
For me to get my skippers ticket I had to pass written, oral and practical tests.
We went out for a sail together for him to assess what level of expertise I had and he quickly saw that I had reasonable sailing skills and knowledge and he laid out what my training forward from that point would look like.
Over three weeks I sat various oral and written tests on navigation, the ‘Rules of the Road’, yes it was called that, salvage law and practical training on the water !

In ‘open water’ i.e. uncontrolled parts of the ocean or in this case the Mediterranean sea, yachts under sail have ‘Right of Way’ meaning powered vessels must ‘Give Way’ to sail but in controlled space because large vessels are “Restricted in their Ability to Manoeuvre” sail gives way to power. An unofficial rule of thumb is also “Give Way To Anything Bigger Than You” for obvious reasons.
Crossing the Straits of Gibraltar in a Keeler, with a maximum hull speed of seven knots, having to ‘give way’ to freighters doing upwards of 30 knots is akin to a rabbit crossing a multi lane freeway packed with traffic. The Straits of Gibraltar are an incredible ‘choke point’, It’s an interesting challenge and why it’s so geopolitically and strategically important. Very much like the Straits of Hormuz !

Central to my qualification was having the ability to train others in the art of sailing.
We did a day sail from Gibraltar across the Straits of Gibraltar to a marina in Morocco, it was about 20miles each way. I was the designated skipper and I had 5 students I had to instruct, whilst the instructor sat mute judging my ability to impart knowledge, create a team and formulate a strategy for crossing the shipping lanes.
Before entering the controlled ‘Shipping lanes’ I put the crew through a series of “Man Overboard Drills” where you throw a buoy overboard and do a series of manoeuvres to simulate recovering someone from the ocean. I designated the most competent student to the official position of “Mate of Watch”. That person takes responsibility for the vessel when the captain is not on duty or not in the cockpit.
In a quiet moment Pete said ” How did you think the students responded to the MOB drill ? ”
I was happy with them overall and said so and he replied “This is what I want to do, change the lesson from a drill to a real live M.O.B. I’ll cause a distraction on the bow and when no one is looking I want you to slip off the stern, don’t call out and we’ll see how long it is before your missed and if they can recover you. If it all turns to shit I’ll take over and recover you.”
Anyone who knows me will know that I literally jumped at that idea and typically, I was soon in the water!
Not long after, the crew noticed I was missing, one of them spotted me and yelled “Man Overboard” as was her training, whilst pointing at me . The designated “Mate of Watch” took control of the yacht, went about and I was ‘rescued’. The students passing that test meant I was passing the test.
We regrouped, set our sails for the 15 mile sail across the Straits, checked the radar to plot a course through the lines of ships going in both directions and after dodging the ‘traffic’ we entered a new and deserted marina on the Moroccan coast and did drills where we sailed onto a finger berth without using the motor for propulsion or breaking, it’s quite the trick ‘Backing a head sail’ to use it as a break!
No where in the world are marina’s happy with sailing vessels only using wind to manoeuvre within the marina, the new but empty marina gave us that opportunity.

As we left the marina under power, the engine groaned and stopped, something had ‘fowled’ the prop and stalled the engine.
I jumped overboard, again!!! and dived down to the prop to ascertain wtf was going on!
There was an old discarded fishing net wrapped around the prop and jammed against the hull which had stalled the motor !
I resurfaced, asked for a knife and dived down another 1/2 a dozen times cutting and yanking at the net until it came off. The nylon netting had effectively welded itself to the shaft and hull due to the heat generated before the engine stalled.
In the process of untangling the net I dislocated my little finger and had to relocate it whilst ‘doggy paddling’ in the water holding the knife and the remnants of the net.
It hurt!!!!!!!
Shortly thereafter, yet again, the Kiwi rabbit and his novice crew re-crossed the Straits of Gibraltar, this time it was ‘uneventful’, dislocated throbbing finger not withstanding !!!

Part of the training course included night sailing where we sailed up the Spanish coast using land marks, beacons and light houses for navigation purposes, all the while plotting our position on paper charts. All this happened pre-GPS !
My partner Ulli was on the boat that night and as we were sailing parallel to the coast Ulli spoke up authoritatively and announced “There’s a vessel over there moving at pace with no lights on” !!
What Ulli had noticed, that no one else had noticed, including myself and the instructor, was that the lights we could see on the coast were ‘going out’ then coming on again, it could only be a vessel between us and the land. It was a spectacular observation.
I grabbed the yachts most powerful torch, shined it in the direction of the vessel which was completely unlit, without even navigation lights on and next minute the vessel lit up like a Christmas tree with the biggest spot light I had ever seen trained on us and we got to meet the Spanish Guardia Civil !

Because of it’s proximity to Africa, the Spanish coast is a hotbed of smuggling. People, drugs and cigarettes the main contraband.
The Spanish naval vessel came alongside us and we ‘rafted up’ whilst soldiers trained automatic weapons on us as an armed boarding party came aboard, they were initially nervous and jumpy as they searched our vessel. The instructor and the sailing school were known to them so it was all very civil once they recognised him and they stopped training their guns on us, it was very ‘Civil’ of them!

Shortly after all that drama, I was awarded my captains ticket which allowed me to take on paid work, first just shuffling yachts between marinas on the Spanish coast and Gibraltar and back and then the Biggy!

Pete invited me over to the office and as I sat down he dropped a set of keys with a small float attached and a credit card onto the desk and pointing out the window to a magnificent yacht and said “I need that yacht in Athens, last week !!! I jokingly replied “Which ways Greece ?” and he replied, eyes rolling! “Head East young man, you’ll be fine”.

I had now been hired to deliver a 49 ft Halberg Russy ketch from Gibraltar to Greece, about 1200 sea miles with a few diversions en-route. The yacht had what in Aotearoa NZ we would call a beer fridge but it was stocked exclusively with Bollinger Champagne. I was told “Make sure that the fridge is full when the owner boards with his wife in Greece.” I replied “Don’t worry, I won’t drink them”. The reply was “Oh no, help yourself, just use the ships credit card for any food, fuel, booze or any repairs you need en-route”, just keep the receipts.
This was my first introduction to the world of the uber-wealthy’s hired help.

Myself and one other crewman set sail from Gib’ heading East across the coast of Africa and when we were offshore from Libya I heard a massive ‘explosion’ as a fighter jet broke the sound barrier directly over the boat. I received a VHF ‘call’ from the French Fighter Jet Pilot , as you do!!
Whilst he spoke to me the jet circled my yacht with one wing pointed at the sky and the other at the ocean!
From the pilot in eloquent English ; “Hailing the white ketch, This is Lieutenant …. from the French Airforce division of the NATO sanctions patrol on Libya, do you copy, over. “
I responded, how could I not! “Copy that NATO sanctions patrol. How can I assist you, over?”
Pilot; “I need to know your vessels name and call sign, where your next destination is, what port did you commence this voyage from. How many passengers and crew are on board and what freight you are carrying, over”.
I replied “I’m a fucking yacht, I’m not carrying any freight, the yacht is the fucking freight, over”. Bare with me, this guy arrived in an explosion at sea, I was a little rattled, I admit that.
Pilot replies ” Copy that Sir, I need definitive answers to the questions. You’re in NATO controlled water and airspace, my job is to get answers to my satisfaction or I will instruct a Navy vessel to come alongside and a boarding party will get the answers we require.”
Not wanting to be ‘boarded’ again by people pointing assault rifles at me, I changed tack, pardon the pun.
I lightened up, answered all his questions and the conversation became very civil (I had been the uncivil one) as we casually chatted, he circled my position at an unknown speed guzzling tonnes of fossil fuels!!
When he received all the info he needed he politely signed off and stood the F111 Mirage fighter on it’s end, fired his after burners and took off vertically into the sky.
As I watched him disappearing into the ether I pondered the fact that he was probably a similar age to me, 30, incredible that young men can be flying around in these killing machines with their hands on the trigger!
Not long after our encounter with NATO another yacht sailing in the opposite direction hailed me on the VHF and asked “Hailing the white ketch, do you know where we are, over”?
We had a Lorcan navigation device that gave us Latitude and Longitude which we used to plot on our charts. Taking a compass baring on the other yacht and using our radar to determine how far away they were, we were able to give them a near perfect reference point for their navigation. Lorcan was the predecessor to the Global Positioning System.
We carried on to Greece, now drinking Bollinger!
Not long after that expedition, I flew to the Canary Islands to participate in the Arc regatta to Saint Lucia in the Caribbean on board a magnificent 75ft mini-super yacht. I spent 3 days on board learning the ship’s systems and then woke up to a fax from the owner to the skipper telling him that the trip had been cancelled and to pay off the crew and fly us home.
I was paid in full, flown back to Germany at the clients expense and never untied the ship from the marina!
The irony of being paid for my first offshore passage, that never happened, wasn’t lost on me!

It was the beginning of two decades of being paid to do what I loved culminating in me completing 16 ocean passages on small yachts ( 37 to 75ft) all in the Pacific, over half as skipper. The 1200 mile sail to Greece doesn’t count as a “Offshore Passage” because the Mediterranean is classed as a Non-Tidal Sea.
I did sail down the coast of Africa on coastal traders and a freighter. I’ve written about that adventure here; Adventures in Africa- Brushes with Death- A Love Story

I’ve previously written in this space the role that militarism is playing in the unfolding climate and extinction crisis. All actions have consequences; Militarism’s Role in the Sixth and Possibly Last ‘Great’ Extinction.
Naturally this latest war in Europe will accentuate our predicament. The GPS system of navigation could literally be turned off in a flash leaving modern days sailors ‘Lost at sea’! This is why all good sailors still plot their position regularly on the paper charts, you’re only one lightning strike or war or EMP away from being ‘Lost at Sea’.
I’ve also previously hypothesised how a nuclear war or exchange is the only way to cool the planet at scale. I’m naturally not advocating for it but our psychopathic owners in the military industrial complex are highly likely to take the “Sampson Option“.
If a nuclear weapon is used anywhere, consider that emergency cooling is the real reason for it’s use.
The Inevitability of Nuclear War and Subsequent Nuclear Winter

File photo of a HR 49
I’ve added these video to show how noisy these aircraft are and how much energy they consume !

I'm an anti-imperialist, environmental activist and blue ocean sailor, who is passionate about the earth and all it's inhabitants without favour. Brace for imminent impact as we bare witness to the non-linear unraveling of the biosphere and habitability disappearing for most if not all complex life on the only habitable planet we know of. To quote President Niinistö in North Russia: ‘If We Lose the Arctic, We Lose the World’. Folks we have lost the Arctic.

Posted in Ocean Sailing, Oceans, Shark Attack, Uncategorized
5 comments on “A Conversation Between a French F111 Fighter Jet Pilot, a Kiwi Yacht Skipper and Everything in Between.
  1. Trish Kaiser says:

    Yes!!!! You are sharing more of your incredible story. Gratitude abundant, Captain. Keep the chapters coming.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Diane Binder says:

    Some people get to live adventurous lives an others only dream of it. Count yourself blessed an love deeply.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. sealintheselkirks says:

    I’m much rather look at that sailing vessel photo than listen to the madness of death machine noise. I have never attended an ‘air’ show even as a kid growing up on a San Diego beach. Bad enough that take-off path from the downtown airport went right over Pt. Loma/OB and Mission Beach. You’d have to stop talking on the phone until they went by.

    But having a Peace & Freedom Party activist and US citizen of Japanese ancestry US concentration Camp survivor for a stepmom might have had a little to do with that attitude I had at the time…and still do.

    Kevin, we both sure do have a bunch of stories, don’t we? Old farts that we are…


    Liked by 2 people

    • sealintheselkirks says:

      Had a couple of fighters fly by yesterday pretty dang low for this area. Was unusual enough to get me looking up… Don’t know what, F15 or whatever but they were moving very very fast to the S/E.

      I really don’t like seeing them. I am not impressed.


      Liked by 1 person

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Kevin Hester

Kevin Hester is currently living on Rakino Island, a small island in the Hauraki Gulf near Auckland, New Zealand, monitoring the unravelling of the biosphere and volunteering at the Rakino Island Nursery is currently developing a proposal to create a marine reserve near by. The Island has no grid tied electricity or reticulated water.  I catch my own water from the roof and generate my electricity from the ample solar radiation on the island.

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