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Some Stormy Seas for Competitive Sailors Using HF Amateur Radio


The sorts of rules regulating the degree of outside assistance allowed in ham radio contesting also apply in other endeavors. An Estonian skipper was recently penalized in the Golden Globe Race (GGR) after seeking “weather routing” — the best route according to wind and weather conditions — via ham radio. Te apparent third-place skipper Uku Randmaa, ES1UKU, escaped disqualification from the round-the-world race, however, getting a 72-hour penalty instead. As of March 4, he had 630 miles to go. He'll serve most of his time penalty after he finishes the race.

A recording of the conversation was provided to race headquarters on February 19. In it, Randmaa asks, “I’m heading 90°. Can I be sure that I can take the wind, if I’m sailing east?” The other station, VP8LP, advises him to move northwest and later tells Randmaa, “The more north you go, the quicker you get out of the wind hole.”

Race rules say, “Entrants are free to speak to media, family, friends, and sponsors by radio at any time during the event, but must not be given any form of weather routing. Competitors may communicate freely (by radio or by hailing) with other competitors, or other mariners on vessels at sea, requesting or giving any verbal information/advice whatsoever, even if this is considered weather routing.”

The approximately 30,000-mile GGR solo circumnavigation starts and ends in Les Sables-d’Olonne, France. It has four rendezvous gates along the way.

“This is a retro race with skippers restricted to using a sextant, paper charts, and wind-up chronometers, just as Sir Robin Knox-Johnston used in the first Sunday Times Golden Globe Race 50 years ago,” Race Chairman Don McIntyre explained to My Sailing magazine. Skippers can only communicate by marine and/or amateur SSB HF radios and on an Amateur Radio net.

Meanwhile, according to a January report, some GGR sailors have been operating on Amateur Radio frequencies using phony call signs and have been asked to stop operating. One of them, second-place skipper Mark Slats — who was reported to have been using PI3MS — said on January 15 he was considering getting out of competitive sailing, citing safety concerns, after being banned from the ham radio net for being unlicensed. The GGR 2018 – 2019 winner, Jean Luc Van Den Heede, who finished on January 29, had been using J6LJV, and that call sign appears under his name on, although authorities in St. Lucia are reported to have said they have no record of his license.

A January 15 announcement on the Golden Globe Race Facebook page said, “GGR requires all entrants to have a licensed marine HF SSB radio… and the entrant to have a Marine Radio Operator’s license only. GGR does monitor all strong weather with winds over 40 knots, and, if appropriate, provides both forecasting and routing information to assist the entrant to sail safely.”



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