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Langstone and Chichester Harbours Seal Survey

Help please! This survey is being conducted by the University of Portsmouth as a part of a Marine Biology undergraduate project about seals, their threats, conservation, and the public’s attitudes towards them in the Solent. The project is being run by Isabelle Barnsley, BSc Marine Biology student at the University of Portsmouth and she is hoping to include local club members and local berth holders in her research into the interaction between the resident seal population and leisure use of the Harbours.

If you would like to take part, please follow this link: Seal Survey

If you have any questions of comments you can contact Isabelle on the email address in the flyer below.

SMAC Bait Supplies

We have our own in-house supplier of frozen squid at a very competitve price! SMAC member Peter Atkinson runs the wet and smoked fish retailer Anyfish based in Bishop’s Waltham, and also charters his boat Dotty which is based in Southsea Marina.  Pete is supplying 5lb boxes to members at only £18 (but check prices as these can change). These can be collected from his shop or by arrangement Pete can deliver to the marina. For enquiries and orders contact Pete by email or phone 07860 920007

Other baits in smaller quantities can still be bought from the Premier Marinas office at Southsea Marina.

Tracking Sharks and Rays

On 2nd October we were treated to an excellent workshop presentation by Dr Peter Davies from the University of Plymouth, hosted by ECA. The purpose of the tagging project is to gather data on fish behaviour and movement in our local waters. Species included in the project are bream, tope, smoothhound and undulate rays, although data is also being gathered from other species such as bass and shad that have tagged by neighbouring projects and wandered into our patch.

Earlier tagging exercises relied on visible tags being recovered and this only showed where a fish’s journey started and ended. Advances in technology have now made it possible to gather much more information and at a more granular level. It even shows individual fish movements during a 24-hour cycle as well as much longer journeys such as to the Netherlands and the Channel Islands.

Fish are first caught by line and a transmitter is surgically embedded in their bodies. A visible tag is added so that if a fish is caught later on it can be released, or at least the transmitter can be recovered. The transmitter has a battery life of 10 years. The fish movement data is recorded by a network of devices laid on the seabed in key areas which are periodically raised to collect the data files for analysis.

The project is already gathering valuable information which can be used to make fact-based decisions on how to best protect fish stocks. This is surely better than the near guesswork which seems to have driven some of the decisions made previously.  The data will give a better understanding of the use of breeding locations, how long fish stay in specific areas, how far to they range and how well they survive catch and release handling.

As part of this programme to communicate with local angling groups, Peter explained how to spot a tagged fish and what to do with it. Basically, this to keep a record of the tag details and then quickly put it back in the sea because it has a rather special mission. There is a copy of the information leaflet below for sharks and rays. Tagged bream are more difficult to spot because they have a small yellow stamp on their dorsal fin (pictured).

The workshop concluded with an extensive Q&A session which demonstrated the keen interest in this project. However one question which had been on everyone’s mind was finally raised. Where did Peter get that brilliant t-shirt? We all wanted one.

Program Partners include the Professional Boatman’s Association with our own Stuart Newall (Harvest Moon); Natural England; Angling Trust and Southern IFCA.

For further information or to report tagged fish, please contact


SMAC Open Species Competition 2023

We have had to postpone the Open Species Competion to 27th August due to the weather forecast.

Southsea Marina Angling Club hosts the return of the ever-popular 2023 Open Species Competition. The rules are simple: catch as many different fish species as you can! There are species scores which will be applied in the event of a tie. First prize is 60% of the entry pool. Second prize 20% of the entry pool. There will be a full prize table for runners-up, plus a Ladies bonus and a Junior bonus. Entry fee is £10 per angler, sign in and pay cash at Southsea Marina or if you wish to book on-line and avoid having to start from the marina there is an on-line booking portal (ticket fee applies). Fishing 8am to 4pm, all claims must be registered in person at the marina by 5pm. Prize-giving will be held in the Marina Bar (or outside) at 5:30 to 6pm.

Competitors will be issued with a unique number on the day which must be included in a time-stamped photograph clearly showing the fish and any distinguishing identification features. Winning claims may have their photograhs inspected for verification. This is a catch-and-release event, although if competitors wish to retain fish within the Southern IFCA rules they are free to do so.

SMAC Open Bream Competition 2023

The annual SMAC Open Bream Competition will be held at Southsea Marina on Sunday 7th May 2023.

Entry £10 per angler. Sign in at the marina office, or pay online (booking fee applies)  before 8am on the day of the competition.

Fishing from 8am to 6pm.

Last weigh-in at the Marina by 6:30pm.

Presentations in the Marina Bar from 7pm.

Prizes awarded for the single heaviest bream caught.

First prize: Cash of 60% of entry pool plus entry to the Sea Angling Classic (worth £250)

Second Prize: Cash of 30% of entry pool

Plus many runner-up prizes. Bonus prizes for best placed Lady and best placed Junior (under 16 years old)


Maximum two rods per angler.

Maximum three hooks in total.

Fish must be weighed at the SMAC scales at Southsea Marina.

Only bream larger than the MLS of 23cm may be entered.

Bass Closed Seasons 2023 – 2024

All bass caught during the months of  February 2023 and March 2023 must be returned unharmed to the sea. No bass may be landed either by recreational fishermen until the next Open Season starting 1st April.  According to  the Fisheries Consultations Between the United Kingdom and European Union for 2023, by December 2023 there will be an agreement to limit the Catch and Release season to two months, February and March 2024 . This brings the rules for Recreational Anglers in line with the rules for Commercial Bass.

More information is on the Angling Trust website.


Still questions surrounding the sinking of “Flag Theofano”

By now, a lot of people will be much more aware of the story of the sinking of the Flag Theofano on 29th January, 1990 in the approaches to the Eastern Solent. Much of this awareness is due to the publication in 2022 of the book “The Forgotten Shipwreck” by commercial diver Martin Woodward MBE, and the campaigning that he and Steve Hunt undertook to raise public awareness of the tragedy.

Having read the book, the Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB) Summary Report and other contemporary reports, I believe there are a number of questions that remain mysteriously unanswered. A total of 19 men lost their lives that night, the largest peacetime loss of life in the Solent waters in recent history. Only five bodies were recovered, and the body of Ibrahim Hussein who was buried in Portsmouth was finally  given a memorial headstone in 2022 thanks to the campaigning by Steve Hunt and funding from Southampton Ship Owners Association. The remaining 14 bodies are almost certainly still in the wreck, which is intact and only 3.8 miles from shore.

Piecing together the various sources of information, it is almost certain that there were multiple factors that caused the wreck rather than any single cause. The most significant factor was the shift in the dry powder cargo which caused the sudden capsize, but a shift doesn’t happen spontaneously. Something has to cause the cargo to shift.

Let’s wind back a bit. This vessel had already made 18 round trips to Southampton since refitting as a bulk cement carrier, but the captain had recently been replaced so the new captain, Ioannis Pittas was relatively inexperienced with the route in past the Nab Tower.

That night, after arriving at the Nab Tower, they were instructed by Southampton VTS to anchor in St. Helen’s Roads for the night. An experienced captain would have known it was safe to take a short cut from the Nab to St. Helen’s Roads directly across New Grounds. Instead, Captain Pittas followed the buoyed shipping channel as far as Dean Tail. This would have been fine, except for what happened next.

According to Martin Woodward who dived the wreck immediately after the sinking and surveyed the wreck and surrounding seabed extensively, he is in no doubt that the vessel overshot the turn to port at Dean Tail and temporarily snagged the buoy under the rudder. This was enough to slow and heel the vessel, triggering the cargo shift and sudden capsize. The full details supporting this assessment are very well explained and illustrated in the book, with supporting evidence.

This could be left as a tragic accident if it wasn’t for some significant, unanswered questions which remain. If anyone wants to come forward and provide explanations, I will willingly publish them so the full story can be told at last.

  1. The New Grounds buoy was reported to be out of position by 350 metres to the north. If Captain Pittas was using this buoy to confirm his own position, it would have put him further north than was safe and in a collision course with the Dean Tail buoy. Why were there no navigational warnings issued by KHM Portsmouth if the buoy had been reported out of position?
  2. The Dean Tail buoy was reported as unlit on the night of the accident. Again, why was there no “Notice To Mariners” issued?
  3. Flag Theofano was called three times during the night by Southampton VTS with no reply, yet no further action was taken. Why didn’t that cause concern? The Bembridge Lifeboat was in the area and could have been asked to check.
  4. Evidence from the wreck of a waterline collision with a metal object, the seabed scour from the six ton buoy sinker and the report from THV Patricia indicates that the Dean Tail buoy was badly collision damaged and had been dragged by a considerable force. This is denied by the MAIB Report, yet the buoy was removed and replaced as soon as the weather eased after the fateful storm. If it wasn’t damaged, why was it removed so quickly? And as it was a vital piece of evidence for the MAIB enquiry, why did it disappear?
  5. Only five bodies were recovered out of the 19 crew. We can only assume most if not all of the remaining 14 are inside the wreck. No permission was given to recover these bodies even though divers could access some of the accommodation areas. The recovery operation concentrated on removing the cement, and 60 tonnes were extracted. If it was possible and affordable to recover 60 tonnes of cement, why were 14 bodies left in the same wreck?

Having read the available reports and spoken to individuals involved at the time, I am now in no doubt that the most likely cause of the sinking was a combination of:

  • the route taken by an inexperienced captain;
  • the buoys being unlit or out of position causing the ship to take the wrong course;
  • leading to a collision and entanglement with the Dean Tail buoy;
  • which turned the vessel broadside to the waves;
  • which resulted in the ship heeling badly;
  • causing a cargo shift and capsize.

Although this might be seen as a “perfect storm” of unfortunate events, the main question in my mind is around the apparent cover-up of the collision with the Dean Tail buoy. Why was that? What was there to hide?

In addition, I think the callous disregard for the bodies and the families involved is inexcusable. Contemporary press clippings indicate that the bodies are “encased in concrete”, but the crew accommodation is in a different part of the boat from the cargo hold area containing the solidified cement. This makes me wonder who was giving this false information to the press? The ship has now rolled almost upside down and the crew section may be crushed, but that isn’t what we were told. If there was a tragedy of this scale on land, would the authorities have left 14 bodies under a collapsed tower block in Portsmouth, and bulldozed over them? There would have been an outrage. Surely it is still possible for the remains to be recovered, or at least an attempt be made. At a minimum, I think the MAIB should review their report which given the severity of the tragedy is superficial to say the least.

These are my own conclusions, and I welcome any further information if it helps with the explanation of the events surrounding this tragedy.

Neville Merritt
December 2022

A Visit From Thor the Walrus

It’s not every day you see large marine mammals, and a walrus is an extremely unusual visitor. Apparently this young male has been exploring the UK South Coast and the French coast, and on Sunday 11th December he decided to stop for a nap at Calshot. Social media spread the word faster than any news bulletin. Here is an extract from one of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight News channel report videos.

Staying safe at sea

Last month, one of our club members had a scary experience at sea: battery failure and a cascade of related problems which meant he was stranded alone, with dusk approaching. Chatting about this at the SMAC meeting later, we agreed that we had all had scary learning experiences over the years (heading picture: me being towed, 2008!) and decided that it would be worth an article to help people avoid getting into trouble. With colder weather, shorter days and fewer people out on the water in the winter season, this is even more important.

Every boat is different and we all have different levels of experience so I’m not going to give a list of safety equipment. Instead, I’m going to put down some key “What-If” questions that will help you create your own list of actions and equipment that will help you stay out or get out of trouble.

Taking a lesson from the Disaster Planning guys, there’s no point creating detailed scenarios to plan for because sure as eggs something will happen that isn’t on the plan. Instead, they plan for what they call “denial of service” which means regardless of the cause, how would you deal with the situation.

Modern engines are complex beasts and a breakdown at sea often isn’t something that can easily be fixed. However many problems aren’t caused by actual breakdown. The more common problems are failing to start due to battery problems; propellers snagging ropes and gear and relatively minor problems becoming a far worse situation because of an inability to summon help. Let’s deal with those in this article.

Before you set off

Before we get to the scenario planning, there are two vital safety considerations for anyone taking a boat to sea. Firstly, make sure your engine and main equipment is properly serviced by a professional to make sure it is in the best possible condition. It’s tempting to save a few pounds by doing your own servicing but a good marine engineer will spot potential problems long before they happen and that comes from years of experience, something most of us don’t have. The second is to do basic checks before starting the engine, similar to pre-flights checks that pilots carry out before taking off. These only take a few minutes but can prevent problems developing at sea. The basic checks on an inboard-powered boat that I would always carry out are as follows:

  1. Battery voltage: see the chart below. This needs to be measured at rest, before you start charging or putting load on the battery. Exact numbers will vary by type and make of battery and temperature, but this is a good guide. You need an accurate voltmeter for this, because you will see that a half-discharged battery still reads 12 volts!

  2. Do a visual check on the engine and engine bay, to look for oil or water leakages. Recirculating coolant water is usually pink and so is power steering fluid so any pink in the bilge means trouble.
  3. Check belts for tension and wear. If they break or slip off you will lose battery charging, power steering and the cooling water pump. Make sure they are in good condition and tensioned up to specification. A rough check is not bar-tight and not flexing more than about a centimetre in either direction.
  4. Check recirculating cooling water level by a visual check under the water cap.
  5. Check oil levels in gearbox, sump and power steering if practical.
  6. Check that the fuel guage shows sufficient for your planned trip. Keep a log of journeys so you know roughly how much fuel is likely to have been used since the last fill-up. Fuel gauges and senders have been known to get it wrong!
  7. Check the operation of your fixed VHF radio, hand-held back-up radio and navigation equipment particularly plotter and lights.
  8. Plug your mobile phone into a charging port to make sure you have a functioning phone as a means of calling for help and basic navigation if needed.

If all is OK, start the engine and let it run and warm up for several minutes before you set off. Do another visual check of the engine bay and look for anything amiss such as the presence of steam, water or oil from the engine. Check gauges for normal operation – oil pressure, oil and water temperature and battery charging. If anything is abnormal, don’t leave the berth.

If you ever go to your boat and find the batteries are discharged, don’t be tempted to jump-start and go anyway, assuming the alternator will charge the batteries while you are travelling. The discharged battery may be the result of leaving a load on by mistake, such as a light or instrument. But it could also be the result of a failed battery or an alternator problem coming back from a previous trip. You could end up far from home, with a battery that didn’t top up on the journey.

Most people will have multiple batteries so the starter battery isn’t compromised by load on the other (domestic) systems. Traditionally you would have had a starter battery for the engine with high cold cranking amperage (CCA) and a deep cycle battery for the domestic system which is intended to be charged and discharged over time. I recommend fitting dual-purpose batteries for both starter and domestic batteries which have enough grunt (CCA) to start an engine and can also stand up to a long slow deep discharge. This means you can use your emergency crossover switch to jump start your starter battery from the domestic battery. Don’t be tempted to leave the switch open, because if you do the “bad” battery will draw down from the “good” battery and you will end up with two flat batteries not one.

When you leave the berth, keep regularly glancing at lights and gauges and listen for warning buzzers. It’s easy to be distracted by the anticipation of fishing or chatting with mates and not notice warning lights, readings and noises.

What could possibly go wrong?

This isn’t just a humorous caption, it is also a valid question that we need to run through our minds so that we aren’t caught unprepared. We can’t plan for everything of course, and the advice above will prevent a lot of engine problems from happening at sea. However, the two common causes of call-outs, battery problems and rope tangles can be anticipated and planned for. In addition, we also need to plan for these and other situations that escalate to needing to call for outside help.

Flat Battery.

In other words, you turn the starter key and there are unhappy noises from the starter, or perhaps nothing at all. There are in fact two possible causes for this: you may indeed have a flat starter battery, in which case the emergency crossover switch will help you out. I always carry a heavy duty jump starter pack in my bag which has enough power to start a big diesel engine and also has a USB power outlet to charge a phone, so if you had a fault that managed to drain both batteries you still have a third option. The other possible cause is a poor connection somewhere along the high amperage circuit (the thick cables). This creates enough resistance to give a very good impression of a flat battery, and if the battery voltage is looking good it’s worth checking the connections at the battery, switch and starter motor to make sure there isn’t corrosion on the contacts or damage to the wire next to the terminal. A quick loosen, rub with abrasive and a re-tighten will get you back in business if this is the problem.

Rope tangle.

In our crowded waters, there’s a lot of floating boat and fishing debris which can potentially jam propellors and steering gear. Sometimes they can be just below the surface such as pot ropes in a strong tide. Always treat floating objects, however small, as potential tangles so steer round them rather than over them. Unfortunately, we don’t spot them all and sometimes they are self-inflicted when our own mooring lines or anchor rope gets in the way of a propeller. On an outboard or outdrive -powered boat it is usually possible to reach the propeller somehow but the rope may be very tightly wound and will have to be cut free. You will need a suitable knife and a harness to prevent you from going over the side when you reach for the prop. That would make a bad day a lot worse.

Another tip is to carry a long-handled rope cutter. My boathook is one of those models that has an exchangeable end, so you can swap a hook, brush, net etc. I bought the cheapest end you could buy (a hook I think), discarded the hook and bolted the blade of a serrated stainless steel kitchen knife to the interchangeable part. This means that in an emergency I can remove the hook from the boathook, plug in the knife and attack the rope tangle from a safe distance.

On an inboard boat the propeller is often well out of reach under the stern and the only chance of resolving the problem is to get in the water and dive under. Only ever consider doing this if you are a good swimmer, fit, in calm water and have someone else on board. Otherwise, call for help.

Calling for help

Once you have decided that help is needed, firstly assess if you are in a safe place. If you are likely to drift into danger, put the anchor down if that is the safer option. Make a note of your Lat Long position from your chartplotter so you can direct people to your aid. You now have a number of alternatives, depending on the situation.

  1. If a simple tow is needed, you can radio, phone or WhatsApp club members and if someone is nearby they will come to help.
  2. If you have a larger boat or you are unable to summon local help, then call Sea Start. Membership is highly recommended, and they operate like the AA for the sea within their defined area of contract. A phone call is a better option for them than VHF because you can guarantee a response.
  3. If neither of those options are viable then call the Coastguard who will then alert the appropriate rescue service. This could be the RNLI, GAFIRS or other private rescue services that operate out of Langstone and Chichester. Use VHF if possible so they can pinpoint the location of the message broadcast. If your VHF isn’t functioning then use your phone to call 999, asking for Coastguard.

If you are in a shipping lane, alert the Coastguard to your situation so they can warn shipping of your presence and you can also tell them if you are waiting for a tow or Sea Start.  Keep them informed of progress and keep monitoring Channel 16 in case someone is trying to contact you. If daylight is fading, switch on your single white anchor light. If you have a radar reflector, deploy that too.

Being stuck at sea is a scary experience but with sufficient planning it will feel much less dramatic. The human brain has a part called the amygdala which is triggered by extreme circumstances and leads to the thinking part of your brain being temporarily disabled, causing you to forget obvious things or make illogical decisions. If you have a series of back-up plans there is less likelihood that you will panic and your amygdala will continue to mind its own business.

Final thoughts

In summary, here are the key things to fit, take and do to keep safe at sea.

  • Look after your boat
  • Do your pre-trip checks on the batteries and engine, every trip
  • Don’t take chances with batteries, fuel or warning indicators
  • Have a dual battery system installed
  • Have a hand-held VHF as a back-up, and keep it charged
  • Take a battery jump pack with you
  • Fit a 12v USB power port in the boat and use it to keep your phone charged (remember the charging cable!)
  • Have a strong, serrated rope-cutting knife on board
  • Have a torch on board, with spare batteries

Stay safe, and have fun. A few years ago the RNLI made a DVD called “Serious Fun” with a section for each aspect of recreational boating. It contains some useful tips and advice from the RNLI. If you can get hold of a copy, you might recognise someone in the Boat Angling chapter!

Neville Merritt


Historic Ships

I know this is meant to be an angling website, but you can’t be on a boat in the Solent area without sooner or later seeing an unusual vessel with historical connections. We often see square rigged sailing vessels, preserved MTBs and air-sea rescue launches and this year we also saw the Waverley. The picture above was taken as she passed me while I was fishing the autumn cod marks off Gilkicker. This is the last operational paddle steamer in the world, and sho goes on a national tour every year providing trips and hosting corporate events. If you want to find out more about any of the historic vessels you see, check out the National Historic Ships database. Even small privately owned vessels are listed, and some of the stories behind the boats are fascinating. More details on the Waverley are here

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