No longer will those words be heard on the 20-metre Amateur Radio band. It is with great sadness that I report the death of Bill Hall, or G4FRN as he was known to the Marine radio community, After a head injury and short time in hospital, Bill fell silent on the 15th of February 2015 having been on air virtually daily until his accident.
Operating from a spare room furnished with an impressive array of radio equipment, Bill took over as net controller some 30 years ago. No one is exactly sure when or can remember him taking anything other than a short break. As a point of contact and source of critical information on weather, port entry procedures and news from home, it was greatly valued by cruising sailors from the Red Sea, Mediterranean and all parts of the Atlantic.
My first contact with Bill was in 1987 when sailing south to Gibraltar with my wife Di and daughter Lucy. Although I knew of the net, I had never actually heard it. This was because the frequency on which it operated (14.303MHz) is most effective at distances of more than a 600 hundred miles or so from the transmitter. As a result and contrary to what one might expect from the name, the United kingdom is one place where the net is not easily heard. However as we made our way South, signals became clearer and the daily scheds soon became part of our routine. We discovered many new cruising friends, some of whom we are still in contact with, and tapped into information sources that even today would be difficult match by other means.
Although amateur radio has, on occasions, been successfully used to summon help in an emergency, it is better used in less urgent situations. Take for example the elderly Germans, Joe and Eunice, sailing from Gibraltar to Madeira. The weather was rough and Eunice had fallen and broken some ribs that may have punctured some internal organs. It would be days before they could reach a safe destination during which time Joe would have to look after Eunice and manage the boat. By calling the net Joe was put in touch with a marine medical service in Madrid who advised on treatment for Eunice over the next few days. When they arrived in Funchal, an ambulance was waiting and evacuation at sea and possible loss of their boat was avoided.
Then there was the boat that made an unscheduled stop at a Red Sea port, was boarded by local officials and the crew detained ashore. Fortunately the boarding party arrived at the time of the UK Net and the skipper had the presence of mind to inform Bill of their situation. Their fear was that their boat would be plundered and they would be jailed indefinitely and the world would be ignorant of their fate, however this was not to be. Bill had gone on to notify British authorities of their plight so they could not be ignored. A few days later they were released and reunited with their boat.
It is impossible to say just how many cruising boats and crews have been helped over the years by Bill and the UK Net. Numbers must run into hundred if not thousands. What made this net exceptional was the unflappable professionalism of its operators.
Bill’s gifts were of tact and diplomacy, of knowing what to say and what not to say in a difficult situation. A rare gift and sad loss to the cruising community as well as his family and world-wide friends, to whom all possible sympathy accompanies this sad news.