Level 2 Training Diary – Part 2

After the sea survival course, it was time to head over to Gosport Marina and meet up with our Skipper for the week, Juan Coetzer (Skipper of Geraldton Western Australia in the 11-12 Clipper Race). I would be sailing on CV9 Qingdao with 8 others who had decided, like me, that the end of January would be the perfect time of year to spend a week at sea in the Solent and English Channel. I think most of us had chosen January to do training so that we would have more chance of experiencing sailing in colder, rougher weather; the forecast for the week showed that we weren’t going to be disappointed.

After our gear was stowed in our bunks, it was time to get started on introductions, safety briefings and theory for the week as dinner was being cooked in the galley. The great thing about doing the sea survival course first was that we were already fairly relaxed with each other as a crew, having spent the day towing each other around the pool and huddled in a liferaft, so the jokes were already flying around. After a few hours, it was time to go and continue the crew bonding over a drink in the pub, but not before the skipper had told us that we would be starting at 6am the next morning… so fairly early nights all round then!

The following morning was taken up with safety, engine and deck checks, all of which had to be completed before we could set sail from the marina. Finally, it was time to head out to sea. The wind was being kind to us, so we only needed to put one reef in the mainsail. We spent the afternoon recapping the drills we had learned during our Level 1 training like tacking and gybing before returning to the marina for more theory.

The next morning we awoke bright and early – the boat had to be cleaned down below and rigged up on deck before we were going to have breakfast! Incentive enough to get things moving quickly! The wind had picked up overnight and was blowing 20 knots – it was going to make for a physically challenging day at sea, especially as the plan was to cover all we had learned during our level 1 training in a day.

We had an additional crew member on board, Dobie, who would be our Man Overboard dummy for the week. In Level 1, man overboard drills were carried with a fender; Dobie was going to make searching and recovery of a ‘person’ from the water a bit more realistic and he would be going over the side of the boat. At least one crew member wears a climbing harness whilst we are sailing so that if there is a man overboard, or Dobie overboard, that person can be lowered over the side of the boat to recover the casualty. There are many reasons you have to quickly learn to work as a team and trust each other as a crew – this is one of them.

After a full day of sailing, I was on the helm, helming a 68 foot yacht upwind in waves for the first time. I didn’t get much chance to helm these yachts during my level 1 training, due to my encounter with the ankle breaker, so I was savouring the experience. I also happened to be the person wearing the climbing harness. I think we all thought that we wouldn’t be carrying out a man overboard drill in the conditions we were sailing in – the wind had picked up to 30 knots and it was getting dark.This video was shot around this time.

How wrong were we! We were told afterwards that as these were the sort of conditions when people ususally fall overboard, it was good experience to practise recovering them in the same conditions. At least I had had a bit of notice about the drill, when it was suggested that I pass the harness onto another crew member. It wasn’t worth risking damaging my ankle this early in the week, so I agreed and stayed on the helm, and Dobie was sent over the side.

To say our man overboard (mob) drill left a lot of room for improvement was an understatement. In the fading light, it was difficult to keep track of the person in the water, even though there was a light attached to the dummy and we managed to send the buoy with the flag over the side relatively close to Dobie. We temporarily lost sight of the mob but managed to find the flag and therefore the dummy nearby after about 20 minutes. The person who recovered Dobie was lowered slightly too far into the water, so much so that their lifejacket had automatically inflated. It was a sobering experience, especially with Dobie being so lifelike. It certainly brought home the reality of the situation to us all – being overboard in any sort of weather was not somewhere that we would want to be.

Level 2 Training Diary – Part 1

Level 2 Clipper Race training started bright and early on a Saturday morning with an RYA Sea Survival course. 17 people from all over the world gathered in a college classroom to learn the basics of what to do in the event of an emergency at sea, the ultimate emergency being the loss of the yacht. Although this is not a common occurence, it has happened in a previous race, when the Cork Clipper yacht was holed by a rock near Java in 2010. Whilst we were all hoping that we never have to call on the knowledge gained during this course, if things do go wrong then it is better to have some knowledge of what emergency equipment is available onboard and how to use it than setting out to sea in blissful ignorance. The great thing about the course was that it was tailored for us and the equipment and liferafts that will be on our new Clipper 70’s were used during the course so that we have first hand knowledge of how to use them.

There were a number of sessions in the morning covering the theory of survival at sea, including the principles of survival (“You are only a survivor when you have been rescued and are sitting in a bar drinking a pint of whiskey”), survival equipment such as lifejackets, flares, liferafts and how to use them, first aid and rescue equipment like EPIRBs and SARTs. The instructors running the course were great, managing to pass on the required information to us whilst keeping the mood of the room light. We were all paying close attention to what was being said, as there was a practical element to the course and we would be spending the afternoon in a swimming pool putting the theory into practise!

Picture the scene. Seventeen adults standing on the side of a swimming pool dressed in shorts, t-shirts… and inflated life jackets! We did attract some strange looks from other users of the sports centre – I can’t imagine why. First things first, we had to learn how to enter the water safely (look before you leap), then how to swim in a lifejacket and a few ways of how to tow another person. Of course, most of us had a bit of a competitive streak, so there may have been some swimming / towing races…

And if we hadn’t had enough fun by this point, more was to come. A life raft was brought into the pool and inflated – it was quite an impressive sight to see, if a little out of place. The first task was for half of the group to enter the raft from the side of the pool. These were large, 10 man rafts, but with eight or nine people in them, they already felt extremely crowded. Already the realisation was growing that these were not things you wanted to spend much time in if you could in any way prevent it.

The next task was to swim to the liferafts, clamber in (no easy task) and then run through the procedures that had been drilled into us that morning – cut the (imaginary) painter, stream the drogue, close the doors (after checking that everyone was onboard) and maintain the raft. It was extremely cosy inside, and the heat generated from the 8 of us was incredible. It was a bit like being inside a bouncy castle – if one person moved, everyone else tended to roll towards that person and we were in a liferaft in a swimming pool. The conditions in which you would usually have to take to a liferaft for real would have made spending any time in a raft extremely uncomfortable. To try and give us a ‘taste’ of what it might be like in rougher conditions, the other half of the group were given the task of creating ‘weather’ and waves.

Although we all had a lot of fun whilst doing the course, at the back of our minds was how different all this would be in a real life situation, when the weather and sea state would probably be horrendous. If nothing else, the message ‘Fight the Ship’ that had been drilled into us that morning kept springing to mind – if there is any chance of staying with your boat you should do whatever you can to keep that boat afloat. It is a bigger target on the sea for any rescuers to spot you, carries far more supplies than a liferaft, and will give you more protection from the elements.

clipper race 13-14 weather forecast level 2 trainingAfter all that excitement, we still had a week of sailing ahead of us. Looking at the forecast, there was going to be a lot of weather around for the next 7 days in the form of high winds and rain. It was time to head down to the marina and meet up with our Skipper for the week and find out what was in store for us for the rest of the week.


Level 1 Training Diary – Part 1

On Friday 7th September 2012, I set off to Gosport to undertake my Level 1 training for the Clipper Round the World Yacht race. I had heard earlier in the week that I was to do my training on De Lage Landen CV8, one of the 68 foot Clipper yachts that had just returned from its last circumnavigation at the end of July. Another Level 1 crew as also on Visit Finland CV11 and we would be spending the majority of the week sailing in close proximity to each other.

Arriving at the yacht on Friday evening, I was joined by seven other crew members. Our skipper for the week was Jan Ridd, who had skippered the Cape Breton Island Clipper Yacht around the world in the 09-10 race; he was joined by Simon Layton as first mate. With eight novice crew members on a yacht that has a racing crew of approximately eighteen, these two were going to have their work cut out for them!

The evening started with a tour of the yacht, including instructions on how to work the heads and the really important bit of information about which taps had freshwater and which ones were salt water. I obviously missed this vital piece of information but learned the lesson the hard way when I found myself brushing my teeth with saltwater mixed with diesel later that night. Lovely.

Next item on the agenda was a safety briefing, including how to fit life jackets which were to be worn at all times on deck, use of safety lines, how to move around the yacht at sea (keep to the high side) and the location of and how to launch the life rafts if required. Other hazards on deck were pointed out to us, including a raised area on the cockpit floor known as ‘The Ankle Breaker’, which will unfortunately feature again later in the post. There was a lot of really important information to take in; luckily it was revisited over the next few days so I think some of it started to sink in (No pun intended :))

Once we had had complete information overload, it was time for dinner (Slow roast pork – yum) and drinks in the local pub.

Saturday started early with instruction on how to use the winches safely and how put the head sails on and hoist all sails. The sheer weight of each of the sails is phenomenal; it was hard enough to move them around the yacht whilst we were still tied up alongside the pontoon. It will be so much harder to do the same thing whilst bouncing around at sea. We also covered how to tack the yacht (change direction where the front of the yacht is turned through the wind so that the wind moves from one side of the yacht to the other), how to put a reef in the main sail (make it smaller if it gets windy) and the procedures to follow in case of a man overboard. After a quick lunch, followed by engine checks, it was time to sail out into the Solent and put some of the theory into practise. With wind speeds of around 10-12 knots, it was perfect weather for our first time out at sea.

Once out in the Solent, it was time to hoist the main sail and the two head sails. With a mast height of 81 feet, getting each of the sails to the top of the mast took a huge amount of effort. We then went through a series of tacks, putting reefs into the sail, shaking them back out and man overboard drills. We returned to the marina about 8pm, at which point it was time to tidy away the sails, make dinner, get showered and go for a drink if you could summon up the energy!

We spent all of Sunday at sea in the Solent and venturing a bit further afield around the Isle of Wight and consolidating the knowledge we had gained the previous day as well as learning how to gybe the yacht (similar to tacking, except the stern of the yacht passes through the wind). As there were 8 of us on board, and 8 jobs that needed doing during a tack, it was decided that we would do a series of 16 tacks – hard enough in a Laser dinghy, but so much more work on a 68 foot yacht! At any point, there could be a man overboard drill so we had to keep one eye out for that too. Whilst I was helming, the wind dropped to about 5 knots – not much to push a 40 tonne yacht through the water. Luckily, with my dinghy sailing experience, I managed to keep the boat moving through the water – after all, this was just a big dinghy with a few extra sails :). As we had completed all of our tacks, the skipper decided it was a perfect time to put up one of the new asymmetric spinnakers to see what they were like – we were warned that this would add an extra 45 minutes to the day as it would take that long to pack it away afterwards but there were no complaints!

The day finished with the stowing of all sails once we were back alongside the pontoon – at which point I got a lesson in how hard ‘The Ankle Breaker’ could bite…


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