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 2 Training Log

CV9 Qingdao Clipper Yacht Weymouth Harbour

Yacht ‘CV9′ Qingdao Clipper 68 foot Cutter Rig Sloop

Wind Max F9

317 Nautical Miles (Tidal)

8 days on board

9 night hours

Gosport – Solent (Training) – Cowes – Weymouth – Cowes – Gosport

Many reefs in, not so many reefs out, racing head sail changes, realistic man overboard drills with a life size dummy, one mast climb

A few equipment breakages, cold weather gear fully tested

Sea state – bumpy, bouncy, splishy and splashy

Weather – a bit gnarly

One encounter with a lobster pot; unfortunately no lobster for dinner

Not as many cups of tea; no doughnuts. Chocolate, wine gums, turron and Dutch cake consumed instead

Fantastic crew, shared hard work and many laughs.

All limbs intact; countless bruises, scrapes and broken nails.

RYA Sea Survival and Level 2 Clipper training certificates achieved.

26th January – 3rd February 2013


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