A day of life raft drills saw the fastrack students "Survive the savage swimming pool!"
As we took the chain ferry over to East Cowes the morning of our sea survival course we were all anticipating a day of fun exercises in the pool. A sobering classroom session in the morning put us in a different frame of mind. Using real life case studies as learning exercises (M.V. Lovett, P.S Lakonia, 1979 Fastnet and 1998 Sydney to Hobart among others) we began to see how things could go wrong. In fact, throughout the day Andy illustrated every point with a real life story. Thankfully not all of these ended in tragedy, but undoubtedly each time the message hit home to each of us. Helen’s comment was ‘I don’t want to go sailing now!’ And that was before we’d squeezed eight people into a four man raft.
We’d been warned that the afternoon would be spent in a swimming pool but we hadn’t anticipated how tricky it would be swimming fully clothed and while wearing lifejackets. And that was before we tried to find the strength to pull ourselves into a liferaft. Even in the calm of the pool we were all quickly exhausted from righting rafts, towing ‘casualties’, lifting them into the rafts and lugging emergency equipment around. Once we’d mastered the techniques, teams raced one another in mock abandon ship exercises. It may have felt like a game but it certainly ensured that we completed the tasks as quickly and safely as we could.
Although the exercises WERE fun there was no ignoring the serious motive behind this course. One minute we’d all be laughing and joking about, then someone says something like ‘imagine this was for real’ and the joking stopped, instantly. There was little doubt that it would be no laughing matter in a real situation.
The final day of a long week, today’s session was ‘personal safety and social responsibilities’. This was a general combination of the week’s sessions plus an indepth talk on the roles and responsibilities onboard. The emphasis was on safety throughout and I think by the end of the day we all had the message: complacency costs lives, and constant training is vital to ensure a safe boat. The importance of learning from others was really hammered home, as was taking on board the lessons from the disasters we had studied to ensure no repetitions in our futures as skippers.
There was a general feeling that this was not a very productive day since most of it was spent going over topics we had covered earlier in the week. That said, I guess there’s no such thing as too much repetition when it comes to issues of life and death.
Before we escaped to the mainland, Andy and Amanda from Flying Fish had a quick ‘wash up’ session to conclude Part One of our Yachtmaster course. We were asked to give feedback on each component of the course – the competent crew practical, day skipper theory and the various ‘tickets’ we’d done this week. It was interesting to hear other students’ experiences from their practical week in particular. I felt very lucky to have been taught by Andy, but another group were a little bit disappointed in that they felt they could have learnt more during their week aboard. The standard of training was not in question, but several students felt that their instructor was not quite as enthusiastic and forthcoming with lessons as he could have been, leaving it up to them to extract the knowledge. Fortunately this was not my experience.