Ok bottom line up front …………… assessment passed so its on to Level 3 training next year PLUS I didn’t fall off the yacht this time so Level 2 was win, win 🙂
Actually there was just a little bit more too it than that. A Friday afternoon drive down to Portsmouth and an opportunity, amongst other things, to catch up with my future sister-in-law-to-be and help her demolish a bottle of my younger brother’s red wine – my kinda sea survival prep!
We (21 of us in total) started the Saturday morning at Brune Park School in Gosport for the Clipper version of the RYA Sea Survival Course. It had been about 12 years since I last did a Sea Survival Course and Brune Park School swimming pool was a vast improvement on Horsea Lake. The first half of the day was in the classroom looking at just about everything that could go wrong (fires, floods, collisions, heavy weather, man over boards, catastrophic sinking, cold water shock, hypothermia, frostbite, sea sickness, starvation, dehydration etc etc – all good morale boosting stuff!) and various chances of survival (or otherwise) plus a vast array of equipment and techniques all designed to make survival/rescue a realistic possibility (warm clothing, waterproofs, dry suits, abandoning ship controlled, abandoning ship catastrophic, EPIRB – Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, SART – Search and Rescue Radar Transponder, flares, life jackets, spray hoods, life rafts and what to take with you, food rationing, water rationing, first aid etc etc). Top tip – only leave the yacht as a last resort, usually only AS it sinks or if it catches fire and you can’t put the damn thing out. Take the EPIRB with you if you abandon the yacht but if there is no time, and the yacht sinks quickly then Clipper EPIRBs, like Clipper life rafts, have hydrostatic releases which will “fire” as the yacht sinks (normally at depths of between 1 and 4 metres or 3 to 13 feet) 🙂
We did spend a rather unhealthy length of time discussing drowning – (drowning, near-drowning, secondary drowning or late onset near-drowning!) at least until we actually got into the pool. On average about 400 people drown in the UK each year – more than die in motorcycle accidents or pedestrians in road traffic accidents. The sea around the UK is officially designated as a “cold water” region, with water temperatures ranging from 4-6 degrees C in February and March, rising to 14-18 degrees C in August and September. The sea temperature lags behind the seasons by about 2 months. The mid to northern Pacific coast and the North Atlantic coasts of the USA and Canada, the southern Argentinian and Chilean coasts off South America, and the waters off New Zealand’s South Island and Tasmania also suffer from sub 15 degrees C sea temperatures. The average sea temperatures for my Legs – 2, 3, 6 and 8 – will be south of 15 degrees C.
Because water conducts heat away from the body at a rate 26 times faster than air, the human body cools at a rate 4 to 6 times faster in water than it does in air of the same temperature. A body falling into water below 15 degrees C will suffer cold shock within 30 seconds to 3 minutes of immersion. After 3 to 30 minutes the body automatically starts to constrict the blood vessels feeding the muscles to your legs and arms to reduce heat loss and keep key organs warm.
Once all that was over, and after a brief lunch, it was into the pool. Shiny yellow suits and inflated life jackets on, it was jumping in, adopting the HELP position (Heat Escape Lessening Posture) and various lengths of the pool swimming with arms and legs, legs only, arms only (recommended) and with spray hoods down. I don’t mind admitting that spray hoods down is unpleasant.
I find it claustrophobic and difficult to breath, particularly when swimming. But – and isn’t there always a but – it significantly reduces the chances of all that drowning I mentioned earlier. We practiced towing another Clipperee by wrapping our legs firmly around our buddy or by hooking our feet under their armpits. We practiced towing multiple buddies (up to 5 or 6). We swam a length with our eyes closed – just to prove how hard it is – even in very good conditions – to swim in a straight line with an inflated lifejacket on (it helps a little to swim with your dominant hand fingers-open) and we practiced a floating-feet together-group-huddle. And then finally we got to go boating – or rather rafting. Life rafting. 10 or so of us in an 8 man life raft was certainly cosy – and very warm very quickly – and we practised lookouts, baling, rigging and steering by drogues. We also practiced, individually, righting a capsized life raft by pulling it over our head, remembering at the vital moment to raise a fist to punch the floor as it drops on top of you so as to create an air pocket in which you can breath and thus orientate yourself to escape. Life rafts have large stability pockets that hang down beneath them and fluorescent strips on the underside to indicate escape routes to avoid entanglement in these pockets. It pays to orientate yourself before trying to get to the surface. It would be doubly ironic to drown UNDER a life raft!
One of the keys about survival has to be, in fact must be, will power. A bloody-minded determination not to be beaten. Adaptability, optimism, tenacity, resilience, purpose, resourcefulness, belief, knowledge, and training are all going to be contributory characteristics. It is also possible to learn from others. Maritime history (and the Sea Survival Handbook) are full of extraordinary examples of survival. Here are a few of my favourites …
A Chinese sailor called Poon Lim working as a second steward in the SS Ben Lomond survived alone on a wooden raft for 133 days after his ship, sailing alone and unescorted, was torpedoed in the South Atlantic on 23rd November 1942. The ship sank in 2 minutes. After 2 hours in the water Lim found and climbed on to a 8ft square wooden raft. The raft had several tins of biscuits, a 40 litre jug of water, some chocolate, a bag of sugar lumps, some flares, two smoke pots and a torch. After his ordeal (he was rescued by Brazilian fishermen as he drifted near the coast of Brazil), he was awarded the British Empire Medal and after the war he emigrated to the United States. He died in Brooklyn in 1991 at the age of 72.
Dougal and Lynne Robertson, their three children and an unsuspecting hitchhiker, Robin Williams, survived for 38 days in their dingy and life raft in 1972 after their 43ft yacht, Lucette, sank after being holed by a pod of killer whales 200 miles west of the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific. Dougal Robertson told the story of their survival in the book The Last Voyage of the Lucette (with a forward by Sir Robin Knox Johnson). Also see http://www.survivethesavagesea.com
Maurice and Maralyn Bailey, a British couple, survived 117 days in a life raft in the Pacific after their 31ft yacht, Auralyn, was holed by whales (there’s a theme here!!!) in 1973. Their journey began from Southampton and their intended destination was New Zealand. They passed safely through the Panama Canal in February but were struck by a whale at dawn on 4th March. They managed to salvage some supplies, some food and a compass and transfer them to an inflated life raft and a dingy before Auralyn foundered. After drifting some 1,500 miles they were rescued by the crew of a South Korean fishing boat on 30th June and were brought onboard in an emaciated state. They recounted their story in the book 117 Days Adrift, published in 1974 and, the following year, they returned to sea in their new yacht, Auralyn II.
John Glennie, Rick Hellriegel, Phil Hoffman and James Nalepka survived 119 days on the upturned hull of their catamaran Rose Noelle in 1989, when it capsized in the southern Pacific off New Zealand after being hit by a rogue wave. Glennie and Nalepka both wrote books about their ordeal and their story was told in a 2015 New Zealand television film, Abandoned. The other crew admitted they came close to killing Glennie, blaming him for getting them into trouble in the first place!
and finally ……. Steven Callahan, an American author, naval architect, inventor and sailor who survived 76 days adrift in the Atlantic. In early February 1982, 7 days out from the Canary Islands and heading for Antigua, Callahan’s 21ft sloop Napolean Solo, which he designed and built himself, was badly holed by an unknown object during a night storm and became swamped. In his book, Adrift: 76 Days Lost At Sea, Callahan writes that he suspects the damage was caused by a collision with ………………. yes, you guessed it………….…. a whale. Callahan escaped into a 6 man life raft and managed to retrieve a number of essential items including a sleeping bag, some food, charts, a short spear gun, flares, torch, solar stills for producing drinking water and a copy of Sea Survival, a survival manual written by ……………… Dougal Robertson of Lucette fame! Having survived on mahi-mahi, triggerfish (which he speared), flying fish, barnacles and birds that he caught, and using his stills, and captured rain water, to produce up to a pint of water a day, he drifted for some 1,800 miles and across at least two shipping lanes (he spotted 9 ships) without rescue. On the evening of 20th April 1982 he spotted the lights of an island south east of Guadeloupe and was rescued by local fishermen the next day. During the ordeal he faced sharks, raft punctures, equipment deterioration, physical deterioration and mental stress. He lost a third of his body weight and was covered with scores of saltwater sores. He described seeing the night sky at one point as “a view of heaven from a seat in hell” and still enjoys sailing and the sea, which he calls the world’s greatest wilderness.
……………… Level 2 Training…………………. “Level 2 Training Part 2 The yacht, the team, the skipper and the plan”……to be continued …………………..