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Marine Resources 2017 728x90

Mission Ocean: How to teach an old dog new tricks

by Mission Océan 29 Dec 2018 08:52 UTC
Acting as a casualty in the liferaft © Tim Eady

"Fiiiire! Go on girl, get on it!" I struggled clumsily over in my big fireman's boots, lugged the CO2 extinguisher onto my hip and aimed it at the fake TV that was burning with very big, very real flames in front of me. The pretend fire successfully extinguished, I returned to the ranks and watched as my fellow trainees a dive instructor, a fisherman, a superyacht purser and eight singers and dancers from a cruise ship sprayed extiguishers and threw fire blankets onto a selection of other flaming objects. Despite very different backgrounds, we had come together in an industrial estate in South East England to learn how to survive, and how to save others, at sea...

Henrique and I had always agreed that a visit back to Europe would be on the cards before Christmas. A bit of planning in our cruising schedule meant that we could leave Contigo once again in Martinique, from whence Henrique would head back to France to find work for the end of the superyacht season and see his parents, and I would go back to school in the UK.

Despite having worked for many years in the yachting industry, building and repairing boats across Europe, I had no formal sea-going qualifications; after a year of cruising, it seemed about time to make things official.

I began with my RYA Powerboat Level 2 at Buzz Active, a watersports center in Eastbourne that proved to be both buzzing and very, very active. The weather for my chosen weekend was terrible, but the hoards of beaming kids coming back from sailing, windsurfing and kayaking lessons on the beach, dripping their way past our classroom, meant that none of us could come up with a good reason not to take the little red safety boat out and bounce up and down on the grey waters of the channel for a couple of afternoons, taking sights and trying not to soak one another more than was necessary. Certificates, handshakes and banter were dished out over big steaming mugs of tea, and I was asleep before my head hit the pillow that night.

And luckily so, as my alarm went off in what felt like the small hours of the next morning, announcing the start of training course number two, a week of lessons and practicals making up the MCA STCW 10 Basic Training. I had intended to do this internationally recognized qualification in France, doubling up with visits to friends in the south, but a last minute search online revealed the existence of Seahaven Maritime Academy, a training centre situated just 20 minutes drive from my parents house on the south coast of England. What's more, the price of the course was almost half that of the schools in Antibes or Nice. A no-brainer, I signed up straight away.

The STCW consists of several modules, including Personal Safety and Social Responsibility, Security Awareness, First Aid, Fire Prevention and Fire Fighting, and Sea Survival Techniques. Schools across the globe offer this qualification, with varying emphasis on classroom and practical work in my case, the latter certainly applied! With the exception of one full classroom day, we spent the week crawling blind-folded through tunnels to find casualties, putting out fires in smoke-filled containers, treating gorey fake injuries (complete with lashing of joke shop blood), and hauling one another in and out of liferafts whilst being sprayed with fire hoses. We laughed a lot, learnt a lot more, and made friends for life. The standard of teaching at Seahaven Maritime Academy was exceptional, with many of the instructors also volunteering on the local RNLI lifeboat, having had careers as firemen, lifeguard trainers, cabin crew, police dog handlers and of course seafarers. We had the pleasure of getting to know this extraordinary bunch of people over a pint or two at the local pub, The Engineer.

I capped the week off with an additional qualification at the Academy, on how to manage crowds on large vessels in a crisis. A welcome morning in the classroom after the week's exertions, I was impressed by how much I learnt about decision making, persuading and calming others. I was surprised (and reassured) to find out that all cruise and passenger ship staff including the entertainers, waiters, galley hands and receptionists will have completed the STCW 10 and Crowd Management courses before embarking, in addition to training on board their own vessel. We discussed real-life cases where dancers, bar staff and junior crew were instrumental in saving the lives of hundreds of passengers.

Glutton for punishment and not quite yet exhausted, my next course began just a day later. My wonderful mother drove me to Southampton, where we spent the night in a rental apartment in the little yachting town of Hamble (well worth a visit). The following morning, she dropped me at Solent Boat Training. A rather radical change from the STCW, I was to spend this week in a windowless classroom, learning the navigational skills and theory necessary for the RYA Day Skipper. I will openly admit to being a yacht geek in all shapes and forms, and so I did enjoy poring over charts, calculating courses to steer and memorizing rules of the road. But I found it very hard to sit in a little room for days on end when I am so used to living outdoors with nothing but sea between me and the horizon. I also struggled with the accommodation, which was on one of the training centres boats. Chilly, damp, with no cooking facilities besides a tiny kettle (not even a bottle opener!), and a long tramp to the showers in the morning in the British winter, I think we pretty much all felt like de-camping to a hotel by the end of the week. But the local pub, full of army veterans with great banter and terrible pool skills, kept our spirits up, and I boarded the train home with another certificate in my wallet.

And on returning to Contigo, all of that training had a huge effect on my cruising. Thanks to Buzz Active, I am much more confident zipping around in the dinghy by myself or with guests, adapting my revs and redistributing weight around the boat to make the ride smooth and fast. Seahaven Maritime Academy taught me to remain cool in a crisis, and removed my fears of one of us injuring ourselves on board. When we had guests on Contigo, I carried out safety briefings, demonstrated our equipment and was able to answer questions with confidence. And thanks to Solent Boat Training, I have reinstated our hourly log whilst sailing (we had got a bit lazy of late), participate much more in passage planning and navigational decisions, and was able to keep my father entertained with endless tidbits of boat trivia during his two week visit.

I firmly believe that training is the biggest investment that you can make in yourself. I was concerned that I would struggle in returning to a school environment after a fair few years spent working and sailing, and I did find it hard to sit, listen and take notes, especially after a year at sea. But in the space of just a couple of weeks, and at quite minimal expense, this old dog learnt a shedload of new tricks and our life on board is all the better for it.

Please do get in touch if you would like any details about the qualifications or training centres mentioned above.

Mission Ocean is proud to be supported by: Boero, Doyle Sails Palma, Rotary District 1730, Navigair, OctoMarine, Battery World Service, Victron Energy, Monaco Marine, Aquatabs, Spade Anchors, Plastimo, Furuno France, Pejout Marine Services, Lyvio, Storm Bird, Aethic, Corsica Yacht Services, Astrolabe Expeditions, Asociacion Ondine, AGL Marine, and Sail-Worldcruising.com

Mission Ocean is Laura Beard and Henrique Agostinho. Their three year plus mission is to share their love and respect for the ocean with others, through education and scientific research. Neither is a stranger to the water, so they have combined all their skills and passions in this bold, courageous and inspiring project. Sail-Worldcruising.com is delighted to be with them for the journey of their lifetime. You can also find out more on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/missionocean06 and Instagram account @missionocean06

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