Prior to my Level 2, I had an amazing couple of days with friends and family, the perfect opportunity to share details of my upcoming adventure with anyone and everyone who asked about it. Thankfully (for my Clipper Bug) the locals at The Crofton were particularly interested in asking about, and hearing about, any and all Clipper facts I could recall. A perfect start to my week!
Level 2 training began bright and early the next day with a 1 day RYA Sea Survival Course at a local school in Gosport. We (all 20 Level 2-ers) started at 08:00am prompt, prepared for a day of both classroom and pool sessions. Mission for the day “how to use a minimal amount of effort to stay alive if the worst were to happen, and we end up having to abandon boat“. The first half of the day involved a few hours in a classroom learning the theory about life rafts and the equipment they contain, survival techniques, lifejackets, medical aspects of sea survival, as well as search and rescue technique. As with every other experience of my Clipper journey so far, there was a huge amount of information to take in – hopefully I never need to put it to the rest for real!
The afternoon pool session started by first climbing into a very fetching yellow overall, and donning a nice red life jacket to complement the ‘outfit’. We first learned how to enter the water safely, before learning how to swim whilst wearing the life jacket. I’ll give you a clue, it’s not on your front, and it’s not with your legs – I tested both methods and can firmly confirm that both were neither efficient nor practical, but instead using the correct method of being on your back and sculling with your arms. We swam multiple lengths of the pool trying each of the techniques, both with and without the life jacket spray hood. The spray hood itself, whilst a vital part of the life jacket (protects you from waves/water getting in your face/mouth, and particularly in rough seas) was probably my least favourite part of the pool session. I found it extremely claustrophobic with it being so close to the face, and instantly steaming up! After figuring out how to swim, albeit not in a straight line – but better than some in my group who, when asked to close our eyes and go from 1 side of the pool to the other, much to my (and the instructor’s) amusement, ended up doing circles in the middle of the pool, and/or crashing into the sides of the pool. One crew member even ended up back where he started… Anyway, after figuring out how to swim alone and joined (literally – physically intertwined with feet under armpits, or deep into the groin) to one or more of the other crew, the next step was to figure out how to get in and out of the life raft. This was quite the adventure, and the minimal effort mission was far from reality! Pulling yourself out of water with a life jacket on, and up into a life raft is no mean feet. To make things even tougher, the physical effort doesn’t stop once you’re in, you’re then required to get the rest of the crew into the raft (whether conscious or able), as well as fulfilling one of the many roles – cut the painter line (attached to the boat), bail the water out, throw the drogue, look after casualties etc etc. We errrrrr got to know one another very well, when at one point there was more crew in the raft than the apparent capacity. Apparently it’s normal to find various limbs intertwined with someone else, and while trying to remain balanced in the bobbing inflatable balloon. Hopefully I never need to find out for real.
Safely entering the water wearing a life jacket
After we’d completed the Sea Survival course, it was time to head to the marina to join my crew/boat for the on water element of Level 2. This week we’d be back on CV7 – ah home sweet home! After the now customary routine of starting our week by playing the ‘name game’, and getting to know a little about each member of the crew, I volunteered to ‘man’ the galley and prepare chicken fajitas while the rest of the crew blew up the life jackets, which we use as a method of testing them for leaks before taking them out on the water. Following a very delicious meal (if I do say so myself), there was just about enough time to clamber over the sails that covering the floor area in the Ghetto, find bunks, and start decanting our dry bags into the various cubby holes around the bunks, before heading off to the debrief facility for a quick drink.
As was also the case during Level 1, the crew was split into two watches – Port and Starboard (I would be Starboard this week), and each watch member given a number (between 1 and 6). I was number 5. My ‘buddy’ would be number 5 of the Port watch. The buddy and watch system combined, would determine duties and when we get to sleep (or not!!) throughout the week. The watch system was made up of 6 hours on/off during the day, and 3 x 4 hours on/off during the night. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy being forced into a bizarre sleep pattern. I’m not sure how much sleep I actually managed to get throughout the week. I do know that it was significantly less than I was expecting to get, and needless to say, I slept for 12 glorious hours when I got home on the Thursday.
We started our Easter Sunday (after breakfast) with a recap and safety briefing led by the Skipper/Mates, first below deck, and then on deck. We also took the opportunity to get straight back into our daily routine of testing our MOB (Man Over Board) knowledge. While still in the marina, one of the crew members volunteered to don the dry suit (which actually isn’t all that dry – it has a slight leak in the feet, and as I’d been on this same boat a few weeks prior, I already knew this, and therefore didn’t volunteer). Once Bob (the dummy) was in the water, it was simply a matter of attaching our volunteer to the starboard staysail halyard (easy to remember – SSS = Starboard Staysail for Swimmer), and handing her the yankee halyard and rescue strop to attach to Bob once in the water, we then coordinated a joint hoist through 2 members of the crew in the ‘snake pit’ ‘manning’ the appropriate winch. Once Bob (and volunteer) were safely back on board, we head out of Gosport, through the Solent, and into the Channel for our first day back on the water. Level 2 would be the opportunity for us to test all of the evolutions (sailing manoeuvres) we learnt on Level 1, and repeat them until such time that it became engrained in muscle memory (…this didn’t happen for me until we got a few days into the week). For each evolution, a member of the crew would lead and direct the remaining crew, and when needed, referring to Clipper wet notes. We started with a lot of tacking, and reefing practice as a full crew.
Our first evening (on watch) was spent pottering around the Channel avoiding the odd (very) large vessel. We started our watch at 18:00, and stayed on until 22:00, while Port watch got some sleep. We went to bed at 22:00, after waking Port watch up in enough time for them to get ready, and then went to bed until 02:00, when we were again due back up on deck for our last watch, which would take us to 06:00. It really was quite an interesting experience for my senses to tune into sailing in the dark, and for me to put the theory of the lights I’d seen in the text books to test, by attempting to interpret the other vessels headed our way. Of course we did have GPS, and the relevant alerts set if we were on a collision course. As we neared 06:00 and time for Port watch to be back up on deck, breakfast had already been prepared, and we were well on our way along the south coast of the UK. 06:00 seemed like it would never come, but when it did, I couldn’t make my way to my bunk fast enough. I think I might have taken only my boots off, and fallen straight into my super comfy ocean wear sleep bag. Each watch would ensure we were up in plenty of time to be ready and on deck to start the next watch. Typically I was already awake at this point, as the noises coming from the other watch practicing their evolutions on the deck above – grinding winches, running across the deck, or even flogging sails was very loud when you’re situated just a few meters below deck, and with no sound proofing. Anyway after my watch were woken (or in my case already awake!!) ready for our mid-day start, we (the Skipper) took the opportunity to tick the first item off this week’s assessment agenda – the agility test. Great stuff, there’s nothing like a good competition to get you awake and focused for the day ahead. We lined up at the aft of the yacht in our corresponding watches, and clipped on. On the command “GO”, as a team we raced up to the mast (still tethered), crossed onto the inside jackstay and into the snake pit, and down the cockpit and past the companionway, under the mainsheet traveller (only 1 person at a time through here, so we’d already identified a strategy to ensure we were first through and could take first advantage), and then into the lazarette, touch the floor, and then back on the deck. Guess who won?! WE DID OF COURSE!
The afternoon (when Port watch were in bed) offered more opportunity to get through further elements of assessment, with our knot and knowledge assessment.
After the excitement of passing the afternoon assessment, and of course celebrating with a cup of tea, as winds were dropping, I volunteered to be watch leader to shake out the reef we‘d put in earlier. I volunteered not because I knew how to fully direct the crew through the evolution, but because I was keen to put myself under pressure and test my knowledge. It’s also a great opportunity to stand back and see the bigger picture – this in itself helps me learn. Turns out, (with only a little support from my wet notes), and with clear instruction to each crew member, I did an alright job! Key is making sure that each crew member full understands their particular role and where applicable what needs to be communicated to whom, and when. After first talking through the whole evolution, and assigning crew to each, I asked 1 by 1, each crew member to tell the rest of the crew what they’d be doing – this also confirmed back to me that they understood what was expected.
As Monday evening approached and Port watch were nearing the start of their next watch (18:00), we‘d already made our approach into a beautiful little bay in Devon (Blackpool Bay). I could see people on the beach, and my first thought was whether or not we could entice anyone over on a paddle boat/similar, with some pizza! Food was actually pretty good for the main part, but with the constant physical activity, I always seemed to want to eat. Amusingly, food became a popular topic, with the constant craving for something fresh, or even some home comforts. Thankfully there was no shortage of snacks. That night we had an evening meal of spag bol as an entire crew on deck before watch changeover. Following which, I was straight off to my bunk for whatever sleep I could get between then and our next watch at 22:00.
At 22:00 we were back up for our next night watch, would run until 02:00. Same as the previous nights – clipped on, on watch, and rotating through the various procedures and checks that needed to be completed. We rotated the helm every 30 minutes, and always made sure the helm had someone by their side to provide additional support, keep them awake, and be an extra set of eyes and ears. After the shift had passed without too much drama, it was back off to bed until 06:00am. Next morning, we were woken at 05:30, and presented with breakfast. Unfortunately Port watch decided to get a little too creative in the galley and add herbs to what was supposed to be a scrambled egg wrap. Lets just say it was a questionable taste, and one I didn’t want too much of. After deciding to swiftly place it where it belonged (in the bin), I opted to weetabix and a coffee before heading back on deck to start our next shift.
Tuesday was the day we’d practice again and again safety and speed through each of our manoeuvres. I’m not sure if Port watch were able to get much sleep with the activity up on deck (that’ll teach them for putting herbs in the eggs), where we also made our first racing headsail change. Unfortunately for Port watch, this did involve us going into the ghetto, opening the main hatch, and passing up a new sail, while they were trying to sleep in the bunks around us. Thankfully in the race, and on the Clipper ’70s, there’s a separate sail locker, so being woken up by wet noisy sails won’t be an issue. At this point, it was nearly time for whoever was still asleep in Port watch to be woken up ready to start their mid-day shift. At changeover, and before we could rush off to our bunks, we (the Skipper) took the opportunity of having all crew on deck to run our daily MOB drill. I was closest to the Companion Way, so immediately took up the role of getting to the nav station, pressing the MOB button on the GPS plotter, and passing up the the MOB lifting hook and strop to the crew on the deck. As there was a crew member in all other relevant positions, I made a note of all communications and actions in the log book while the rest of the crew retrieved Bob. We eventually got to bed after MOB retrieval and debrief at 13:30.
Tuesday’s MOB drill
Tuesday evening’s watch (18:00) started with sausages, mash, AND gravy! That lack of sleep just became tolerable with a great meal. The crew in the galley certainly redeemed themselves well after the egg and herbs fiasco. Tuesday evening then got even better still. We found a great little spot (much like Level 1) to drop the anchor and adjust our watch and shift system to a much more sleep friendly anchor watch system. This consisted of dividing the watches in half, and half again, and each taking 2 hours to perform ‘anchor watch’, allowing much more time for sleep! Thankfully we were last to go, so a full night’s sleep, up at 04:00am, breakfast prepared for the crew by 05:30, and everyone on deck by 06:00.
Wednesday’s focus was on more and more drills in the Channel as this was our last proper sailing day. Thankfully the weather came good for us, and we finally managed to get the boat working hard, and healed over nicely. Honestly, this was the toughest physical day, but the most fun. I couldn’t stop smiling, even throughout the repetitive tacks, and as we each stayed on a ‘station’ trying to perfect our technique. There’s certainly room for further improvement, but it really was starting to come together. We were actually starting to perform like a proper race team. This leads me nicely into my quote for this week: “If everyone is moving forward to together, then success takes care of itself – Henry Ford”. There’s so much that I take from both sailing and my work world, and how the optimal team, with everyone’s task clearly defined creates a great outcome. What’s more important though, is not only knowing your own task, but also knowing the tasks of others, for when the situation arises that you have to step into another person’s shoes. This also give great appreciation for the bigger picture, and how we should best communicate between one another.
Just chilling between tacks.
With Wednesday’s sea and wind state (certainly throughout the morning) at it’s most lively, we (the Skipper!) also took the opportunity to present us with our most challenging MOB drill yet, and this time with no support or guidance from Skipper/Mates. Again, there’s room for improvement, but it really was starting to come together. We managed to recover Bob in the fastest time of the week (not that I’m competitive!!), and the debrief (retrospective) offered the opportunity to share some slight tweaks for the next time.
With Wednesday’s sailing day over, we headed back into Gosport, and readied CV7 for bed. Thankfully we did this in just enough time to head over to the ‘debrief facility’ for a drink, before then looking to further celebrate our achievements in some equally questionable drinking establishments in Gosport. Needless to say, I probably didn’t need that last Gin & Tonic!
The last day is always deep clean day, and I was nominated ‘mother’ with my buddy from the other watch, we decided to start it off with a breakfast that would (hopefully) get everyone smiling. With that, we set our alarms before everyone else, and head up to the local cafe (well Greggs is almost a cafe!!), and bought a round of bacon and sausage buttys for everyone. It certainly did the trick, AND saved us having to do any washing up – result! After all the rolls were gone, and the caffeine intake had been completed, we got to work on packing our personal stuff, and preparing for the deep clean. The process didn’t change from Level 1 – anything that can be moved, is removed, placed onto the deck or pontoon, and given a scrub. Half of the crew focus on the inside – cleaning under the floor boards, disinfecting all surface areas, and removing any and all water that’s made it’s way in. The other half of the crew scrub and sort everything that’s removed. Once inside is complete, we form a human chain to load everything back in. The whole process takes a good few hours, but with bacon and sausage rolls for fuel, we were done in really great time
Following deep clean, and one by one, we each took ourselves over to see the Skipper, who was sat on the deck of another boat, to do our weekly debrief and to find out whether we’d passed, and ready for Level 3. Once again, I had some great feedback, and some suggested reading (and no it wasn’t anger management, but North U Racing Trim [Book], and for the Clipper wet notes to be committed to memory) before Level 3 – challenge accepted! My Skipper also asked if I’d be interested in a Watch Leader role in the race, same as my Level 1 Skipper had also asked/suggested. YES, OF COURSE! So my name has now been submitted twice for this role, where I guess it will also depend on my actual Race Skipper, and what he wants from a watch leader, and in consideration of who else will also have been nominated. Anyway, exciting times, watch this space…
So talking of Race Crew (and Skipper), it’s now less than a month to go until Crew Allocation Day! The day will see hundreds of Crew head to Guildhall, Portsmouth to find out who will be in which race team. We will also get to meet our Race Skippers for the first time, who will then provide a brief on their strategy and goals, and together we will start planning how to get the best from our race. The morning session of Crew Allocation will be streamed live from 09:30 – 12:30 UTC on May 11th.
I’m really keen to support Clipper’s chosen charity partner – UNICEF, if you wish to also support my journey and more importantly, their great work, please do so via my Just Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/TC-1.