Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Safety at sea. ISAF approved course.
We got asked by many of our sailing friends about why we had signed up. Several smirky comments such as “ you just stay on the boat” which did make us wonder if this wasn’t going to teach us much. To all the nay sayers and anyone with an interest in offshore racing and quite honestly anyone who likes living and reducing their chances of seeing the lit tunnel anytime soon, I can’t recommend this course enough.
Primarily it was incredibly interesting. Our course instructors were people who had 30 000 – 50 000 ocean miles under their belts. They had raced in Sydney to Hobarts and the 1979 Fastnet and multiple Vic- Mauii, Van Isles, Swiftsures and deliveries. Our participants were racers who had extensive experience including several near misses with death to humble them. There was us two; with some blue water sailing and experience of racing in lakes close to Winnipeg! It was a bit intimidating, but in no time as always with sailors, there was great camaraderie. The course runs with expert planning and attention to detail on improvements. David Sutcliff who was heading up this course made it clear from the outset that if we left not understanding an issue they had failed and the point of this course was not the test.
We had the honour of an additional participant in our class who is a helicopter pilot for search and rescue based on the east coast. He had plenty of stories to make the information real about rescuing sail boats from storms and practical suggestions to assist us.
Prior to arrival we were given the CYA sea survival text book to read. Knowing that we were going to be tested and that we had a 2 1/2 hour pool time to swim with all of our wet weather gear on, with out and with a life vest, there was some pressure to read and understand it from cover to cover. I also felt that push ups at the gym might be quite easy compared to walking on the pool floor 8 feet under water!
The prior reading woke me up to a lot of what I did not know despite having taken a bunch of courses up to Advanced Coastal cruising and 25 years of messing about in sail boats.
On day 1 after the intro we covered weather, heavy weather, hypothermia and man overboard, storm sails, damage control, safety equipment, life raft, life vest. There was a practical session on cutting stays and sawing through metal followed by a knowledge review.
Back to that “just stay on the boat” advice I got from a fellow sailor. So what if you do have an aggressive fire or smack a rock that puts a hole in the hull beyond what you can manage, do you have a drill? Got an emergency procedures and muster list?
Do you have a fire blanket on board? Anyone cook bacon? True we are all careful, but it can happen so fast and that’s such an easy fix, they make compact ones to sit near the galley. When did you last have the fire extinguishers serviced? Will it work if you need it? Have you ever used one? Do you know what you need to know about using it in small enclosed spaces like a boat?
If you do fall in, spend the first minute getting your breathing under control. Panic will kill you. Then its about making all the necessary adjustments to your life vest. Swim if you can reach something, but you have minutes. You will lose heat very quickly swimming. Heat conservation is primary. Get into the HELP position. Do not kick your boots off. I thought you did to help you swim! A real life story from a racer in the class told us that you can feel the shot of cold race right through you with the first boot coming off. Seal up all the water exit points from your clothing with the velcro tabs. Expect to get rescued!
Several offshore races are now making this course mandatory. If like us you are going to do little more than LOWISA and Gimli Wednesday night racing you will learn so much and have a really interesting time on this week end course. I can vouch for our instructors who had fascinating life stories and know how to teach, not just impart information. I have taken many professional and just for fun courses. I have never been to a course that could keep the classroom wide awake and immersed for a whole week end like this. Even if you were not a sailor it would be fascinating. Do I think my chances are good if I fall off in a storm in the Atlantic or make it to the Life raft? No! They are not. Some people do survive. A bit more knowledge can not hurt. More than anything I could sail a lot safer than I have been and will make better choices in a critical situation.
Eric Hill the SAR helicopter pilot is running courses across the country and whilst he wasn’t an official instructor on our course I can vouch for how clear he can impart information. As for our course instructors (David Sutcliffe, Stewart Jones, Hale Warren and Vern Burkhardt) they were beyond excellent. Incredible value for $325).
So this is how we used to sail! Time for a lot more safety but just as much fun.