Messing About On The River...........
When Graeme, the Managing Director of OMT asked me if I wanted to join the next Fast Rescue Boat Course I had mixed feelings. I couldn’t wait to get back out on the water and particularly behind the wheel of our Jet boat Vulcan but I was also incredibly nervous. The role of a Fast Rescue Boat crew member is no small matter and you are training for life and death situations.
I knew I would be training with guys from all over the world in varying sectors of the industry with much more hands on experience then me so I was hoping I wouldn’t embarrass myself! Also a small fear of heights meant I was seriously not looking forward to the davit training!!
I can say now having completed the course that any worries I had were completely redundant and should I ever need to take control of a Fast Rescue Boat I now have the skill set to know how although no one is ever going to convince me working at heights is for the sane minded!
First thing first I grabbed a coffee and met my fellow compardres for the next 3 days and to say they came from a varied background is an understatement.
Most of the guys are already working in the industry on vessels ranging from Ferries to Container ships from Workboats to Offshore vessels. We also had one candidate looking to get the qualifications that would use the most of his skills set to get into the industry. We were then introduced to our instructors, Graeme, Tim and Paul, who are all either ex-forces or reserves with an abundance of boat handling skills and knowledge between them.
After a morning of learning all about FRB’s it was time to get out on the water for some boat handling skills on Vulcan, our Pacific 22 Jet Rib, which in a previous life was used for bomb/mine disposal by the Marines. As a Jet boat with no neutral she is a little more tricky then your standard prop boat. With the opportunity of plenty of wheel time practicing manoeuvres whether it be forwards, backwards or sideways, even those of us who were not used to driving this type of boat, soon felt happy going where ever we were told by Tim and Paul.
To really put these skills to the test we launched 'Albie' our Man Over Board dummy into the Itchen river and each set about bringing him safely back onboard. I am pleased to say he made it back onboard safe and sound everytime if not a little damp!! Also we all agreed after what felt like a gym workout he should really lay of the pies!!
It was back in the classroom to learn a little more about specific boat handling procedures, firstly towing. After learning the text book procedure it was back out on the water to refresh yesterdays skills on both Vulcan and Spitfire, the terrier of the fleet who is a Solas Approved Rescue boat with a tiller outboard engine.
We set up an alongside tow with Spitfire towing Vulcan and I am pleased to say that we all managed to execute this beautifully (even me, which led to a rumours that I must have been out practising the previous night!!) and proceed seamlessly on to the stern tow.
After lunch we popped back up to the classroom for the bit that, although was a complete unknown entity to me, I was really looking forward to, pacing.
We were soon taxiing down the Itchen towards Southampton water each taking it in turns to hop in to Spitfire and perfect the pacing procedure with Vulcan at slow speed before hitting full throttle out on the open water. I can say I am a big fan of our little FRB and although I may have ended up a little soggy bottomed it was not only challenging and exciting but it really highlighted how important to safety it to position the boat exactly where you need it.
After a bit more bombing up and down and a few high speed manoeuvres on the jet rib (which made us all feel a little like James Bond!!) we headed back to conclude the end of an exciting day two and prepare ourselves for our dip in the water the following day.
On to the final and probably most exciting day.
For those of you who spend any time out on the water, you can all appreciate that boats can be their own animal and no matter how experience you are accidents do happen. This can be very true of an FRB particularly during the launch and recovery procedure and on occasion you can find yourself and your boat the wrong way up.
That is why the next part of the course is all about what to do when it goes wrong. We all donned our rather fetching ‘teletubby’ immersion suits and life vest before waddling (you can’t walk elegantly in those things!) down to the pontoon. A quick splash later and we are adopting the slightly frantic looking backstroke swimming style before reaching our inverted rib. A quick safety check to make sure we all made it (fortunately we had!) then once we were all positioned safely, the cord was pulled and our once upside down boat was fully righted. One at a time we then clambered into the boat (again all elegance deserted me at this point), checked we had all made it before swimming over to our little FRB to run through our restart engine procedure.
After lunch it was the moment I had been waiting for (insert tone of sarcasm here!) the davit drills. Listening about the procedure and learning the ins and out did little to put my mind at rest.
I watched my fellow students embark onto Spitfire, confidently give commands as they slew out and then gracefully lowered into the (thankfully rising) river. After swiftly disconnecting themselves, they took themselves for a little spin before reattaching and returning to dockside with exemplary execution before rotating round into a new role.
Last but not least (not that I was hiding at the back or anything) it was my turn and I must say although the getting in and out will never become a favourite of mine, once my position in the FRB was taken and under the watchful eye and encouraging instruction of Paul and Tim I was happily taking control of the situation and carrying out the procedure with success.
Although I did hold some rib driving skills (albeit a little rusty) at the beginning of the week, I can say I have truly learnt so many new skills on this course and thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
To my fellow student I can only say I have full respect to you and the others who take this training so that they are able to put themselves into potentially dangerous situations to save lives.
And to the instructors Graeme, Tim and Paul I must say a huge thank you for their great instruction, unwavering patience and for only laughing a little bit at me in my immersion suit!!