I recently completed the RYA Sea Survival course as part of my level two Clipper Race training. The Sea Survival course is tough. But I highly recommend it to anyone that spends a fair amount of time out on the water. As the saying goes…
LUCK FAVOURS THE PREPARED.
AND THEE WHO IS PREPARED, SHALL NOT FEAR.
– Louis Pasteur
I have always been an adventurous sort, and along the way have been trained on emergency first aid for various situations, including becoming a PADI Rescue Diver a few years ago. I have had to use my rescue diving skills many times, and have been so thankful of having the necessary skills to help others, to stay calm and to keep myself safe. I have been the first responder on the scene of a serious motor bike accident, and have also helped someone who I suspected of having a heart attack – in both of those situations, no one else had a clue what to do. And that really highlights why it is important to have such skills.
Clipper includes Sea Survival as part of the mandatory training for that very reason… it prepares all crew for the worst, so that everyone on-board knows what to do should the worst happen. And it it helps us face what Mission Performance call the ‘Polar Bear Moment’ with less fear than we would otherwise. And for that reason alone, it is worth it. Having the skills and training to survive should we need to is so important.
The course was run by Tailored Marine Services . The instructor was incredibly knowledgeable, with a military background he spent the first 3 or so hours talking to us about theory. We learnt about cold water shock, hydrostatic shock, hypothermic shock… and just shock! Who knew there were so many types of shock?
Our instructor recounted many stories, all with lessons learnt. From military tales, to search and rescue, to the dreadful stories and tales from the Fastnet disaster and the Sydney Hobart. But we did also hear of some amazing tales of survival… a couple and their children surviving on a semi submerged yacht for weeks on end… drinking turtle blood to keep them hydrated and eating fish. One key lesson which came out of most stories was : Do not abandon your vessel unless you have to step up to get in to the life raft. All too often it would appear that people abandon ship, their vessel is found, their raft is found, but they are not.
After a few hours of intense classroom learning, we headed to the pool where we donned life jackets and inflated them. That feeling in itself is very strange. An inflated lifejacket is quite big, it’s restrictive and cumbersome. We learnt the ‘safe way’ to enter the water – jumping from the vessel/pool edge with one arm and hand across your body and the other over your nose and mouth. Immediately upon entering the water you pull your spray hood down to limit the risk of secondary drowning through salt water spray entering your lungs. All very grim. But very important. We heard a story of a kayaker who capsized and was taken to shore. He laughed it off, packed up for the day and headed home. But on his way home he started to feel ill, he pulled over on to the verge, and subsequently drowned at the side of the road. He suffered secondary drowning.
The mood was excitable, but serious. We are all too aware of the fact that two of our Clipper family lost their lives on the 15/16 Clipper Race. We know that soon, we will be crossing oceans and none of us want to pay the ultimate price for our adventurous spirit. We want to be safe sailors for ourselves, and for our crew.
Once in the pool, we inflated a life raft and learnt lots of different techniques for getting in and helping other get in. This was no easy feat. It was actually the complete opposite. Sitting a couple of feet above the water, it is really really difficult to propel and pull yourself in. It hurts, it’s a challenge, and it’s exhausting. We practised again and again. We learnt about what to do and how to survive when in the life raft. How important morale and team spirit are, and many other useful nuggets of information.
We also practised various tows, swims, hugs, group huddles, and the importance of staying together.
The day was exhausting. Mentally and physically. We all want desperately to retain as much of this information as possible, we know how important these skills are. But it’s impossible to ignore a niggling concern that we all have… if it is really this hard in a warm swimming pool, how impossible will it be if we have to do this for real. We just pray and hope that we never will.