The Instructor looked over the yacht crews. The line up was a United Nations of WA sailing: Australian, English, German, Danish and Dutch. His blue eyes were piercing as he pointed at an average build sailor. 'Zee average survival time in zee cold vaters of zee southern ocean for you is zree hours!' He moved his gaze to one of the larger-built sailors. 'You vill last just a little longer!!'
Welcome to Manfred’s Sea Safety and Survival Course. This course is about sea Safety and survival – Avoiding the problem is preferable to overcoming it. The first day was intense discussion, learning, war stories and 'devils advocate' scenarios. Heavy weather preparation, maintaining navigation, warning signs for hypothermia, nothing was off limits. The line up of owners and crew was a United Nations of Western Australian sailing; Australian, English, German, Danish and Dutch. And a swarthy looking gentleman with a continental accent.
Liferafts and the Sydney to Hobart Race of 98 featured heavily. The German instructor blitzed the crew with different emergency situations. The Englishman fire back: 'A clear chain of command is critical'. 'Correct' boomed the instructor, 'We are not the United Nations on a yacht!!!' The Dutchman’s eyes narrowed.
Fire extinguishers, flares, heliographs and radios. 'When zee aircraft dives at you, and wriggles it’s wings, vot does this mean?' The young Australian foredeckie was exhausted from point duty, but he was mentally prepared. It looked like his head was about to explode with the volume of new knowledge. Damage control and flooding, defend the ship. The instructor commanded: 'A frightened crew with buckets is the best system for removing water from the boat' The Swarthy Gentlemen with the continental accent glanced towards the exit, but there had been no order to abandon ship. He thought it better to collaborate.
The first day wrapped up. 'It will be vet and vindy tomorrow for zee practical water drill. I will test you first, and accept nothing less than 80% correct. I trust you will not be found wanting'. The team cohesion was good, and the will to succeed undaunted. We are OK now, and we will be OK tomorrow.
The second day dawned with a Gale Warning. Cold, with gusts to 60kts, heavy chop, and a foot of water over the jetties at Freshie. The Teutonic Tutor struggled to contain his glee. He failed. He timed the crew donning their wet weather and safety gear. Zvei minuten, drei minuten….. 10 minutes! It takes a while to get all your gear on. And then you have to stay afloat.
The crew assembled on the jetty for a final role call, before they abandoned ship in a regimented drill. 'Vee have one injured crew – his shoulder is dislocated. You must watch out for him in the water, and be careful how you get him into zee life raft'. The painter was made fast and the liferaft deployed. It went off with a bang. The Dane looked uncertain.
The wind buffeted the crew. The rain hit like 9mm rounds. And then they hit the drink. Cold Shock!!! Life jacket inflated, stick together. Sound off. Where’s 9???!!! Pulled out early due to a faulty PFD zip. Into the life raft, deploy the cover and drogue, release the painter as the yacht sank. In water drills, stick together. Paddle for shore. A few cramps and a lot of mild hypothermia was being experienced. After 45 minutes, everyone was glad to be 'rescued'.
The Instructor beamed at his newly qualified crew. 'Well done everybody, time for a hot shower & some schnapps at the bar!!!' The coalition of sailors had proudly fulfilled their duty. And no-one had mentioned the war.
Sea Safety and Survival Courses are an essential part of training for Bluewater racing, and are highly recommended for inshore and cruising sailors. Courses are organised regularly by Yachting Western Australia and run at Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club, Fremantle and Hillarys.