Call Me 'Skip'


Posted in RYA Coastal Skipper

Call Me 'Skip' - BLAH BLAH - by Simon Campbell

As I am in the process of negotiating the purchase of a ship, I thought it prudent to continue my nautical education. So this is the brief tale of moving from RYA Advanced Powerboat to Coastal Skipper in something a little bigger than a RIB...

<img src="{filedir_2}Dark_Angel.jpg" alt="Dark Angel in its berth at Swanwick Marina" width="570" height="370" />

I have been driving RIB's (Rigid Inflatable Boats) for a number of years but as we are planning to live on, and run, diving expeditions from our ship, it's likely that anything we will end up with will be between 24-30m; a big lump by anyone's standards. To add to the complexity, we will be using it commercially in UK waters and therefore the skipper (ie me) needs MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) commercial certification to work the vessel. This starts with the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Coastal Skipper qualification.

In the diving expedition world, bigger boats tend to be coAs we are in the process of negotiating the purchase of a ship, I thought it prudent to continue my nautical education. So this is the brief tale of moving from RYA Advanced Powerboat to Coastal Skipper in something a little bigger than a RIB...mmercial; to be let loose on a bigger boat you need commercial certification BUT to obtain commercial certification you need experience of skippering bigger boats! A conundrum which Joseph Heller himself would be proud to ruminate upon... The only solution was to find a school with a big boat for me to gain experience.

Now, finding a RYA school that teaches Coastal Skipper (power) with a larger boat is like happening on a huge pile of rocking horse droppings in the centre of Ramsbottom. I trawled the web and also asked the school where I completed my Advanced Powerboat certification. The only one appeared to be "Marine Matters": based in Swanwick Marina situated on the eastern bank of the River Hamble, two miles upriver from Southampton Water. They have a Sealine F44 (twin engined 44 foot / 13.5m cruiser) which, although compact, was substantial enough to get the feel of a bigger vessel. I called and booked on the Coastal Skipper Course and exam which would give me my certificate of competence (the final step to commercial certification).

I sent the deposit and forgot about it until a couple of weeks before the event. I realised that the course was happening the week before we up sticks and "moved to the Isle of Man.": Angela (my long suffering wife), was not amused. Just to add to the stress, the Sunday I was heading down to start the course was the last day of the fearful "Erskine Design camping trip!":

Anyway after setting off at 0930 from Robin Hoods Bay in North Yorkshire, feeling a little tender I have to say, I arrived at the marina at 1510 to be greeted by Chris Date (yachtmaster candidate) and instructor Steve Harrison. We made our introductions and after a cup of tea we were joined by Kevin Bradley (coastal skipper candidate) and Marine Matters owner, Henry Hillier. The instructors proceeded to outline the weeks activities then demonstrated the safety equipment, electronics and ran through the engines with us.

Following the session we all went to 'Valsheda's' the marina restaurant for a few beers. Henry is very engaging and talks your ears off. Having said that, it's not piss and wind; Henry is former Royal Marine, running a tight and efficient ship. I really liked the guy. Steve Harrison, our principal instructor for the week, is also ex forces and together they made a great team. I felt good about the week already.

The three candidates were all staying on the boat. I was rooming with Chris and Kev had the 'master suite' in the bow section. I have to say that it's the most luxurious boat I had even been on, but luxurious in a 'gin and tonic' 'cruising the Solent' kind of way; too much gold and polished wood for my liking!

The days mingled into one but there were a number of highlights. The instruction was very progressive with Steve gradually checking our knowledge on everything from secondary ports to weather. I had already signed up for a Yachtmaster Theory correspondence course which I had read before I started the course which helped enormously.

<img src="{filedir_2}Blind_navigation.jpg" alt="Steve Harrison, Kevin Bradley and Chris Date on a Blind navigation exercise" width="210" height="158" />

One of the most 'interesting' exercises was blind navigation. This simulates operation in reduced visibility (such as fog, #1 enemy of the mariner) and basically the navigator has to tell the helmsman course, speed and waypoints to look out for (such as change in depth / buoyage etc) the aim being to get to a known point. This is not as difficult as it may seem :-)

Another big challenge is to locate an unlit mark in the dark. I have done this before and it can be extraordinarily difficult and its worth expanding upon the cock up I made of this task. When I completed my Advanced Powerboat course earlier this year, the instructor gave me a pretty nasty one to find out of Poole that I found straight off, no messing. This made me a little overconfident.

I looked at the mark (which was an unlit North Cardinal buoy) and worked out a route to it. I calculated the tidal streams, course to steer, speed, distance and how long it should take to find it. In addition I had a number of waypoints and a couple of bearing off the shore which _I thought_ would be easy to find. For this exercise of course its all charts, GPS is not allowed.

For the nautical readers out there, the Solent at night is a real treat. You will see every permutation of light in the book (the book being the Admiralty chart 5011 ;-), on shore, boats, ships, buoys and land.

So we set off from our last known position, first waypoint found right on the money. Next waypoint, Hose Sand Fort, no problemo and we were on the way to our next waypoint, a yellow flashing 5 second buoy, marking a wreck. I thought I saw it but it wasn't on the bearing I was expecting. After three minutes we stopped, no buoy, and I didn't know where we were; the enemy of the mariner! After the event Henry mentioned that you should never use yellow buoys for navigation as they can be removed (some are seasonal) and the yellow lights are difficult to see - this one obviously was!

Of course I didn't mention it was blowing a real hooley (force 5-6) and spray was whipping over the flying bridge. In addition it was rocking like a bucking bronco; I went below to get some additional info from the chart. It's really difficult to take accurate bearings when conditions al like this and as I didn't know the area at all (mistake) I became very confused. At the time I thought about those amazing seafarers of the past and how they managed to navigate thousands of miles with rudimentary instruments!

Anyway I thought the best thing to do was to go back to the fort and shelter in its lee until I sorted myself out. This we did and I tried again; it was now midnight and we were all tired and miserable but to leave it undiscovered was not an option. Finally after another hour Steve consulted the GPS and we tried to find it. We took a few tracks across where it should be, looking at the bearings and depths as we went, finally concluding that the bloody thing wasn't there!!! We arrived back at 0200, cold, tired but with a salutary lesson learned.

My real nemesis of the whole week however was not navigation, but getting the boat into the berth without trashing it or the millions of pounds worth of hardware surrounding it. The berth was subject to strong tide and this, combined the weeks gusty winds and a boat with no keel to speak of, made it a right handful. I eventually cracked it (that's the task, not the boat)...

By the time the exam came along we were all pretty weary following some late nights and intense days. We were given some last minute advice on the 'rules of the road' by Henry and Steve, specifically the feared Rule 19. Just as they finished the examiner was piped aboard.

Rob, the RYA examiner, was really great and put us at ease immediately. I made a pile of 'school boy' errors on the day long exam and really thought I had blown it. The exam finished with a theory session (at midnight following the night work) which probed our individual knowledge of 'rules of the road', lights and shapes, weather and all things nautical. I was really surprised when he announced I had passed and I have to say it wasn't my finest moment; another scape through.

So, after passing the exam and already having my VHF/GMDSS radio and First Aid certificates, the only thing I need to sort now is a medical examination and my RYA Sea Survival course.

Anyway, I am there, looking forward to gaining some further experience. Watch out open seas, here I come... and errr, just call me Skip ;-)


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