When I returned to Ireland, I planned to stay a couple of days and then head off to Burham on Crouch in the UK to take a course in Ocean Survival, specifically around the notion of rowing across an ocean.
This was a five-day course in Burnham on Crouch taught by an ocean rower, Dawn Wood.
- Day 1 - First Aid
- Day 2 - VHF SRC Marine Radio Operator’s Certificate
- Day 3 - Ocean Survival
- Day 4 - Navigation
- Day 5 - Navigation
The first aid course was taught by a former UK Police officer who had seen many things in his day and was very knowledgeable. He also had a good sense of humour. Knowing that my ocean row would be a solo trip, he would often explain all the first aid to the teams in the room, then he would look at me with sad eyes and say sorry, Stan, but you will probably die (in this scenario).
Alpha, Bravo, Charlie
The ABC's of radio training was exciting. We had to learn the phonetic alphabet, which I already knew from being in the army. It's a fun skill that you learn early, and you just retain it forever. Even when talking on the phone now, somebody will ask me to spell something, and I automatically go into the phonetic alphabet and spell away. It always catches people on the other end of the line off guard that I know the phonetic alphabet so well. which usually Sparks a bit of a conversation. it's an excellent skill to have
During the radio portion of the course, you have to learn how to give a proper mayday call; that's an essential part of the course, and it requires you to follow a specific procedure, something that you'll have to remember when you're in a panic and having to make a Mayday call.
Despite qualifying on that course or passing the course I don't feel confident in my radio procedures, so I probably will have to practice more using the techniques taught before heading off into the ocean. Watching some video footage about rowing the sea, I've noticed that the radio procedure isn't how they taught, and that's something to keep in mind. It doesn't have to be perfect. It has to be somewhere along the lines of the way that they teach the procedure.
Day three was very interesting and a bit scary, Jack and I were staying at the same Hotel, so Dawn came by to pick us up and take us to the next stage of our training. We drove a short distance to an underwater training facility. it was a huge swimming pool, not in length or width but in depth. It was about 7 m deep. You don't realize just how deep that is until you see they have scaffolding running down to the bottom with stairs on it. You can see in the picture that this was a very deep pool.
This pool is used in many movie sets because of its depth. there are windows below where they likely set up the motion picture cameras.
So the first part of the training was to see how to put on very small life jackets that were not your typical ones. They were very narrow and small looking; the intent of these jackets is low profile so that you can continue to row the boat or do any other function and still wear a full-size life jacket. These life jackets inflate using a cylinder that forces air into them, so they inflate very quickly.
Once inflated, they become substantial, and if they deflate a little bit, you can use a stem near your face to re-inflate the jacket. These jackets also have a flashing or strobe light to indicate your location if you're in the water. I found these jackets to be quite large once inflated, limiting your swim ability. you mostly had to lay on your back and kick your feet, which is probably a better way to survive in the ocean.
The Life Raft
The next step on this day was to learn about deploying a life raft. these life rafts come in what looks like a briefcase and self-inflate to a very large, in this case, seven-person life raft. they are self-contained units with everything stored within them, including a paddle and a host of other things within the pouch to keep you safe and alive should you have to deploy one in the ocean.
We found the life raft container reasonably heavy but not too heavy that you couldn't deploy it from your ocean rowboat. you need to remember to tie the boat to your ocean rowboat so that it doesn't just drift away once it's deployed, and then the next task is actually to get into the life raft. This requires upper arm strength and agility. You have to put your foot on the stairs underneath and pull on the top of the ladder to propel yourself into this boat. the other way of getting into the boat is by using the aid of two other people who help pull you into the boat.
Die Laughing - (the best way to go)
Several other people had gone before me when it became my turn to be helped into the boat. The boat's interior had a relatively large puddle of water, so I went face-first into the water when the two people hoisted me. At the time, I was laughing, so when my face unexpectedly went underwater, I breathed in the water and started to drown in the back of the Lifeboat. so an interesting couple of points with that is that first, I would have died laughing; second, all these people around me had just completed a first aid course, and we're highly likely able to revive me had I drowned. (Man Drowns in Life Raft on Sea Survival Course)
After this, we did several group swims together, often joining to keep our group together in the event of having to go into the ocean. drifting apart when you're in a group is not a good thing, as the tides in the sea could take you much further than you intend to go. Think back to Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway; when he loses his ball, or Wilson as he called it, he gets separated from his boat very quickly when he tries to swim for it. You do not want to become separated from your boat or group at any time, as the tides, the wind, and the waves in the ocean can carry you much further than you intended away from your boat.
This practical exercise in the pool was enlightening and identified many of my weaknesses. I am an excellent swimmer and can manage myself well in water however climbing into a boat would be a challenge at this particular time. so this particular day gave me many areas I need to work on going forward. deploying a life raft from your ocean rowboat is a last resort, and as long as your ocean rowboat is floating and staying above water, the life raft does not need to be deployed unless you need it for shelter from the conditions. the only event that would cause that is if the rowboat became damaged or had capsized and did not right itself, you would need to get into the boat to protect yourself from the elements.