Boat Handling SDC

Dave Tresidder arranged for the Boat Handling SDC to be run at Kingston & Elmbridge. This handily meant that 15 of us could do the course with the theory lessons held over several Thursday nights at the club with group split into two for a day’s practical session each.

The theory lessons began with basic boat information and lots of technical terms that you really should know so that you can knowledgably speak about ‘four-stroke engines’ and ‘planing hulls’ and distinguish between your aft, stern, port and starboard with some confidence. Incidentally this all went to pot on the day when we kept trying to go ‘left’ and ‘park’ the boat.

We also covered actually getting the boat anywhere near some water, how to tow, legal considerations, how to launch the RIB  and basic rules of road when you do get it out on the water. These seem to consist of giving way to everyone else in every known situation. Trickier to remember are the different buoys and markers that you will see and the types of flares and emergency equipment that you need to carry.  If you’ve ever been on a RIB before you suddenly realise that there are lots of things you’ve never had to think about before because someone else has sorted it all out.

There was some knot-tying practice which quickly made clear who had spent time around boats or in the Boy Scouts and who had not. Apparently the old adage of “If you can’t tie knots, tie lots’ was no longer good enough. Lastly, we looked at voyage planning to start thinking about planning dives, working out slack times, having back-up plans and all the necessary information that you need about harbours/ports, coastguard numbers etc. This involved working out the longitude and latitude of Newhaven marina and the wreck of the T.R. Thompson with some interesting, possibly inaccurate, data produced.

On Saturday 17th, the day of the practical, we picked up Dave Tresidder and then Britvic. Gren towed the RIB down to Newhaven; a task made more difficult by the fact that there was torrential rain and it would have been difficult to see much at the best of times but certainly not when you’d just attached a 6-metre long dead-weight behind you. Still we made slow, sedate progress down to Newhaven arriving just before 08.30. 

We were all so keen we were all there on time and so terrified that Dave was going to start making us do ‘boat things’ straight away that we were all in our dry-suits about 5 minutes later. Saturday’s trainees were Alex Coombes, Mike Ford, Jonathan Markwell, Dean Mitchell, John Parrish, Mariuz Izydorek (who had to suffer Dave calling him Maurice all day), Gren Hamlyn and me.

Despite our keenness we had to wait a while for the Marina to open so that Geoff, the other instructor, could get his RIB ‘Manta’ released. We were very impressed with Manta which is a fetching green colour. As Geoff said it makes it easier to report it missing if it’s not orange like everybody else’s. We were also very impressed with the laminated folder that contained lots of handy tips on what to do if the engine cut out or the alarm sounded as well as detailed pictures of the engine for more hard-core in-situ repairs. We did a thorough check of all the kit on board, during which Geoff gave us handy tips like actually checking that the anchor was attached to the RIB. We pumped up the tubes and then, armed with life jackets, got her in the water.

The sky in Newhaven was clearing up and the sun was trying to break through but there was no getting away from the fact that there was at least a Force 5, if not more, blowing outside the safety of the harbour wall. Still after a bit of gentle manoeuvring both RIBS poked their noses out to see what was going on. Well, it’s fair to say that it was pretty dramatic out there with three-metre high waves topped by white horses. 

We started off with some fast handling. Geoff demonstrated the good way to ride the waves, powering up them at an angle then killing the speed so that you drop over the other side and can then turn and make use of the trough until the next wave approaches. He then demonstrated the uncomfortable way to do it which I didn’t see as I had my head clamped firmly between my knees as I clung on with every fibre in my body to avoid being flung off the RIB. I think the upshot is don’t drive straight at waves and don’t go over waves if you are parallel to them – the boat will be fine, you however will be swimming back to shore. 

Although the weather was challenging and it was physically tough steering the boat for all of us this really was good fun if you were the one driving. This was also the point where I saw the most dramatic sight of the day, Britvic skippered by Dave heading in-land pursued by the type of wave you only ever see in surfing films. It was with some relief that we saw that they’d managed to out-run it. It was also at that point that we decided to head towards the marina for some practice manoeuvring.

We practiced coming up on a dive site and deploying a buoy and recovering the buoy afterwards. While lobbing a buoy over the side was fairly easy it required more skill to accurately approach the buoy, kill your speed and pick it up. Killing the speed is even more important when you’re picking up divers so we refined this by practicing ‘man overboard’. We learnt that you can’t just turn round but instead need to alter your course by about 20-30º for a few seconds before making a hard turn. This means that you end up coming back in the exact opposite direction of the one you’d been travelling in rather than forming a large circle and taking longer to reach the person in the water. It seems counter-intuitive but does work in practice which is very satisfying.

Next we tried emergency stops. It’s pretty easy to stop the boat suddenly but if you don’t then turn and motor out of the way you will be engulfed by the wave of water following you. This is the marine equivalent of the emergency stop in your driving test with you motoring along at speed waiting for Geoff to shout ‘Stop! at which point you have to stop the RIB as fast as you can. 

We broke for a late lunch during which we all tried to dry off, regain feeling in our fingers and re-insert our arms back into their sockets. The afternoon was devoted to slow manoeuvring which is when you realise that going at speed in a straight line is dead easy and mooring up a boat isn’t. Trying to keep our speed under 1 knot meant we were far more influenced by the wind and the tide so you have to do everything very slowly and in some cases just see which way you are drifting before deciding which way to turn or whether to use the weight of the engine to bring the RIB alongside the mooring. This is hard going forwards but we then moved on to reverse parking which was really challenging. Keeping the RIB under 1 knot was also quite tricky as we all struggled with the controls so there were a couple of 2 knots plus landings.

We also tried ‘kedging’ which is a way of anchoring the RIB close to shore and moving it inland by letting out rope so that you can, for example, off-load a casualty when you aren’t near a port or harbour without having to beach the boat.

At this point the weather had eased off – the calm before the storm literally – but it was starting to get dark so we headed in. Geoff very wisely had his RIB towed back into the marina on the basis that a Force 8 Gale was no weather for it to be sitting in.

After a swift pint in the pub to reflect on the day and what we’d learnt we headed home, grateful that we weren’t part of the group the next day when they were forecasting a Force 6-7.

Anecdotal reports suggest that the wind wasn’t as bad as predicted so they got out into the water, did their drills and came back safely so all credit to Team B: Mark Cockram, Bret Champion, John Fowles, Ros Hepple, Tom Holt, Rob Lea, and Marcela Turanova.

This is a good, fun course – for which many thanks to Dave Tresidder and Geoff Cleary from Manta Divers – and I suspect that there will be a lot of competition this year to drive to boat and practice manoeuvring possibly to the extent of chucking people in just so that we can pick them up – you have been warned!