Boat Handling Course…In WINTER!

One would be forgiven in thinking conducting the practical session of the BSAC Boat Handling Course in January to be absolutely bonkers…and looking round at my course mates and instructor on the day…you wouldn’t be far off!

Saying that, it was one of the most FUN things I have done above the sea since starting to learn to dive 18 months ago! 

We, our instructor and 4 students, all met at the club house for 0745 in the morning and from there bundled into 2 cars to head down to Newhaven where the club boat, Sea King, is moored.  Sea King is a 6m RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) set up for SCUBA diving the many wrecks and features around Newhaven, Brighton, Eastbourne, Worthing and further out into the English Channel.

The weather was calm, although frosty and there was a beautiful sunrise and no traffic meant we were down in Newhaven within an hour.

The tide was still coming in and so we had time for a nice hot cup of coffee and a bacon baguette…which I thought at the time I might be seeing again later.

The first thing we had to do was uncover Sea King and prep her on shore ready for launch.   This involved filling up the fuel tank, inflating the gunwales, fitting the radios, GPS and echo sounder, checking the battery and the navigational lights and tie down our equipment we will use for the day.

The ship yard tractor then arrived and moved SeaKing to the slipway and we learnt to launch her.

The sun was shining…it was going to be a good day.

After seeking permission from the Harbour Master we set off for the English Channel and once we had left the harbour channel into open waters our instructor opened Sea King throttle up and for the next hour or so we took turns getting “THE NEED FOR SPEED” out of each of us while helping us to understand when is a good time to do sharp turns and manoeuvres and how to ride waves.  

The sea swell and waves out in the open water were fairly high, but Sea King remained a stable platform and felt like she could cope with anything….I on the other hand fell silent and went rather white…I knew I should have looked harder for the sickness tablets!  With 5 people, 1 demonstrating and 4 learners  all having a go at doughnuts and flying over waves it all got a bit much for me and my bacon sarnie, but nevertheless it stayed down.

In quieter waters I soon recovered and we were able to practice our man overboard drills, placing divers in the water above a wreck safely and landing and launching the RIB from the shore.  

After a few hours on the water we were getting cold, so we headed back into harbour for a quick cup of tea and some food (another bacon sarnie) before returning back to the harbour to carry out slow manoeuvring drills.  

Anyone can drive a RIB at full throttle and in a straight line, but unlike cars that have brakes, boats will keep going past where you want to end up if you don’t think ahead.  Add the wind and tidal currents into the mix and you have an afternoon of frustration and fun controlling the RIB in a figure of 8 both forwards and backwards between two unused harbour piles and then trying to come up slowly and hold Sea King’s bow just inches off one of the piles.  Our final drill of the day was to turn the boat around in a packed marina without hitting any of the very high value yachts and power boats moored there…  

Thankfully at the end of the day and with the expert tutorage of our BSAC instructor, no calls to the insurance company were needed and my two bacon sarnies stayed down…much to the disappointment of the fish I am sure.

We had also given each other nicknames – ‘Throttle’, ‘Flying Fish’, ‘Go Around’ and ‘Barf’ (Ed – Although I didn’t!!)

All in all it was a great day, and you know what…unless you get off the couch and just have a go you don’t know what living really is!

We all came back with a feeling such a sense of achievement and feeling ALIVE!