It seems like a long time ago now, but when I last wrote about water-based activities, I’d just passed my powerboat course.
After the excitement of tearing up and down a waterway in a RIB, it was an anti-climax to return to a lake with a maximum speed of 4mph and having to use a tiller-controlled outboard. In case you’re not sure, a tiller control means no steering wheel and sitting (or crouching in some instances) at the back of the boat to control the engine and your direction.
To be fair, it’s still fun (you just have to remember that to turn you push the tiller in the opposite direction to the way you want to go). Even so, it doesn’t have that same macho image as straddling a jockey seat and pumping away on a phallus-like throttle control whilst hauling on a steering wheel. (Top Gear fans, take note.) But a boat like that would be wasted on our glorified pond.
So, although sailing is my priority, I took lots of opportunities over the next 18 months to log some hours – ferrying people, assisting with rescues and taking the boat out on my own to practice technical manoeuvres. The latter were best done alone because I felt less self-conscious, especially when I ran over objects I was supposed to be pulling up alongside. (Thankfully, none of those objects were people.)
Eventually, though, I was ready for the Safety Boat course.
This was done at Carsington Water, a reservoir on the edge of the Peak District. As you might imagine, out in the countryside and surrounded by greenery, it was a lovely setting. And the lake offered a much larger playground than I’d been used to.
Another club member joined me for the course and the two of us approached it with degrees of apprehension and excitement. Apprehension because we had to pass the course to fulfil our duties at the Club, and excitement because we’d be learning some completely new stuff – and driving RIBs.
This was another two-day course and, as it turned out, whilst we did use RIBs, we were also taken out in tiller controlled boats. Not as thrilling (or so I thought), but very practical given that we’d be using them back at base.
We were tested on our ability to control the boats, then shown a range of rescue techniques. Sadly the most dramatic of these is unlikely to ever occur on my club’s lake – it’s too shallow for a dinghy to completely invert. When you come across a boat in that condition, the last thing you expect to do is push the nose of your powerboat at an angle against that of the capsized vessel and open the throttle. You might expect a range of possible outcomes – pushing the dinghy under, busting a hole in the hull (or both hulls), or the rescue boat shooting over the top. Instead, the dinghy’s hull starts to swivel, steadily lifting the mast out from the depths. It’s exciting and spectacular, but you have to hold your nerve.
That aside, we had the joy of retrieving canoes, sailboards, different sized dinghies and each other. If you’ve read any of my previous posts on the subject, you’ll not be surprised to learn that I was more than happy to volunteer my services as the “man overboard” – repeatedly. In one session, I think I “fell” over the side at least half a dozen times in twenty minutes.
Aside from this, there was the inevitable requirement to demonstrate that we knew our way round a variety of knots. Now, I may have mentioned this before, but knots have never been my strong point. I can tie knots – they just don’t always resemble the ones I’ve been told to tie. Still, my efforts were sufficient.
It was my intention to share a particular rescue we carried out, especially after making that comment about knots. I will do, but not here. As I started to write it, I realised it warranted a post on its own (so watch out for that).
For now, though, I’ll simply confirm that it was an eventful, exciting and rewarding weekend. More importantly, we earned our Safety Boat Certificates.
Since then, I’ve only participated in a few minor rescues. You may think that’s enough, but capsizes can be frequent events when you’re dinghy sailing. Still, I’m on the rota for the new season, and this weekend sees my first formal appearance as Safety Boat Officer at the club.
Let’s hope it’s windy.