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Post Exercise Reports
Ex TIGER FIRST REACH – REME YACHT CLUB SAIL TRAINING EXERCISE Sep 17
(Originally first published in The Craftsman magazine.)
In Sep 2017, the REME Yacht Club ran two one week long sail training weeks. Week 1 was for complete novices. The Corps’ two Halberg Rassey 342 yachts cruised around the Solent as Maj (Retd) Steve Taylor and Sgt Brad Delaney took 10 soldiers and officers through the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Competent Crew syllabus. Week 2 was more experienced personnel; with one boat sailing from Gosport to France via Guernsey.
Ex TIGER FIRST REACH Week 1 (18 – 22 Sep 17)
Scribe: Capt Greg Howard 5 FS Bn REME
During my 23 years of service to date I have been fortunate to have been given the opportunity to participate in a diverse range of adventurous training activities such as trekking, skiing, kayaking, rock climbing and yet more trekking. However, it was only recently that I had the opportunity to sail and am very glad that I did. Even though my childhood was spent on the coast, I had never set foot on a sailing vessel and a ferry to France is the closest I got, so the experience was a completely new one. Once I had survived the initial two days of sailing in the Solent, which was incredibly pleasant with sunburn being the only negative, I was sold and sought to build on this initial exposure and begin attaining some formal qualifications and this is where Ex TIGER FIRST REACH begins.
The Corps, with regards to sailing, is incredibly fortunate. We own two high quality sailing boats which have a permanent mooring in Gosport with the Army Sailing Association. These are maintained by the Corps Bosun, Sgt Delaney, on a permanent basis and they are spotless. Craftsman and Seahorse were used to facilitate the course which would take 10 complete novices and over 5 days would see them all qualify as Competent Crew. In Civi Street this would cost £600 - for the attendees, a bargain for £15.
The course itself would see each boat visit a number of locations in the Solent such as Cowes, Yarmouth and the River Hamble and covered the basic knowledge needed to be a constructive member of a future crew. Subjects such as navigation, knot tying, general sailing theory as well as plenty of practice sailing the actual boat were covered and whilst technically easy there was a large volume to absorb. It was a learning experience for some in other unexpected areas as well. There is no rank on the boat, you have the Skipper and the First Mate and you all muck in as a team which includes the cooking and cleaning. For some, cooking a complete meal was a completely new thing and I found myself teaching some of the younger crew members how to boil a kettle, make toast, chop an onion and also plan a full meal. Whilst this may sound relatively easy, doing in a small galley (on shore it would be called a kitchenette) whilst everything is rocking is a real art.
Sailing, for me, has been the one AT discipline that has resonated and one that I intend to develop on. For most of the crew they felt the same and with sailing being less widely appreciated through the Corps our chances are very good. When you pair this with the available facilities at the Joint Services Adventurous Sailing Centre which is in the same location, anyone wishing to develop their sailing abilities for very little cost can do so rapidly. I absolutely recommend you to do so.
7 (of the 8) novice sailors who gained their RYA Competent Crew during Ex TIGER FIRST REACH 17.
Ex TIGER FIRST REACH Week 2 (25-29 Sep 17)
Scribe: Maj Fergus Sullivan DE&S
After the crew had assembled on the first morning at the Army Offshore Sailing Centre in Gosport on Mon 25 Sep 17, we quickly got kit stowed, the boat victualled and completed the essential safety briefs and were ready to go. As all of us (Lt Col Adrian Norton, Capt Wayne Ellis, SSgt Emmet Watson and LCpl Rob King) were all relatively experienced it was pretty easy, however as we were heading across the Channel, I wanted somebody to go through my passage plan and check all of my calculations and assumptions. Once thoroughly checked (all four of my crew mates took turns to check and critique my work) and the weather forecast taken down we slipped from Fort Blockhouse and headed for Guernsey via the Alderney Race.
Our first decision was whether to sail east or west around the Isle of Wight. The eastern route is marginally shorter, however if you sail along the Solent and then through the Needles Channel, when you turn south to head to France you get a better wind angle from the prevailing South-Westerlies. This latter route will also give a crew the opportunity to remember and revise sailing skills before reaching open water. We decided to go via the Needles, hoping for fair winds. As it turned out we got virtually no wind and had to motor for long sections of the crossing!
When the Atlantic Ocean travels along the north coast of France it hits the Cherbourg Peninsular and changes direction by 90°. Simultaneously, it is funnelled through the bottle neck created between the Channel Islands and the European mainland. The massive mass of water ends up speeding up and surging through any gap that it can including the Alderney Race; at times it can run through this 15 mile wide gap here at 13 knots (13 nautical miles as hour – our yacht can only do a maximum of 7 knots). The strength, direction and time of these currents have been studied and recorded, so it is pretty easy to calculate when they will be fair, foul (depending on your direction of travel) and when you need to get there in order to get through. Our window of opportunity opened at 0300hrs and closed 6 hours later. This meant that we had a schedule to adhere to and because the wind was fluky and very light our sailing expedition turned into a motoring one! We quickly cruised past Cowes, Yarmouth and the Needles making slow but noisy progress hoping for some wind to fill our sails. Before night fell we ate our evening meal and broke down into our 2 watches and established our routine. As I was the skipper, I ended up straddling the 2 watches, checking our progress on the chart, trying to cat nap and jumping up at any change in boat noise, wind angle or crew. In the middle of the English Channel, for safety there is a traffic separation scheme with all the east going traffic using one area and the west bound vessels another. As we were going almost due south, we had to cross straight through these in the middle of the night, trying to work out what the bigger ships were doing and adjusting our course accordingly (for those of a certain vintage it is like playing Frogger). Once through this zone, we started to make out lights on both Alderney and the Cherbourg Peninsular and aimed for the gap in the middle. Our speed, time and distance calculations had been correct and we arrived at the Alderney Race with a fair tide. Soon Craftsman had doubled her speed and was racing through the water at 11 knots. As I had been awake for 20 hours by this time I grabbed an hours sleep whilst the Wayne and Emmet kept us heading towards St Peters Port in Guernsey; however I was up in time to pilot us through all the rocks that lurk outside the harbour’s entrance. As dawn was breaking on Tuesday, we moored up in Guernsey.
Cruising past the Needles making slow but noisy progress hoping for some wind to fill our sails
We all rested for a few hours and then went off to stretch our legs exploring St Peter Port, buy fridge magnets and ice creams whilst ensuring that we did not get any Guernsey pound notes in our change (although legal tender, they are difficult to use in most UK shops). Our afternoon was spent producing passage and pilotage plans for our leg to Cherbourg.
Leaving St Peter Port, Guernsey at dawn
Early on Wednesday morning we slipped, motored out of the harbour and hoisted our sails; luckily this would be the last time that we would use our engine until we were inside the outer breakwater at Cherbourg Harbour. What a difference a day makes, we had fair wind and tide all the way; our maths again turned out to be correct and we arrived at the Alderney Race on schedule being carried along on the favourable current taking us NE. It was so favourable, that we had to spend about an hour tacking to get back to the coast where the currents and eddies were more favourable for our approach into Cherbourg Harbour. Because we had had to motor so much the previous day, we decided to try and sail as much as possible, only switching the engine on when we were ½ a mile from our mooring. It was a great day on the water, the sun shone for most of it (although as we moored up in Cherbourg the skies opened) and we were lucky enough to joined by several pods of dolphins (the biggest group travelling with us from the entrance to St Peter Port to half way up the eastern side of Herm). As many of us are family men and eating out usually involves a greasy burger in a soft play area, we took the opportunity to eat out and have a civilised beer in a Cherbourg town.
One of the many dolphins who kept Craftsman company on her journey from Guernsey to Cherbourg.
The weather at the start of Thursday, turned out to be very similar to that of Monday and Tuesday; without wind. However because we had to get the boat back to Gosport we were left with only one choice, so we put the engine on and chugged our way north. Because crossing the traffic separation scheme had been so interesting in the darkness we deliberately timed it so that we would cross it in the daylight. This was just as interesting as ships sped up, slowed down and then performed 90° turns and crossed across the front of each other. We stayed out of the way and transited through it safely. Shortly after this, and as the sun was setting the wind filled in, so we hoisted our sails and turned off the engine. Soon we were racing along making better speed than we had done with the engine on. As darkness enveloped us, we reefed down to reduce our sail area, however this did not have a significant impact on the boat’s speed. The on watch picked up the lights on the Isle of Wight and pressed on towards the Needles Channel, taking us safely back into the Solent. This was a first for many of the crew; first time under canvas past the Needles and also the first time in the dark. The wind held and helped by a fair tide we were pushed down the Solent, across the top of the Isle of Wight and back to Gosport as dawn was breaking. We tied up at Fort Blockhouse, grabbed some kip before cleaning the boat and handing her back to the Corps Bosun.
Although I have sailed across the Channel several times, I had always done so as the mate or crew. This was the first time I had been in charge. It was exciting and scary at the same time. I am very glad that I did it and had such a good crew to support me. I would like to thank Capts Wayne Ellis and Greg Howard; the former did so much to source crew for the training exercise whilst Greg acted as the UATO and helped with the essential paperwork.
If you are a novice or experienced sailor and would like to know more about offshore sailing with the REME, please visit www.remeyachtclub.com. In 2018 there will be a varied calendar of events including training, racing and expeditions. All of these of are open to serving Regular and Reservist personnel and many are open to retired personnel as well as dependants.
Voyage to the end of time - EX Highland Express (Leg 10)
Scribe: Maj Jake White
The Joint Services aim of Adventurous Training is: ‘To provide challenging outdoor training for Service personnel in specified adventurous activities that incorporates controlled exposure to risk, in order to develop: leadership; teamwork; physical fitness; moral and physical courage; as well as other personal attributes and skills that are vital to the delivery of operational capability’. Offshore Sailing is categorised as a Category 1 activity.
Having participated in numerous adventurous training activities over nearly 23 years’ service, I thought I knew all about Adventurous Training – I was wrong. Nothing could have prepared me physically or psychologically for Exercise HIGHLAND EXPRESS. A ten-day leg aboard HMSTY Gawaine, a Contessa 38, saw a crew of seven sail from Dunstaffnage (just north of Oban on the West coast of Scotland) across The Minch to the Outer Hebrides, and on to the uninhabited island group of St Kilda some 45 nautical miles further west. With a range of experience on board, from total novice to salty seadog, a quick session of forming, storming, norming and performing was required, and promptly executed. Despite the majority of the crew working in close proximity to each other in Abbey Wood, few knew each other particularly well at the start of the trip – that would all change, and quickly!
Leg 10 of the Joint Services Adventurous Training Sailing Centre (JSATSC)-organised trip was skippered by Lt Col Alex Hutton, a veteran of numerous sea passages under both sail and oar. The crew included Majs Gilbey Crilley and Fergus Sullivan and WO1 (ASM) Matt Regan all members of the REME. Throughout we encountered sunshine, rain, high winds and high seas, low wind and no wind, and much else besides. Despite this, we travelled a total of 427 Nautical miles, the vast majority under sail. Departing from Dunstaffnage along the Sound of Mull, we made leisurely progress to the town of Tobermory on the eastern shore of the Isle of Mull, and it proved an idyllic first night’s mooring after a day of drills and rehearsals. The phrase: “if you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes and you’ll have something different” became oft-quoted as an eclectic weather portfolio continued to ‘shuffle’ our meteorological experiences.
The next morning saw us take in a multitude of wildlife before arriving in Mallaig where we picked up the final two members of the crew. Following a rapid revictualling, we set sail early to pass the Inner Hebridean islands of Eigg, Rhum and Canna before heading North West towards North Uist, and the ferry port of Lochmaddy. En route we saw an estimated 100-strong pod of dolphins with wave upon wave of these aquabats passing the yacht on all sides as well as porpoises, whales and sea birds galore. Cooking gas was running low and we were scuppered by the slow pace of Hebridean life – there was none to be found on the island and we were forced to revert to hard routine for the next phase of the expedition.
Ahead of us lay uncharted territory as we followed in the tailwinds of Victorian tourists and intrepid explorers to visit the exposed and isolated St Kilda archipelago where a uniquely simple way of life had maintained a toe-hold on the most north-westerly corner of the British Isles. Now managed by the National Trust and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986, St Kilda is one of the largest seabird breeding colonies in north-western Europe, with an estimated million birds nesting there each year. A cursory visit to the unmanned National Trust museum in the ruins of the village main street indicates that the hardiness required to continue the St Kildan traditions was of a similar intensity. Subsisting on a diet of preserved baby gannets, fulmars, puffins and their eggs, and supplemented by produce from their Soay sheep (milk, cheese), cattle and arable land (potatoes and barley) life was harsh for the average inhabitant. Often not finishing the day’s work until two or three o’clock in the morning, they would rise with the dawn to ensure their ability to pay tithes to the landlord in fish oil, feathers, skins and preserved meat, and to ensure that sufficient food was available to see them through the long, dark winters. By August 1930 the island’s population and way of life had become untenable (a combination of the external influences of tourism, disease, wartime exodus and a realisation that their way of life was unnecessarily hard) and the islanders were permanently relocated to the mainland at their request.
The challenges we faced on the voyage were nothing in comparison to island life, but included seasickness, high seas, high winds and distinctly suspect helmsmanship; some of which contributed to the demise of the saloon table. Changing foresails in heavy swell, with waves crashing over the bows, automatic lifejackets initiating while the wind threatens to rip the sails out of your hands can challenge even the keenest adrenaline-junkie. Nevertheless, landfall was successfully achieved with relief and we dropped anchor in Village Bay, at least until the eagle eyes of the oncoming Anchor Watch (WO1 Matt Regan) noticed that we were in fact starting to drag our anchor out to sea. Some hasty work by the Skipper and Mate (Maj Fergus Sullivan) ensured that the novice first attempts to secure us were quickly overtaken by a more thorough anchorage.
After such an epic outward journey, one might be forgiven for anticipating something slightly less exotic on our return leg. Not so. With the two watches well established, a downwind return to the island of Coll in the Inner Hebrides took nearly 36 hours to complete, including a challenging passage through the Sound of Pabbay at six o’clock in the morning in poor visibility. With breakers being heard (though not seen) on both sides of the yacht, and the newest crew member at the helm, it represented one of the more challenging aspects of the voyage for the skipper.
Arrival in Coll saw the crew take on a slightly cockier stance as we made our way ashore – there was a sense of enormous pride and achievement following our return from St Kilda, and we all enjoyed the chance to unwind, get a fresh meal and a shower. Our final two days were a sublime contrast to the previously challenging conditions and, with spinnaker aloft, we made our way southeast to return to Tobermory and on to Dunstaffnage before handing over our vessel to the oncoming crew. And so ended ten days of idyllic, testing, charming, eclectic and emphatically adventurous training. With fading memories of a slightly choppy day out in the Solent in a mere Force 7, and having been repeatedly placed well beyond my comfort zone, I can honestly say that I have a new-found respect for all those who make these opportunities available to our servicemen and women. The crew of HMSTY Gawaine can be rightly proud of our achievements – fond memories for all who completed the voyage to the end of time, as well as a hard-earned Competent Crew qualification for those who started as novices.
Article by Maj Jake White. Newly qualified Competent Crew!
Ex Transglobe 15/16 Leg 6
OCI Ex – Maj S O’Connor HQ FTC ES Br
Foreword Maj S O’Connor
What seems like an age ago the REME Sailing Club (REME SC) were allocated Leg 6 of Ex TRANSGLOBE 15/16 and a volunteer sought to pull the Ex together. Having just handed over the job of REMESC Principle Secretary I found myself with an amount of spare time on my hands and what better way of filling that spare time than with organising a sailing exped from Hobart, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand. Following the placing of adverts in the "Craftsman" Magazine and on the REME Sailing Club Facebook page names stared to roll in and by the end of January 15 we had 23 volunteers for 13 places. Fortunately the old and tired Challenge 67 yachts which were to undertake the exped were deemed non-seaworthy and replaced at fairly short notice by the bigger Challenge 72 yachts which required a larger crew of 15. After several months of letter writing, submitting applications for funding and chasing places for the miriad of specialist sailing qualifications required for an Ocean passage things started to fall into place and the crew started to come together. Unfortunately due a couple of very short notice withdrawls from the crew in Dec 15 two places were filled by non-REME sailors. As ever, the team worked extremely well proving to be better sailors than the RN crew on the sister yacht. In true REME fashion the crew made maximum use of our time ashore and took part in a number of adrenalin fueled activities that the Kiwi’s seem to be famous for. Having discovered both Tazmainian and Kiwi culture in great depth all returned to the UK in good order and having no outstanding disciplinary issues(a first for the exercise).
The motley crew of HMSTC Discoverer of Hornet:
Scribe: SSgt Hoynes
Early afternoon on 31st December 2015, the crew of Discoverer of Hornet assembled for the first time. Deprived of a normal New Year’s Eve celebration, there were not many complaints as we were about to embark on an experience of a lifetime. 12 REME personnel and 3 REME wannabes (1 x RLC, 1 x RE and 1 x RN) exchanged pleasantries before settling down for an afternoon of pre exercise admin, safety refreshers and briefings on the overall exercise plan. Formalities complete, we set off for Heathrow on New Year’s Day, with our final destination being – Hobart, Australia. Our aim was to sail Leg 6 of the around the world exped, namely Hobart to Auckland across the Tasman Sea and "race" against the RAF/RN crewing our sister yacht, Adventure of Hornet.
An age later we all arrived at Hobart, Tasmania and made our way to our home for the next 3 weeks, the 72ft Yacht Discoverer of Hornet. The crew moved into their cramped bed spaces and received a guided tour from the awaiting Skipper. This was followed by an evening enjoying local food and cold refreshments at the Hobart food festival which just happened to be taking place around the central post area of town. Training and yacht familiarisation took up the best part of the next 3 days. Everything was covered from using the Heads (toilets) to rehearsing man overboard drills. We were finally ready to set sail!
The crew at Royal Yacht club of Tasmania
On Thursday 7th of January around midday we slipped from the marina and began our passage across what can be very unpredictable seas to New Zealand. Conditions were perfect, calm sea, a gentle breeze and beautiful sunshine. A bit of mild banter was aimed at Adventure as she had forgotten to remove one of her fenders which was bouncing and splashing all over the place, much to our amusement. Having cleared the promonant headland off the South East corner of Tasmania, the wind soon picked up. By nightfall the yacht was being thrown around by Force 9 winds (a severe gale according to the Beuafort Scale) with gusts of 45kts. This proved to be a baptism of fire for the novices and even a few experienced crew members, the skipper included. Before long most of the crew were hanging over the side feeding the fish, with everyone following the RN lead as Blue Watch leader was first to go! However, one highlight during this period was that the first mate, a chain smoker by nature unfortunately let his whole supply of baccy fly overboard in the wind! This meant he could be easily bribed to delay any sail changes for the next watch!
The crew departing Hobart, Tasmania
By morning the weather had calmed significantly and the crew began to settle into their watch routine of 4 hours on, 4 hours off for 48 hours followed by 24 hours on “mother watch”. Mother Watch entails cooking the meals for all the crew, cleaning and conducting any maintenance but more importantly mother watch have a full night sleep and a shower! Before long the whole crew was proficient at putting reefs in place and changing both fore sail and stay sails. There was even the opportunity to unleash the might spinnaker sail.
9 days past without any sign of civilisation, no sightings of any other boats, planes or land. It makes you realise how vast the ocean is. Excitement erupted around the boat at every sighting of dolphins playing off the bow or Whales splashing around in the distance. There was also the occasional glimpse of a shark fin within a few meters of the boat to brighten a 4 hr watch. 1200Nm miles from leaving Hobart and land was finally sighted. We had reached the northern tip of New Zealand’s North island. The coast line was spectacular with golden beaches and forests stretching as far as the eye could see.
Scribe: Cfn Sawdon-Kendall
After 10 days at sea the crew were overjoyed to see land again. And what a view it was. The clouds cleared and the sun came out, welcoming us to New Zealand. The entry Into Whangerei was picturesque with shimmering blue waters and towering mountains. After a short wait and a friendly interview with customs and the sad loss of our Australian honey we were cleared to set foot on New Zealand soil. We spent the next couple of days exploring the local surroundings and enjoying some of New Zealand’s great food and beer.
Great Barrier Island
After delaying our departure by 12 hours due to the weather we let slip under the cover of darkness for the Great Barrier Island off the coast near Auckland. After a short journey we arrived at dawn to discover a beautiful landscape of mountains, forests and bays. We dropped anchor and deployed the rib (inflatable dinghy with outboard motor). We then rigged up one of the halyards and made a rope swing which the other Steve was the first to test and then spent the next few hours competing for most impressive jump and most epic fails from said rope swing. After drying off and a change of clothes we boarded the rib and headed for land. We split off into groups and went exploring. After 8 miles of tabbing through forests and up hills in +28 degree heat we were very much in need of refreshment and this came in the form of a majestic waterfall. After having a dip and a cool off we headed back to the boat. That evening we sat around having a few beers and did a spot of fishing. John Frame (an ex deep sea fisherman) had been trying to catch a fish all trip and finally got his first catch. Even though it was a pretty small fish (possibly less than 6 inchs in length) he was very happy and got a great cheer from the crew. Shortly after we spotted an 8ft shark swimming past the boat in the evening light and the realisation set in that we had been jumping into shark infested water all day. We thanked our limbs for still being there and went to bed.
Discoverer at Great Barrier Island
We set off from the Great Barrier Island at first light the following day on an uneventful journey. We departed on a misty and silent morning and once again were enammered by the hundreds of islands peppering the coast which were a sight to behold. The sea and winds were calm so we motored down to Auckland. On entering Auckland Bay we sailed past a couple of New Zealand Navy sailing boats one of which was crewed by RN personnel taking part in a Tri Navy race and exchanged some banterish abuse towards one another before docking in Bayswater harbour.
Bayswater harbour was situated just over the water from Auckland CBD but luckily there was a ferry that crossed over regularly for a couple of bucks. The first night in Auckland saw the whole crew taking part in the traditional crew meal in what turned out to be an excellent resturaunt serving what seemed to be like an endless supply of really tasty meat, to the delight of many having been on hard routine on noodles for the last 3 days of the trip. After a long hot day of cleaning, fixing and servicing of the boat we were finally let loose on Auckland. The crew spent the next couple of days exploring the city, the sights and the beers. Auckland had loads to offer from walking around on the sky tower, watching cricket at Eden Park stadium (the home of the All Blacks) or relaxing and dining in some of the many great bars and restaurants. After a few great days we reluctantly travelled back to Auckland airport and then onto Heathrow via Singapore.
Ex DIAMOND SEAHORSE 2013 – Annual REME Sail Training Exercise
Scribe: SSgt D N Kerrigan 35 Engineer Regiment LAD
On the 21 May 2013, five Hallberg-Rassey 34ft yachts departed from the British Kiel Yacht Club (BKYC) to take part in Ex DIAMOND SEAHORSE 2013, the annual Baltic REME Sail Training Exercise (STE).
The STE is an offshore sailing event focusing on two main criteria
The preparations for this prestigious event started back in January 2013. After a well deserved Christmas recess my ASM, WO1 Rombke, made a beeline for me immediately after the muster parade. Quite briefly he mentioned that the Corps were looking for a volunteer to organise the STE and, being a Coastal Skipper, would I be interested? Well, I thought - how difficult could organising Adventurous Training (AT) be? With four months and plenty of time to organise the event, I eagerly volunteered my services and duly started the preparation that was to follow. As I was soon to find out, organising two weeks worth of sailing was not quite the piece of cake I thought it was going to be....
For those reading this who have not organised any form of AT before it is not a straight forward and simple task. I completely under-estimated how much time, preparation and organisation are involved - in addition to all my normal responsibilities and commitments as a 1st tour Tiffy at a busy Engineer LAD. I quickly learned that, as the event drew closer and with time running out, my planning was not going according to schedule and that some long evenings and nights would be required if everything was to be completed on time.
Boat Pochard VIII (2Bn REME), skippered by Maj (Ret’d) Alan Cook (wearing baseball cap)
Hoping that I had completed everything that was required, and praying that all involved would attend, the 21st May 2013 (D-Day) soon came around. The only thing left to do was jump on a minibus to Kiel and the BKYC. Ex DIAMOND SEAHORSE 2013 was about to happen.
The BKYC is located on the outskirts of the city of Kiel in North East Germany. Kiel itself is located on the southeast of the Jutland peninsula and on the south-western shore of the Baltic Sea. Kiel has a long, varied and strong sailing and nautical history – during the Second World War, it was the main base for the famous “Wolf Pack” submarines and was a major manufacturer of submarines and ships throughout; it also hosted the 1936 and 1972 Summer Olympic sailing competitions; and is world famously renowned for its many sailing events and tall ship races including “Kieler Woche” (or Kiel week).
The Baltic Sea is located between Central and Northern Europe. It is bounded by the Swedish part of the Scandinavian Peninsula, the European mainland (Germany, Denmark, Poland etc...) and the Danish Islands. It also provides a link to the North Sea through the Kiel Canal.
Upon our arrival at Kiel, we were greeted warmly by all the BKYC staff. Herr Dirk Naumann (Club Marketing & Administration Clerk) had been my main point of contact in organising the boats we required. Shortly after our arrival, the other four teams competing arrived and introductions between skippers and crews were made.
Boat Tern VIII (9/12 Lancers LAD), skippered by Mr Alan Powell (guest skipper)
The five teams to take part in this year’s event were as follows:-
The ten day schedule for the STE was planned in vigorous detail as certain ports had to be reached at certain times – all this was dependent on wind direction and strength, the amount of daylight and weather conditions – not to mention the “competitive sailing” that needed to be included.
The first day at BKYC (D-Day) involved various admin tasks - boats were signed for and allocated to each unit at random, stores were signed for, provisions for the ten days purchased and foul (or wet) weather gear issued which included some very fashionable footwear called “deck shoes”. An important part of this first day were a number of mandatory safety briefs for crew and skippers alike - this was to make all participants aware of the dangers of sailing and the teaching of emergency procedures that need to be understood by all in the event of a boat collision, medical emergency or any other kind of distress. Once all admin and briefings were complete, the crews retired to the bar for a few sociable drinks and then back to their respective boats for a good night’s sleep and prepare for leaving the safety of BKYC the next day.
2Lt McLean (2Bn REME) climbing Pochard’s mast in the Bosun’s chair
The weather conditions for the 22nd May (D+1) were unfavourable at best. A Beaufort scale wind force of 5 to 6 (18 to 30 mph) was expected. These were less than ideal conditions in particular for the Novices (first timers) and some of the skippers who had not sailed in a while. Nevertheless we planned to sail to the port of Marstel located on the Danish island of “Aero”. Upon leaving the safety and shelter of the BKYC and Kiel harbour, the sea state picked up considerably. 1 to 2 m swells were experienced and the rain and wind were both constant and relentless. Winds were as predicted and the weather reports were, for once, unfortunately very accurate. The 44 nautical mile journey took approximately 7 hours and there were few boats seen on our lonely journey across the Baltic from German to Danish international waters. With all crews thoroughly cold, wet and most participants sea sick, all boats safely arrived at Marstel. We were warmly greeted and quizzed by other German and Danish sailors in Marstel Harbour who politely questioned why had we bothered to make such a long journey in awful weather conditions?! The answer given, quite simply, was “Because we are British REME soldiers.... and because we can!!"
Boat Curlew VIII (10 Trg Bn REME), skippered by SSgt Mick Bysh (at helm)
The next day, 22nd May (D+2), was a much calmer day - much to the relief of most of the skippers and crew. Some of the Novices were still feeling the effects of the previous day and were dreading another such day as the “baptism of fire” they had on D+1; some so shocked that they deliberately avoided eating any food before leaving harbour…. The sun made a welcome appearance and the wind was a much more sailor-friendly Force 3 (8 to 12 mph). The next destination was the port of Sonderborg, located on the south side of the Danish island “Als”. No competitive sailing took place but instead crew training and essential drills were completed which, for safety reasons, couldn’t be carried out on D+1 due to the weather. Mr Alan Powell (Boat Tern, 9/12th Lancers LAD) had some difficulties in navigating the shallow water in Marstel Harbour – no matter how good a skipper you are, a boat will not travel over land!! After a brief recovery tow from “Baltic Swift” (our BKYC support boat for the STE), all boats left harbour. As the day progressed, the Novices saw the more relaxed side of sailing – the beautiful countryside of the Danish islands of Aero and Fyn could be seen from the boats due to the improved weather. After a much more relaxed day all arrived safely in Sonderborg.
The 23rd May (D+3) saw an early morning start and wind forces of 2/3 with a relatively calm sea state – ideal for a passage event and the start of some competitive sailing. The event itself would be quite straightforward. A 38 nautical mile event was planned from Sonderborg to the port of Faaborg, located on the east side of the Danish island of “Fyn”. The event would first take us north from Sonderborg along the Als Fjord, around the northerly side of Als itself and then east on to Fyn and into Faaborg. As the day progressed, the sun made an appearance much to the delight of all. It seemed that the weather was getting considerably better as the week progressed - all too much for the better, as it turned out, as the wind died off completely... Op “BRONZE” was initialised by some of the crews to pass the time and wait out the dead calm in the hope that the wind would make another appearance. The wind failed to re-appear and by mid afternoon ,after a couple of hours of drifting aimlessly, the passage event was cancelled early. Under the power of engine, all boats made their way to Fyn and into the port of Faaborg.
Boat Widgeon VIII (4Bn REME), skippered by SSgt Dave Kerrigan (35 Engr LAD, guest skipper)
Saturday 25th May (D+4) brought light Northerly winds, poor visibility and rain - not ideal passage event conditions due to generally miserable weather. This seemed an ideal opportunity to hold a “Round the Can” event which took place in shallow waters off the south east of Faaborg. This is a short distance competitive sailing event which involves short downwind and upwind legs – for the crews this means quick changes between points of sail and demands hard work and concentration in order to keep the boat as competitive as possible.
The remainder of the morning saw more Round the Can events take place, so to change the rhythm another passage event was planned for the afternoon. The planned route would see all boats heading south from Faaborg and then east on to the port of Svendborg, also on the island of Fyn. The weather had improved by the afternoon and the last part of the journey into Svendborg is along the “Svendborg Sund”; a narrow but navigable water way with beautiful scenery either side. Svendborg itself also has many beautiful attractions; it was Saturday night, the European Cup final and the opportunity for all crews to visit the busy town of Svendborg with its expensive Danish beer, “Jazz bar” and “Crazy Daisies” nightclub.
On Sunday 26th May (D+5), being a day of rest, a late start was granted – well deserved for most of the crews and one or two of the skippers who had visited Svendborg and its beautiful attractions into the early hours. With the reduced amount of sailing time, and to ensure all would be in the next port by last light, a straight forward passage event was planned. This event would take us from Svendborg Harbour to a small port called Lundeborg which is located on the east side of Fyn. The weather forecast was similar to the first day with Beautfort Scale wind of Force 4 to 5. With land in sight along most of the journey and with most of the crew used to the elements this was not so much of a drama as most of the novices by this stage had gained their “sea legs” . The light rain and fresh air revigorated and rejuvenated the weary souls from the previous nights exploits. An admirable distance of 33 nautical miles was covered, despite the late start, and saw all boats and crews arrive safely into Lundeborg harbour in the twilight evening.
A “Round the cans” competitive sail. Boat Pochard in lead, followed closely by Tern and Grebe
The following day (D+6) was the start of yet another passage event – this was to be the daily form from now to the end of the STE. The route for this event would see all the boats head south from Lundeborg and the island of Fyn down towards the Danish island of Langeland. Our destination on Fyn was the port of Rudkobing on the west side of Langeland. The weather forecast predicted Northerly winds of Force 1 to 2 which would mean some light wind sailing and more sunshine. Very light wind sailing was the order of the day as, yet again, the wind died off completely after the first couple of hours. The passage event was called off early and, with final positions noted, under the power of engine all boats made their way to the harbour of Rudkobing.
Tuesday 28th May (D+7) saw the STE start heading south to ensure that the STE would be back in Kiel on schedule (D+9) - not before some more Round the Cans events which took place a few miles south of Rudkobing which would also include the Compass event. The Compass event is, quite simply, competitive sailing round four compass points which can be sailed in any order or direction. Once the Round the Cans and Compass event had been completed, all boats made their way back to Aero and a return back to familiar territory and the port of Marstel.
Wednesday 29th May (D+8) saw some strong winds from the north for our return back to the German mainland and closer to Kiel. Our destination was the small town of Damp - aptly named as our journey there saw strong winds and light rain. This would be a lengthy passage event of around 40 miles which lasted the duration of the day. The winds were particularly strong but, as our heading was south/south west, we managed to achieve some down wind sailing – relatively easy and fast but potentially dangerous if the “boom” swings around which it can do with violent force. On arrival at Damp, cold and very damp, some local refreshments were found prior to which some of the crews went for showers to freshen up. Cfn Rolfe (35 Engr LAD) made the mistake of leaving his clothes un-attended for more than (at least) 3 seconds whilst taking a shower – a schoolboy error which Cfn Marvell exploited (also 35 Engr LAD) and stole said clothes. This left a slightly embarrassed Cfn Rolfe make the long walk back from the Damp ablution blocks back to boat Grebe with only a towel and a Deputy Dawg hat to hide his shame, much to the amusement and applause of the STE!!
All five boats, moored at Svendborg Harbour, line abreast - Pochard at rear, name not shown
The last day of sailing (D+9) saw the return back from the German mainland of Damp and into Kiel (and saw Cfn Rolfe re-united with his change of clothes at last). The weather was favourable coming back into Kiel and the familiar sights of Kiel Lighthouse, the U boat memorial at Laboe and “Freddy” Lighthouse soon came into view. The weather was glorious, the sun was shining with a clear blue sky, and the light winds meant a leisurely sail down the Kiel Fjord.
With all boats back safely into Kiel harbour and moored up at the BKYC, the close down procedure for the boats started. Bilges were scrubbed, the outside of the boats cleaned vigorously, the galley cookers brillo’d to a shiny condition - for those who have never sailed before, the standard required to hand a boat back is nothing short of a particular painful married quarter march out - any dirt found or item not cleaned to the required standard is rejected. Full credit to the staff at BKYC that boats are always handed over/taken over in nothing short of an immaculate condition.
Boat Grebe VIII (35 Engr LAD), skippered by WO1 (ASM) Rombke
As mentioned previously, there were trophies to be awarded for the various events, and after much calculating and number crunching, the winning crews were as follows:-
3rd place overall – 9th/12th Lancers LAD in Boat Tern – awarded the “VT Support Services” Trophy
2nd place overall – 35 Engineers LAD in Boat Grebe – awarded the “Elkins Cup” (skipper WO1 Rombke asbent)
1st place overall – 2Bn REME in Boat Pochard – awarded the “Girling Cup”
In summary, I would like to thank all those who took part in the event and those who provided much needed assistance to me in the organisation of the STE – Maj (Ret’d) Alan Cook of 2 Bn REME for his experience and sage words from organising previous STEs over the years; Herr Dirk Naumann for having the patience to answer all my numerous questions and enquiries; the safety boat crew of Baltic Swift Mr Mike Giles and Mr Rob Pickering – and finally to Joanne Cooper of ATG(G) for guiding me through the entire ATG organisation and ATSYS/JSATFA process.
Boats Curlew and Widgeon, neck and neck, on a Round the Cans competitive sail
In civilian life, sailing can be limited to a rich man’s world but within military circles it is an affordable one. It is a breathtaking sport that challenges the mind and body and you are, quite literally, at the mercy of the elements – be it no wind and blazing sunshine or gale force winds and 10 foot waves. It is, quite easily, one of the better sports to visit exotic and faraway places. I would heartily encourage those who read this article and who have never sailed before to speak to their Sailing Officers’ at their respective units if they are interested in what, in my mind, is the most exciting and rewarding sport there is.
Pochard and Tern, competitively sailing, on a long passage event
If you would like to know more about REME Offshore Sailing then you should visit the website or email Maj Steve Taylor or Maj Fergus Sullivan. There are sailing events throughout the year in the UK, Germany and around the World. Training courses are available through the REME Sailing Club and also through the Joint Services Adventurous Sail Training Centre.
REME Sailing Club Sail Training Week - 30 Sept to 6 Oct 2013
The REME Sailing Club ran a Sail Training Week (STW) for 30 Corps members, both Regular and Reservist, between 30th September and 6th October 2013. The STW were embarked on 4 Victoria ’34 Sail Training Vessels from the Joint Services Adventurous Sail Training Centre (Dosinia, Trocus, Voluta and Zidona) and also Seahorse, one of the Corps own Halberg Rassey ’34. The objective of the week was to instruct and qualify personnel as RYA Day Skippers and Competent Crews. It also allowed novices to be introduced to offshore sailing and allow experienced sailors to develop further and gain essential seamiles. The STW culminated in the annual REME Sailing Club End of Season Rally (EOSR) and was a huge success: 20 novices tried sailing for the first time, three RYA Day Skippers and five Competent Crews were qualified, Regular and Reserve Army soldiers integrated and on average boats sailed 150 miles, visited 15 harbours, ports and anchorages.
Without the help and assistance of the following the week would not been a success: Maj Gen (Retd) Tyler for joining the EOSR committee and presenting the prizes, Lt Col (Retd) Robert East and Maj (Retd) Bill Barclay for planning and organising the EOSR, Maj Steve Taylor and Sgt Brad Delaney for instructing and Maj Steve O’Connor, WO1 (ASM) Wayne Ellis, SSgt Dickie Bird and Cpl Chad Giles for skippering.
If you would like to find out more about offshore sailing with the REME Sailing Club please email Maj Fergus Sullivan .
8 Craftsmen from 11 Trg Bn REME, departed Hazebrouck Bks for Gosport early on Monday morning. The four boys who crewed Dosinia set out expecting sailing to be a doddle. However they very soon learnt that it wasn’t and that it was physically and mentally demanding. Maj Steve Taylor, assisted by Cpl Adam Boffy, led the crew and taught them how to be RYA Competent Crew, despite all 4 of the junior Craftsmen never having been on a boat before. It was hard work, however despite the lack of Nando’s, stong winds and big waves the crew eventually began to enjoy the week on the water and learnt a huge amount about sailing and themselves (one junior Craftsman was taught to always check the inventory and not to trust his friends after the rest of the crew convinced him that he was responsible and would be billed for a set of missing night vision goggles tides that never were). With lots of hard graft and ‘socialising’ it was a rewarding week overall and is recommended to all regardless of experience.
On Monday 30th September 2013, I embarked on my first sailing exercise. Our crew consisted of me, Cfn James, and my shipmates Cfn Bailey, Vass and Mills. Our mate was the international man of mystery who didn’t want to be named, seemingly because of all his terrible one liners (AKA Cpl Chad Giles). Finally the skipper WO1 (ASM) Ellis.
Our first day was mainly admin based and was topped off with a disastrous portion of southern fried wedges cooked, by myself, in the world’s coldest oven. Over the next few days we comfortably learnt knots and basic sailing manoeuvres from our well-travelled skipper. This was made even easier by the mild weather conditions. After setting sail from Gosport on Tuesday we travelled to several different ports during the week with the Corps fleet; these included Hamble, Ocean Village in Southampton and Lymington (twice after some scoundrel on another boat said they would meet us there when they were stealing the best mooring in Yarmouth!).
On Thursday things changed rapidly with us facing up to forty knots of winds but by then our crew, and our vessel Trochus, were up to the challenge. We rode out the storm as lesser crews hid up the Hamble and we had a great day! As the day went on conditions got worse and people started to get sick, but not because of the wind or waves, but because Cfn Bailey served up half cooked Fray Bentos pies for evening scoff. After that stormy day morale went through the roof, we worked together much better and we all agreed after this was an experience we would keep for the rest of our lives, and we will definitely be going sailing again in the near future.
By Friday we were sick of hearing Cfn Bailey tell his tales of tickling trout out of the water. He never stopped whinging about buying a fishing rod so it was a great relief when he got one in Cowes. However, we all predicted right, no fish caught! It didn’t stop his “fisherman’s tales” and he still insists he caught a crab after dangling his maggot in the marina.
Our final night in Lymington with the EOSR included a tasty meal and a few beverages to wash it down. After a few dodgy homemade meals onboard the previous week we were glad for the nutrition. The day’s sailing had been good so we were not too disheartened to leave the prize giving empty handed.
The skipper had us up early on Sunday to prepare for the race back to Gosport. We were a little disappointed when the race was cancelled; partly because there was no sailing but mostly because it gave Cfn Bailey an opportunity to tell more “fisherman’s tales”. We silenced him by sending him into the galley to clean the oven on the way home. In a matter of hours we were back in Gosport cleaning the boat for handover. Safe and sound after a terrific week of sailing we wondered when we might have another opportunity to get out on the water.
Sgt Brad Delaney skippered the Corps yacht 'SEAHORSE VI' and had a crew of 5 students on board; Lt Col Pete Wilson HQ Army, Capt Chris Broad 7 AA Bn REME, Cpl Pete Humberstone 103 Bn REME, Cfn 'Sue' Ryder 5 FS Bn REME and Cfn Shaun Goddard 1 RIFLES LAD REME. Three of the crew had various amounts of previous sailing experience and were candidates for the RYA Day Skipper qualification, while two were complete novices seeking to gain the RYA Competent Crew certificate. The crew spent 5 days out on the Solent going through practicing all aspects of the RYA syllabus, which included lots of practice for the potential Day Skippers at handling the boat in busy marinas, coming alongside pontoons and tying up on buoys. During the week 'SEAHORSE' visited West Cowes, Port Hamble, Ocean Village in Southampton and Lymington where there was time to cover all of the sailing theory and knowledge required by the Day Skippers. The Competent Crew candidates were also given lectures on safety, weather and basic navigation. With 2 birthdays falling during the course there was an opportunity to go ashore and celebrate with a meal in a local restaurant, which provided a welcome break from cooking dinner on the small cooker in the boat's galley.
On Thursday morning whilst in Ocean Village, Cfn Ryder was winched to the top of the mast and instructed to retrieve and read a piece a paper. It told him that he had been selected for promotion to LCpl. Cfn Ryder assumed it was a wind up and the crew congratulated him by leaving him at the top of the mast just a little longer than was necessary. Eventually, he was lowered to the deck and congratulated in person by Lt Col Wilson! At the end of the course all 5 members of the crew were given the welcome news that they had passed as either Day Skipper or Competent Crew. They remained on the Solent over the weekend to participate in the EOSR, which provided an opportunity to practice the various skills learnt during the previous 5 days. It was a full week of excellent instruction and good quality sailing, followed by a very enjoyable offshore rally.
Corps Colours Fly
The crew of Zidona were Maj Fergus Sullivan, Sgt Emmett Watson, Cpl Phil “Dangerous” Seaman, LCpl Dan Jones, Cfn Richard Lloyd and Cfn Jack Matthews. Apart from Fergus and Emmett none of the other crew had any experience and therefore the skippers original plan of long passages had to be amended in order to teach the rest of the boat’s company the basics of boat handling, seamanship and living onboard. In order to do this we followed the same RYA Competent Crew syllabus that Dosinia and Seahorse were.
Our first day was filled with getting to know each other, receiving safety briefings and drawing kit. Once this was done we practised coming alongside and parking the boat, before sailing to East Cowes. It had been quite a tiring day, so after a couple of beers in the Life Boat (which is a pub in East Cowes and not an actual lifeboat) all the crew got an early night. Day two started with some more coming alongside and a motor cruise down the river Medina to the Folly Inn. The crew were amazed to see so many boats old and new, big and small not doing anything. After leaving the river Medina, we practised man over board drills as we sailed west to Newtown Creek. Here we met the remainder of the fleet tied to buoys, whilst we, fearing the berthing master would come and ask us for money, decided to use our anchor. Somehow, we managed it first time and settled down for a late lunch and a well earned cup of tea. Before the skipper had to do too many secondary port calculations, we left Newtown Creek for a short sail west down the coast to Yarmouth where we moored for the evening with the 3 other Victoria 34’ Sail Training Craft participating in the STW. All the crews met up in the Kings Head and swapped tales of daring do on the high seas.
Wednesday morning we sailed the short distance to Lymington and motored down the river to the Town Quay, whilst trying to stay away from the Isle of Wight Ferry. Lymington Harbour is full of boats, which meant the Lloydy had to concentrate and work hard helming the boat. He even managed to bring the boat alongside the Dan Bran Quay. Not bad for a novice on day 3 of their first ever sailing trip. Jonesie then steered us of the pontoon and down the Lymington River, out to sea and away from the Isle of Wight ferry. We tried to sail east, but were at times defeated by the lack of wind and eventually picked up a mooring buoy in the Beaulie for lunch and more tea. We sailed off the buoy and tried to sail down the river and out to sea, but found ourselves pinching at the entrance and had to use the engine to get us out safely. We cruised up Southampton Water on a polled out headsail in an attempt to catch Dosinia who had whooshed past us flying their spinnaker. We eventually moored in Ocean Village for the night with the other Vic 34s and Seahorse. The skipper did a good job of mooring in a very tight spot, which was only made worse when the neighbouring boat’s owner magically appeared in their cockpit to watch us mooring and to give Zidona death stares when their boat got a little close. A quiet night was had on board Zidona, sipping wine and telling tall tales. On Thursday the wind was still from the south, however it had significantly increased and meant that the beat down Southampton Water was a challenge. After a near miss with an anchored vessel after loosing a game of chicken with the Isle of Wight Ferry, the crew of Zidona decided to seek refuge in the river Hamble.
After conducting some coming alongside practise and a cruise up the river as far as the A27 bridge we put into Port Hamble Marina and headed to the pub for a late lunch. The following day,, the crew felt ready to face the high seas once again and agreed to the skippers crazy plan of sailing around the Isle of Wight. The first 3 hours were OK, as the boat had a lot less sail than it had the previous day. However once Zidona got past Bembridge the situation changed. The wind was still strong and from the South and South West (the direction we wanted to go) and the waves were huge. We continued to beat our way down the coast, but struggled to tack as the waves were so big that they stalled the boat. In the end the engine was required in every tack in order to keep us moving. Gradually everybody in the crew, except Lloydy, felt the effects of seasickness (Lloydy even went below to deliberately try and get seasick as he felt left out – he failed and felt fine). To make people feel worse and scare them a bit, two crew life jackets went off when we were “splashed” by a large wave. As we rounded St Catherine’s Point (the most southerly point of the Isle of Wight) the sun came out, the sea calmed (a bit) and things on board Zidona seemed a lot better and the crew smiled (occasionally). Despite the big waves and having to beat around the island, we made very good time and had to fight against the tide to get past the Needles. Sailing up the Western Solent towards Cowes, the crew asked to raise the spinnaker, which enabled us to go even faster. Soon we were in Cowes with the rest of the fleet eating fish and chips (which for the skipper was the first food he had eaten since breakfast due to seasickness).
Saturday and Sunday were the End of Season Rally. Zidona tried really hard on the End of Season Rally, answering all the questions, finding buoys all over the Solent, making soup and tying knots (Jonesey struggled to tie bowlines throughout the week, however when the chips were down and he was asked to tie a Solomon Bar Lanyard he produced the goods). Sadly there was not a lot of wind, so we ended up using the engine most of the day. After visiting the Beaulieu River, Newtown Creek and Yarmouth we reached Lymington to discover that every other boat in the Solent was also in Lymington for the night. We met the rest of the crews and the committee in the restaurant and enjoyed some good job and funny stories. The only downside was that Zidona did not win the Commodore’s Cup. The crew enjoyed a final night together in the bars and inns of Lymington. The race hom on the Sunday was not a race home. There was no wind to speak of so we (like the rest of the fleet) motored home whilst simultaneously cleaning the boat in preparation for our return to Gosport where we left the boat. It was a great trip on which we all learnt a massive amount, gained lots of experience, sailed over 150 miles and got to the pub every night.
Rolex Fastnet Race 2013
Scribe: Cpl Gethin Jones 4 Regt AAC
Football has the FA Cup, golf has the British Open and sailing has the Rolex Fastnet Race. When it comes to competitions they don’t come any bigger. A chance for mere mortals to compete against the best in the world. This was my chance, and I was going to grab it.
It all began in the TQMS department, 4 Regt AAC WKSP as I was enjoying a well earned brew at lunchtime. The latest edition of Craftsman magazine was doing the rounds and in it was an advert for crew for the upcoming Rolex Fastnet Race. Thinking it was a long shot I sent an e-mail to Maj Taylor, fully expecting a quick reply saying it was too late and the boat had been filled. It was therefore a huge surprise to be offered a place that day! The date was set for the crew to meet on the pontoon at JSASTC, Gosport on Monday the 5th of August. I couldn’t wait.
Chaser is a 27 ton 40 year old Nicholson 55ft yacht that was built for neither comfort nor speed. She was however made of some pretty tough stuff. It was hard not to be impressed by her. The crew all began to arrive, as did my nerves as I heard of their qualifications and experience. They were all a mixture of Yachtmasters and Day Skippers with me being the only novice on board. The jokes were quickly being thrown about with the arrival of Chad “the cat” alias Walter Mitty and others. My anxieties were quickly forgotten amongst one liners and put downs.
The first week on board Chaser was a mixture of skills, drills and familiarisation. Skipper Steve was putting us all through our paces. Anyone not coming up to his standards were quickly aware with lines such as “if you can’t drive and talk, don’t talk!!” and “STOP PINCHING!” We were also split into green and red watches and began to practice the watch routine with a trip to Cherbourg. We used the Channel Crossing to train for every eventuality. Sail changes, spinnaker flying, man overboard drills were all repeated to skipper’s approval. For a novice like me it was fantastic experience, with the whole crew giving me the benefit of their knowledge.
A return to Gosport allowed us to change worn sails and offload all non essential equipment. Saving weight became the order of the day. Nothing escaped Skipper Steve’s ruthless streamlining regime. This included cutlery, pots and pans and books. We were taking no prisoners as our 27 tons was already a major disadvantage against the lightweight, modern racing yachts. The loss of cutlery cut deep within the crew, with dissention threatening to turn into mutiny. Order was restored with the reassurance that the loss of the cutlery weight allowed us to carry the post race beers!
We departed Gosport and made our way to Cowes. Not only was this the day before the big start it was also the last Saturday of Cowes Week. The sailing Mecca was packed with yachts of all shapes and sizes. All the crews were preparing their yachts for the start in a carnival atmosphere. Once Chaser was ready for battle we descended on Cowes armed with our wide-awake red gillets (that were quickly becoming pink) courtesy of Maj Will Naylor. Heads were turning as we made our way through the crowds. We looked like we meant business.
On the morning of Sunday the 11th of August nerves were fraught. We were in the IRC 2 class and our start was scheduled for 1310. We had enough time to make final adjustments and have our crew photos taken ashore. Then it was all hands on deck for the start sequence. Before the customary jostling for positions start we had to sail past a race official showing our storm sails. Once that was done we were ready to begin.
"The view from the back" courtesy Sgt Brad Delaney
I can quite honestly say I haven’t seen anything like the countdown to the starting gun before. Hundreds of yachts were all scrambling for the best positions to cross the line, sometimes coming within a few feet of colliding. Skipper Steve was like a man possessed on the helm, screaming at fellow competitors as we skimmed passed each other. My heart was in my mouth. Then we heard the bang of the start gun on the radio and we were off. This was the beginning of the most testing phase of the race, exiting the Solent. Having so many yachts in the same place, combined with the limited width of the channel and wind conditions meant beating our way passed the Needles. As green watch were in the cockpit this meant constant watch over the winches. Winching in, drawing, grinding and tailing were non-stop as we zigzagged our way passed the famous Needles landmark. Any butterflies in the stomach were well and truly forgotten.
Once passed the Needles we broke into the watch system and the pace eased slightly. The adrenalin of the Solent passage made relaxing impossible. I couldn’t believe I was actually competing in the Fastnet race.
Chaser on Starboard tack shortly after the start of the Fastnet Race 2013.
One by one we were passing the famous landmarks of the southern coast, Poole harbour, Lizard point, Land’s End all came and went. Unfortunately we heard on the radio that some competitors didn’t make it that far. Toe in the Water and Dasher both suffered boat damage at the start and had to retire. We were now into the open ocean and were reaching for Fastnet Rock.
We rounded the rock in the early hours of Wednesday the 14th on what was a misty morning. So misty in fact that no one on board actually saw the rock, which was a huge disappointment. On the way there we had a close call with a fishing trawler, who only saw us when we switched the deck lights on. We also managed somehow to break the spinnaker halyard on what was to be a pretty eventful night for red watch in particular. At one point Lt Col Ian “wave catcher” Duncan was hit by so many waves his life jacket inflated. That was certainly a morale booster. It set the theme for the rest of the trip, as no matter when Lt Col Duncan stood he was bound to be hit by a wave. It became quite unnerving to sit next to him on the rail! Also, one of the leading contenders, Abu Dhabi, passed us on their way back to Plymouth before we had even rounded Land’s End. They finished their race in 1 day and 8 hours.
After rounding the rock it was down wind sailing the whole way back to Plymouth. This is when Chaser was at her best. When the weather got heavy she simply smashed through the waves.
We made very good progress on the return leg. We were seeing other yachts on the horizon overtaking effortlessly. The wind and waves got bigger and the helm increasingly became a challenge, but Duds and Brad Delaney made it look easy through the small hours of Thursday morning. Skipper Steve was never more than a glance away from his screen to keep them on course.
We eventually arrived in Plymouth at 1522 on Thursday the 15th. We finished 204th from a starting fleet of 337. An achievement we are all proud of considering the age and weight of the yacht. Had conditions been worse we would certainly have climbed higher up the standings.
To celebrate our achievement we all donned our red-ish gillets and headed into Plymouth for a curry and a few light refreshing drinks. Of course this was after attending the prize giving ceremony and accepting the offer of complimentary drinks at the RORC marquee.
The 24hour sail to Gosport gave us plenty of time to reflect on a truly fantastic experience. Not only did I learn so much in such a short amount of time I would also like to think that I made 10 new mates in the process. All this from reading the Craftsman magazine. I recommend to anyone reading this to give it a go. The opportunities are there, they just need to be taken.
The REME Team, crew of Chaser relax in Plymouth after the race. Back Row: Sgt Brad Delaney (Corps Bosun), Sgt A Moore, Sgt W Mitty, SSgt Shuggy Lewis, Cpl Steve Chinery, Maj Will Naylor. Front Row: SSgt Tony Stock, Lt Col Ian Duncan, Maj Steve Taylor (Skipper), Maj Mike Lewin, Cpl Gethin Jones
Ex NAPOLEONIC BREEZE 2013
Scribes Cfn Askham, Cfn Baker, Cfn Smith
On the 9th June 2013 at the sociable hour of two o’clock in the morning, 10 members of 11 Trg Bn REME assembled out side RHQ ready for the bus trip to Gatwick Airport. Spirits were high and the virgin seamen were asking the salty sea dogs of the group what to expect. Upon arrival at the airport the group dispersed to find breakfast and explore the delights of duty-free.
Arriving in the sunny climate of Corsica, which was far from what we left back in Arborfield, Cpl Reynolds set the bar for personnel admin after losing precious cargo of his weeks supply of contact lenses. The crew then jumped into three taxis to take us to Ajaccio Harbour, getting ripped off in transit, paying double what the skipper paid a day earlier.
We then caught a glimpse of our home for the next 14 days, the 55ft KUKRI joint service yacht. By no means the most glamorous vessel compared to surrounding boats, but still able to rival anything upon the waves. This was then we realised this was no holiday it was adventure training.
We soon settled into life on the ocean waves, by getting two and a half days of safety briefings; this was death by power point without a computer. All this information was necessary consisting of life jacket, kit list and bunk layout. Having an area the size of a coffin for two weeks was an advantage to the midgets of the group. There was also every crew members dream, the brief on how to use the ships toilets; it became clear during the trip not many people listened to this. Finally there was the inter watch dingy competition this was a 200 metre sprint per man, this consisted of one life jacket inflation and 3 of the crew getting lost on route. Capt David Carter was particular poor at this event and didn’t cover the officers in glory as he managed to get lost within the harbour.
On the third day of briefings, shopping and cleaning, we finally hit the open sea. Within the hour, Cfn Baker went down with sea sickness and was close to bring down Cpl Varnell and Lt Muir with him, not pretty for the rest of the crew. Cfn Smith and Askham fought through and managed to work through the nausea caused by seeing other crew member deposit their breakfast over the side. The two watches sprang into action spending the day tacking and jibing, till the whole crew had some sort of idea what these terms meant. The adventure training had finally started and after a hard day in 30 degree heat, we harboured up at a fuel pontoon only to be told that we would have to be gone by 6am, due to the fact we were blockading the fuel point from the French fisherman.
With the early start hitting the crew we continued with further skills and drills as we headed 25 miles south down the coast to Bonifaccio. This was one impressive harbour surrounded by a citadel on a hill top and gun emplacements cut into the side of cliffs relics, highlighting of the area’s fighting history. The next morning was every techs dream, maintenance day, this ranged from circuit repair and sowing sails. WO1 Ellis was in his element as years of premier experience as a ‘Tech’ came in to good use and he was soon getting in everybody’s way.
Once again we set sail heading for the coast line of Sardinia, with the heat of the day there was only one thing for it, a quick dip in the Mediterranean. After a salty mouth and a few ham sandwiches we raised sail and continued on course arriving at our destination early evening.
The next trip was the longest leg of the lot, a 120 mile over night passage north to Elba in Italy, the island of Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile. This proved to be another town full of culture and history, something we were all keen to explore. With a further day of maintenance and repairs to be carried out we left early afternoon the next day.
This was to be another overnight passage heading towards Calvi on the north coast of Corsica. The wind really picked up challenging the whole crews ability with 30 knot winds. The reefing of the main sail and the changing of foresails, all to be done in limited light causing complications for members sprawled across the deck. This also included a soaking for the off watch asleep in their beds below as water poured though open hatches.
The next morning everyone’s worse fears had come true, the toilets had finally packed in, due to misuse and the release of a few krakens. Lucky for us Calvi was just over the horizon and repairs where carried out. As you can imagine the blockage was not pretty and Maj O’Connor has been nominated for a VC due to his courageous efforts throughout.
With a visit to the location where Admiral Nelson had landed guns for the bombardment of Calvi, all that remained was for us to start our return to Ajaccio. This was to include a night under anchor. Fortunately for the crew Lt Muir, a retired lifeguard, came out of retirement for one last save. The tripping line, which was caught up while dropping anchor needed to be untangled, a lifeguard’s job never ends. Throughout the night every man took a turn on watch during the night to ensure the boat didn’t float away, you can never escape stag.
An early start was in order, 4am, and we were sailing once again heading towards Ajaccio for our plane on Sunday. This also meant that all the crew where aware that there was at least a day of cleaning ahead, but also two nights available to sample the culture Ajaccio has to offer.
The Friday afternoon was spent cleaning and to the happiness of the crew Ajaccio had a music festival starting that very evening. This meant boat parties all over the harbour, a great night had by all, clearly shown on the faces of some the next morning.
Final day was spent doing finishing touches and a crew meal in a local restaurant, where all memories of the trip were talked and joked about. This also saw the completion of the name game running the whole trip and the judging of the worse tash competition won by a Mexican looking WO1 Juan Ellis.
Exercise COLOSSAL VELOCITY
11 Training Battalion REME
Skipper – WO1 (ASM) Ellis. Scribe – Cfn White.
Foreword by the skipper:
In early 2013 I convinced the CO to let me take six of his soldiers for a value for money sailing expedition in the Solent using the yachts available at the Joint Services Sail Training Centre in Gosport. The CO had more faith in me than my peers who all had ‘busy diaries’ at the time of the exercise. Thus I was left to bully and coerce Phase 2 trainees into taking part in ‘career enhancing AT’ with the ASM. To be fair I was surprised at the number of naive young Craftsmen willing to spend a week in my company on a yacht during summer recess. Needless to say we had a cracking week of sailing with some of the best, and worst, weather one can expect of a British summer.
I would like to thank all those who provided assistance and support to the exercise. In particular I am grateful for the generosity of the Battalion 2IC and Corps Colonel in providing grants towards berthing fees from the PRI and REME Adventurous and Entrepreneurial Activities Committee funds respectively. I must also thank my crew for their enthusiasm and effort throughout the week.
Highlights of Cfn White’s exercise diary:
On the 12th of August five inexperienced craftsmen from 11 Trg Bn REME set off on a week long sailing exercise led by WO1 (ASM) Ellis (skipper) and Cfn Nellyer (mate). After being shown around the boat, practicing a few knots and attending the mandatory safety briefs it was a quick run to the supermarket for much needed supplies before setting sail for Cowes. Along the way we practiced man overboard drills with a fender and canvas bucket. The fender was later named Bob and we found him to be very careless when moving around the boat. The skipper informed us Bob had tripped and gone overboard on countless occasions. Thanks to the actions of our skipper and first mate, Bob was quickly brought back aboard. This filled the crew with confidence and we set sail for Cowes where we found our expectations of sailing were soon to change. The sea was rough and the winds strong, our thoughts of smooth sailing were soon disintegrated. As we approached Cowes the main and fore sails had to be taken down. Cfn Armour eagerly volunteered along with Cfn Shaw, however they soon regretted this decision as the boat smashed through the waves.
If it ain’t rainin’, it ain’t trainin’
We arrived in Cowes a few hours before sunset (not after, is that what I’m supposed to say skipper?). Having tidied the boat away we sat down for a dinner of butternut squash risotto lovingly prepared for us by Cfn Nellyer. Little did we know it would be the best meal of the week. We had planned to pop to the pub for last orders but we were too tired (or too late skipper!). So we got our heads down in preparation for a 7 am start of breakfast and admin. We did get a quick run into town to top up on biscuits but then the mate wanted us back to prepare the boat for a day on the water. He asked us to prepare the main jib sheets and was met with 5 blank faces, Cfn Nellyer then began to explain in "An idiots guide to sailing" manner after which we were soon ready to set sail. We headed towards the Beaulieu River but after spending the next few hours struggling against the tide we settled for lunch by Osborne Bay.
Cfn Nellyer makes the most of a fair wind and a flat sea
It was during lunch that our skipper informed us a mouse had snuck aboard. We could not find it but we heard its squeaks often enough throughout the week and nicknamed him Mr Bojangles. With the tide turning we finished lunch, pulled up the anchor and set off for Southampton. Arriving in Ocean Village, which would have been a lovely view if it had been completed, the usual post sailing admin was done. Cfn Sandham prepared dinner for the crew and the conversational topic soon turned to why the sailing was so rough. After discussing this in depth we came to the conclusion that the Nautical Skyhooks™ on the mainsail needed replacing. Cfn Sandham spent the rest of the week attempting to locate a chandlery with any in stock.
Cfn Shaw holds a steady course; the skipper approves
Wednesday morning was greeted with a squeak from Mr Bojangles and the usual admin. We set sail for the Beaulieu River, only this time the tide wasn’t pushing against us we managed to arrive just in time for lunch. Later we took turns steering on the helm while the sun beamed down on us as we made our way to Yarmouth. Due to us arriving mid evening we noticed the only places open were a local shop and a vast array of pubs. Supplies were topped up and we discussed our sailing experience over a quiet drink.
The weather took a turn for the worse on Thursday with the sea becoming rougher than previously experienced. The morning was made worse by Bob 'tripping' and going overboard. With the skipper steering it was left to us to bring Bob back aboard. After 20 minutes of Cfn Armour bludgeoning Bob with a boat hook the first mate sprang into action demonstrating quality hook a duck skills from his time working the carnivals of Europe. After all the excitement and with Bob safely back onboard we settled down for lunch in the Newton River. This leg of the trip was navigated professionally by the first mate who decided to test the depth of the boat using the muddy bottom of the river… 1.5m. The afternoon saw a damp sail across to Lymington to see Ben Ainsley’s golden post box and drink in the poshest Weatherspoon’s in England.
Cfn Nellyer correctly identifies which super-tanker is giving us ‘5 blasts’
The skipper decided to head back to Cowes so that us ‘youngsters’ could let our hair down on Friday night. However, the Old Gaffers Association was running a regatta and the only place we could get a berth was jammed in between some civilian boats in East Cowes. This meant that a) Cowes was very lively and b) we couldn’t enjoy it too much as we had to be up early on Saturday morning to let the civvies out. We slipped away nice and early on Saturday and all had a go at steering in a quiet part of the River Medina before heading out into the open seas. We revisited the Newtown River for lunch, conducting a sail change along the way as the wind and waves built. The mate managed to break his 100% record of collecting samples of the river bed and, after drying out over lunch, we set sail for Hamble. The weather turned to steady rain resulting in a damp final evening. A massive final meal of ‘special’ pasta bake overloaded the senses and killed off any desire for an end of exercise blow out.
An inconsistent British summer leaves the crew divided over dress
After a late start on Sunday we set sail for Gosport. Along the way we discussed what we had learnt throughout the week. We had all become quite proficient in the basic skills and drills of sailing and everyone had cooked a crew meal with no substantial ‘leftovers’. Success! Our triumphant return to Gosport was followed by gutting and cleaning the boat ready to hand back. It is surprising how much body hair can be shed by 7 men in a week! A few hours of hard labour later and we were ready to head back to camp and begin summer leave. The crew gave the usual goodbyes as we parted ways, each of us eager to set sail again.
10 Training Battalion - Exercise CHOPPY SPANNER 2013
Scribe –Cfn Jacob Kiff, Skipper: Capt Phil Caswell
In the chilly spring of 2013, a crew of five Phase 2 soldiers skippered by a Platoon Commander embarked on a week of adventurous sail training in the Solent. The trip aimed to award a RYA Competent Crew qualification to each soldier, and introduce them to the AT opportunities in the Army, of which offshore sailing is just one example (but arguably the best).
On the first day, the crew started off with essential safety briefs as well as taking on vital stores and equipment. We then made our way to our vessel HMSTC Callista, which was dubiously renamed HMS Winnie after one of the lads’ favourite teddy bears that he brought with him. Once everything was prepared and everybody was ready, we set off on our first sail. The weather was calm and sunny and we pottered along at a gentle speed. The skipper took this opportunity to teach us some of the basic skills, like man overboard drills. By tying a bucket and a fender together, we had “Lucy”, who was to become our favourite training aid. The skipper would randomly throw Lucy overboard and we would have to react by raising the alarm, stopping the yacht, fishing her out of the water, and getting her a brew. At first it was challenging, but once we got the hang of it, it became a lot easier and started to become like a second nature.
Craftsmen Kiff, Harper and Wilson.
On the second day, we arrived in sunny Cowes with less wind then previously experienced: the sea was calm, which had given more time to perfect the skills we had learnt on the first day. Three of us took time to relax and take in our surroundings by hanging off of the edge of the boat, re-enacting the famous “Titanic” scene, which was not to prepare us for the next four days ahead of us. For the evening we picked up a mooring buoy at a local nature reserve and had a peaceful night.
On Wednesday we stopped in Lymington where we chose to have a spot of lunch after spending the previous evening on a mooring buoy. Throughout the day the weather took a turn for the worse and the wind started to pick up, giving us a chance to practice reefing drills. We anchored for dinner to have a good hot meal and prepare ourselves for the night sail ahead of us. The night sail was a totally different experience, unnerving at first in the dark, but very enjoyable, and we arrived in Portsmouth harbour in the early hours of the morning.
Thumbs up for sailing all round.
Thursday soon came around and it was signalling the end of a challenging week. With two days yet to go, the weather got to Force 5 which was around 20 knots. This made work hard to sail and we had to use some of the skills we had perfected over the last few days to reach Yarmouth. This day had confirmed our love for sailing, despite the fact that everyone excluding the skipper and Cfn Ben Wilson were a little sea sick.
Friday was the most challenging day due to fatigue and the winds picking up to 30 knots, a near gale. We sensibly put our small jib up and reefed the mainsail heavily, which also allowed us to pick up greater speeds that we had been able to throughout the entire week. We had completed the full circle of our journey; we celebrated this by re-arriving in Cowes and having a delicious crew meal. Not happy with the challenges so far in the week, our youngest crew member Cfn Connor Harper attempted to devour a 42oz steak. He was, however, defeated; but giving him his credit he almost completed it with only 2oz to go.
Breezier conditions later in the week
Rounding off of our journey, Saturday soon came around. We arrived back into JSASTC Gosport, where we had to finish the last part of our job by cleaning the yacht that we had lived on for the past week, handing it back over and make our way to back sunny Bordon. Although it was challenging, difficult, and tiring at times, we had hugely enjoyed our sailing experiences over the previous week and had made the most of working as a team and learning new skills, which we will use in the future.
Services Offshore Regatta
Scribe – Major Fergus Sullivan
Following weeks of anticipation, the opening event of the REME Sailing Club offshore sailing calendar was upon us: the annual Army Offshore Regatta. This is a hotly contested racing competition with three divisions; the IRC boats (those rated by the Royal Ocean Racing Club for racing – the REME Sailing Club entered Craftsman lll in this division), the cruising division (although the REME Sailing Club had no official entry in this division we were represented by Maj Steve Marshall’s boat Achates) and Division III made up of Victoria 34’ Sail Training Craft (Vic 34’). These tough little boats, which are all owned and managed by the Joint Services Adventurous Sail Training Centre (JSASTC) and are 20 years old. Functional rather than luxurious, and heavily used and abused, they are regularly serviced and maintained and will take nearly anything that a skipper either experienced or novice can throw at them. They are virtually unsinkable and if Harland and Wolff were to build a new Titanic they should look at the plans of the Vic 34’ first. In Division III the REME Sailing Club was allocated Nerita.
All the crews met early on the morning on Monday 13th May at JSASTC in Gosport. After receiving mandatory safety briefs and drawing foul weather equipment we took over Nerita and Craftsman Ill respectively. The REME crews were a mix of ranks, trades, Regular and TA and true to the ethos of the Army Sailing Association a mix of experience with two complete novices on each boat. The two crews were:
The four novices were all from 11 Training Battalion REME. Thanks should go to their OC Maj Steve O’Connor for releasing and encouraging them to attend, Sgt Innoco for sorting their admin and them for attending. All four were great fun, very willing to get involved and hopefully not put off by the weather during the early part of the Regatta. All the grey haired and mature members of the REME Sailing Club commented that too often “young’uns” refuse to get involved and leave their comfort zones and games consoles for a few days. These four junior soldiers restored their faith in the future of the Corps.
Once the boats were ready, all the crews put to sea heading for Cowes on the Isle of Wight with the intent of conducting race training along the way. However, Neptune, Poseidon conspired against the crews to make the sea lumpy, the wind a bit too windy and the crew a bit sea sick (this included the Author, who like Nelson nearly always succumbs in choppy seas in the first 24 hours). Because of the inexperience of the crew on board Nerita, the Skipper decided to conduct race training whilst tied up in Gosport rather than attempt it at sea. The Foredeck, Mast Man and Pit all discussed and practised raising and lowering the Main, Jib and Genoa sails, reefing and unreefing the main sail and talked through how to raise, fly, trim and drop the Spinnaker (the wind strength and direction whilst alongside prevented us from actually doing it). When all of this was completed and after another brew (Motherwatch drinks a lot of tea, therefore he makes a lot of tea) Nerita left Gosport for Cowes. Although the Main and Jib were hoisted, none of the crew enjoyed the short trip and rejoiced when the engine went on and we motored into Cowes Yacht Haven and met the rest of the Regatta. Our first night on board was quietly spent in the pubs of Cowes. This is possibly because the crew was concerned about Tuesday’s forecasted conditions having already suffered that afternoon.
The plan for Tuesday was to have two short passage races in the Solent followed by a long race through the night. However on receipt of the weather forecast the Race Committee amended the plan. Now we were to have one long race which would finish in the late evening. The course would send us around the Nab Tower off the eastern coast of the Isle of Wight, through the Solent to Lymington, up the top of Southampton Water before finishing off Cowes. Nerita started off well but as the morning went on, the wind speed as predicted increased. This meant that Scotty and Dougie had to change the sails and reef the mainsail in order to stop the boat being overpowered, It would also help us sail closer to the wind and keep Nerita as flat in the water as possible (author note: most boats sail faster with a slight tilt, however immersing the leeward toe rail in the water is a long way past the most efficient angle). However, as the wind rose and fell fluked and dropped off, the Skipper would send Scotty and Dougie back to hoist more sail. The pair had complained that they were cold, wet and bored when they were sat on the windward rail. After several racing sail changes that never went as well as those we had practised in Gosport, Scotty and Dougie were glad of the inactivity of providing ballast on the windward rail despite still being cold and wet rather than do another sail change! We managed to hold our own against the semi-professional skippers and their experienced and well drilled crews (not many Yacht Clubs believe in the ASA motto of “bring a novice”). By early evening the wind strength had built to Force 7 and Nerita was mid fleet running and gybeing (turning with our stern going through the wind) up Southampton Water. The conditions were such that the crew opted for tea and biscuits rather than hot food as they did not want to see it for a second time. We knew that at the top of Southampton Water we would have to tack (turning with our bow going through the wind) and beat (making way towards the wind by sailing as close to the wind as possible) our way to Cowes. To maintain control we would have to change our foresail for something smaller and more manageable. Changing down too early would enable our rivals to overtake us; too late and we would not be able to point as well and the boat would be difficult to control. Also it would be “entertaining” to watch Scotty and Dougie try to unhank a massive sheet of white canvas whilst we charged at 6 ½ knots towards the beach or a large ship. As always at moments when time is limited, ropes will snag and cleats will jam. Scotty and Dougie eventually got it done just before we tacked at the top of Southampton Water. It was the right decision as we started to overtake the competition. The next decision was to decide when to tack. If this was done too early then we would make no progress as any distance made would be lost in the turn. If done too late then you could end up touching the bottom and getting stuck (a boat in the IRC Division did this, but were able to get themselves off). The conditions got no better, but we were in good spirits, we were overtaking boats and heading for the finish line. We crossed it in fourth place and quickly sailed into Cowes for a late supper and a can of beer (sadly we had missed last orders by ½ an hour). After tidying the boat, very tired after a tough day we quickly got to sleep.
The weather on Wednesday was much improved. It was not warm, but it was much better. The committee decided to hold a series on short “Windward-Leeward” races. This involved the different divisions racing around two marks; one of which was upwind from the start line and the other downwind. On the upwind legs the boats would have to tack several times and use or avoid the strong currents that run through the Solent. On the downwind legs the boats would run with the wind behind them whilst hoisting as much sail as possible in order to catch the wind. Most Crews would employ their spinnaker or pole out the head sail. Using a spinnaker is not without risk and to an inexperienced crew is a challenge. However Steve-the-Skipper had briefed us on how it was to happen even if it had not been fully practised due to strong winds on the preceding two days. On the first race we did ok and finished mid fleet. On the second race, we decided to try something different and after round the downwind marker for the first time we headed for the Northern shore of the Isle of Wight hoping for less contrary currents as we suspected that the wind mid-Solent was dying off. The wind did and we watched as our competitors starting drifting backwards on a strong eastward tide. We pressed our advantage, but had to come out of the relative shelter and sail into the stronger currents in order to round the upwind buoy in relatively light airs. Slowly (so slowly in fact that at one point we put down the anchor to stop Nerita drifting backwards) we made our way to the mark. Regrettably we put in a tack too soon and in the process we were pushed backwards by the tide so that we had to start the process all over again meaning that we went from 1st place to last in a matter of minutes. It was all very frustrating. Eventually the race ended after nearly 3 hours (when it was originally scheduled to last only 90 mins) and the fleet stopped for a late lunch in Osborne Bay. The third race of the day was very much the same, but the tide had changed and the wind had shifted and got stronger so that it was actually now a sailing race rather than a drifting one. The crew could now appreciate the spinnaker drills of the other boats as some raised them sideways, dropped them in the water or turned them in to “wine glasses.” On completion of Race 3 the fleet returned to Cowes for the night and the Regatta BBQ at the Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS). The RYS is a fantastic location and we should feel honoured to be able to use it in order to smooze the Army Sailing Sponsors. The views across the Solent to Southampton Water are fantastic and the building is stunning. However the bar prices are extortionate, they ran out of draft beer after less than 5 minutes (did they know we were coming) and the food adequate. In the scrum at the bar, I somehow managed to go from the back of the pack to the front as the rest of the crew nipped to the loo, bumped into old friends and generally found other means to escape “being in the chair.” My half hearted attempt at a “Sandhurst Pat” (checking all pockets by patting them to then realise that one has “left” their wallet behind) was met with cries of foul as they had all seen me go to the cash point only five minutes before. As soon as dinner was over, the crews left the RYS and headed for a drinking establishment which was slightly less expensive. In the Anchor, we met Col Gibson, Lt Col Tizard, Maj O’Connor and Sgt Brad Delaney who had all come over on one of the Corps yachts to support the REME crews on the AOR. Soon afterwards, the crew retired to Nerita after another busy and tiring day on the water.
Our spinnaker drills were now pretty good and Steve-the-Skipper didn’t have to shout so much when we hoisted and lowered it. Cpl Glen Haye RLC (7 Air Asslt Bn REME) trimming the spinnaker and Cfn Michael “Dougie” Douglas (11 Trg Bn REME) leaning on the boom as a gybe preventer. In the background SSgt Paul “Shuggy” Lewis on board Craftsman is giving the Royal Engineers a lesson how to fly a spinnaker.
Thursday morning was a planned late start as the committee expected the crews to stay out and enjoy the delights of Cowes. Because of this and the desire to have the boats back in Gosport on Thursday evening so that they could be cleaned prior to handover it was decided to hold only one race - The “mates’ race.” The “Mates’ Race” is a short passage race around known marks but the normal skipper is deposed and the mate takes over the running of the boat. We started off well, more by luck than judgement and crossed the start line on a run (the wind behind us). We quickly hoisted the spinnaker, which was now something that we could confidently do, and went off to chase the leading two boats. During the next two hours, we played nip and tuck – sometimes ahead, sometimes behind. It was all very unnerving being so close to the other leading boats and to be in with a chance. We realised that the wind was again dying off and that the current would soon start to push us in the wrong direction. We surveyed the fleet. Most of us were half a mile off Gilkicker Point and going nowhere fast, whilst the two boats who were closer to the Isle of Wight seemed to be pulling away. We took a punt and left the main fleet and steered south east and headed for the North coast of the Isle of Wight. For once the weather and sea gods were in our favour and the wind shifted filling our spinnaker. We held our nerve and concentration. As we neared Ryde Pier on the North coast of the Isle of Wight the wind shifted again and for the second time it was in our favour. We replaced our spinnaker with our biggest foresail and headed towards the penultimate buoy at the entrance to Chichester Harbour. Spirits rose as we kept up good speed and appeared to overtake the fleet leaving the group in the North and South behind. Our spirits rose further still as we watched the other REME boat winning her race. She had already rounded the buoy and was heading for Portsmouth Harbour and the finish via the Submarine Barrier.
Our spirits rose further still as we watched the other REME boat winning her race, her spinnaker of Corps Colours filling in the early evening breeze.
We made it to the buoy in first place. Rounding it on our starboards side, we also headed for the gap in the Submarine barrier off the beach in Southsea, Portsmouth. The gap is marked by a large pole on either side. The barrier itself is made of large concert blocks that the Royal Navy sank in order to improve the defences of Portsmouth. We quickly covered the distance to the gap and sailed through and then altered our course for the finish line. All the time we were watching behind us making sure that we were not caught and overtaken. We were not. By our reckoning we had been ¾ of a mile ahead of the chasing fleet at the buoy and had increased our lead by the time we sailed through the submarine barrier. We did not care about the distance once we had finished, as long as they were all behind us. We had won a race!
Cfn “Robbo” Robinson (11 Trg Bn REME) and Maj Fergus Sullivan (7 Air Asslt Bn REME) concentrating really hard.
We went straight back to Gosport, tied the boat up and cleaned it as much as we could before heading into town for a well-earned curry and a pint in Wetherspoons. The following morning after more cleaning the crew dispersed prior to the prize giving. We should have stayed in order to claim our trophy.
If you are interested in offshore sailing with the REME Sailing Club either competitively, for fun, as a unit, individual or family please get in touch with Maj Fergus Sullivan (email@example.com). We are currently looking for people to participate in the Sail Training Week 29 Sep – 6 Oct and also have other projects on the go.
If you want to go racing on a Wednesday evening from Gosport please contact Maj Mike Barham.
REME End Of Season Rally - Flashlight
Scribe - Maj Fergus Sullivan
Back in June, I mooted the idea around Arborfield of entering a boat into the REME End of Season Rally, not expecting to have much uptake. However within days I had several requests for places, but at that moment I did not have boat. This was quickly remedied and I managed to borrow “Flashlight” from HMS Sultan.
Flashlight is an Ohlson 34 that participated in the 1979 Fastnet Race. Flashlight survived the ordeal which two of her crew did not. Below deck she is roomy but rudimentary and nothing like the luxury found in either of the Corps Halberg Rassey. This was something of a surprise to both my crew and myself, however as we were there to sail and as soldiers we were used to unpleasant conditions we knew that we would be able to cope for 48 hrs on board. Another surprise was Flashlight’s engine. What she lacked in output was made up for in noise. Wind up bath toys have got more power. When Head over Heels asked us for a tow, they sailed past Flashlight and later complained that we were not even trying to help without realising that we had the throttle fully open and couldn’t go any faster!
The crew for the weekend mustered at Hornet Sailing Club after work on Fri 21 Sep 12. The crew was Col Ian Gibson (a very newly qualified RYA Competent Crew), Lt Col Ed Heel (a slightly rusty RYA Day Skipper who professes to be a small boat sailor), Maj Chris Evans (RYA Yachtmaster), Maj Adrian Morton (RYA Day Skipper), Maj Chris Reeve (RYA Yachtmaster Coastal) and myself (RYA Yachtmaster Coastal). I have listed all of these ranks and qualifications so that you can understand the decision making process on board (think too many cooks…) – any order or request I made as skipper, was immediately dissected and discussed at length by the crew without any action taking place until either: a) the Chinese parliament had reached a similar decision b) I repeated the request but louder. After the briefest of briefings we left Gosport and headed for Cowes for dinner and to meet with the remainder of the Rally. We attempted to sail, but as what wind there was came directly from Cowes and my crew were ready for dinner and a beer we put the engine on (although it is debateable if we actually made better time). Once alongside, we enjoyed a beer whilst we watch the cabaret (another larger boat “trying” to come alongside. In the end we got tired of laughing and concerned that on their next attempt they would make contact with us and leave a dark blue streak down our side we did the gallant thing and helped them by taking a line – although they were convinced that they had it all under control!). After dinner in the Anchor, we met up with the remainder of the Rally in Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club in order to tell a few tall tales and to “swing the lantern” (NB jack speak for pulling up a sand bag and spinning a few dits).
What wind there had been on Friday night had completely disappeared by the time we got ready to sail on Saturday morning. Despite several of crew admitting to snoring, there was no evidence of it, however the crew did complain about the squeaking noises that I make in my sleep (although it has never bothered me). We were all confused when we emerged from below decks because parading up and down the pontoons were six Cap’n Jack Sparrows (complete with make up) straight off the Black Pearl. After the “skippers brief” we studied the question set and left Cowes heading for the Beaulieu River to answer question on buoys and notices to be found there. As a crew we decided to take a detour from the quiz and, keeping a look out for the harbour master or anybody else who might want to charge us a fee, sailed as far as Bucklers Hard. There were no questions to be answered this far up the river, but went there because very few of us had ever been there. Turning around at lunchtime, we headed back to the sea and Southampton Water to catch up with the rally and answer more questions. On route we attempted some of the tasks and questions. Having a hobby bosun with his own company and website is very useful especially when you have to whip and back spliced a short piece of rope. Due to lack of wind, we were forced to motor (slowly due to tide and lack of horsepower) up and down Southampton Water looking for numbers written on buoys, transit marks and harbour walls.
Our meandering route eventually took us to the Hamble River and our stop for the night. Once tied up we still had one task to complete – make a starter fit for the Commodore out of a small tin of baked beans. Not only did the crew of Flashlight contain a bosun, it also contained the Yacht Club Commodore! However, he decided that it would be unethical for him to prepare his own starter, so Chris Reeve got busy in the tiny galley and produced a tiny boat from toast with cheese for sails and set it adrift on a sea of baked beans – a starter fit for the Commodore (if he were a young child with limited taste and even more limited imagination). After we had handed our culinary masterpiece and our quiz answers into the Committee Boat we got ready for the Yacht Club dinner in the Warsash Sailing Club. The meal was interesting. The starter was peppered mushrooms (although it turned out like mushroom soup with a huge amount of black pepper in it), following that we had had enough red wine so that we did not really care what the main course and dessert was. After the meal was the prize giving. Much to our utter surprise we won the quiz and were presented with the Commodore’s Cup! The only thing to do was to fill the cup with more red wine and drink to our victory before retiring to the bar. We returned to Flashlight after last orders and slept the sleep of champions.
Poseidon had listened to my comments about the lack of wind and delivered the rally a lot on the final day. It was blowing from the east and brought with it a special kind of nausea inducing wave. The final element of the rally was the race. Most of the boat crews had spent the night celebrating their little victories (the Committee had kindly divided up all the prizes so we all had something to celebrate) and so were not at their bests when approaching the start. Flashlight was the first boat to cross the start line. After that she was overtaken by the other three boats in the rally. To make matter worse, the wind grew stronger. Luckily the rain stopped falling; instead it started to come sideways in a special stinging way. As we had celebrated the night before, nobody was very keen to go below to get out of the wind and rain as Flashlight was rocked and basjed on her way back to Gosport. Eventually (and thankfully) we crossed the finish line. It would be nice to say that we then put on the engine and motored home, however due to the engine being small and not very effective we tried to sail on as this way we made better speed. At the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour we dropped our sails and motored in. At this point we were supposed to take a line to tow Head Over Heels in, however she sailed straight into the harbour and we were not able to keep up with her.
The End Of Season Rally was a great event and Bill Barclay must be thanked for organising it. Robert East should also be thanked for writing the quiz and setting the challenges.
Next year we would love to see more boats, units and individuals taking part in the rally. If you are interested in offshore sailing please email Maj Fergus Sullivan.
REME SAIL TRAINING WEEK
|This page was last updated on 11 Oct 2020||
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