The below is an account of how Cumbrae’s Marketing Manager, Carla Fugaccia, got on during a weekend’s Powerboating course.
The weekend of the 17-18th September was the weekend I was due to do an ‘RYA Powerboat Level2’ course. This was part of an initiative to encourage office-based staff out onto the water, in order to gain a real customer experience. This suggestion was put forward at the start of the season when it seemed like there was endless time to choose a course to sign-up for. Of course the busy summer season came and went in a flash and it was then that I realised I really had better get myself onto one of the courses ASAP. So far I had ‘let the side down’, with Clare already taking part in ‘RYA Powerboat Level2’, Kirsty doing the ‘Dinghy Sailing Try-a-Day’ and Nancy completing the ‘RYA Sea Survival’.
Saturday 17th September
The weekend got underway at 9.30am with myself and the 3 other participants (Craig, Zac and Graham) meeting at the centre for our course introduction. Our instructors for the weekend, Tom and Stu, introduced themselves to the group, outlined what the weekend would cover and of course gauged the level participants were at. As someone who has only ever been a passenger on a powerboat I knew this would be a sharp learning curve and I was starting to feel a little bit nervous. I needn’t have been. The course flowed at a good rate, with plenty of hands-on practical experience, mixed in with a little classroom work. There was plenty of time to absorb information, as well as ample time to ask questions and go over areas that perhaps needed a little more attention. Moreover, it was fun, A LOT OF FUN in fact. Below is diary of how the weekend unfolded.
We were kitted up with oilskins, wetsuit boots and buoyancy aids before heading out to what was a gloriously sunny September day. The water was flat calm so, so far, so good! I was already feeling rather lucky as my colleague Clare had experienced rather challenging conditions during her course a few weeks back. It seemed like I was going to be eased in much more gently. Perfect.
The morning started with a look over the RIBs. We identified where certain things are kept on the boats and best practice concerning what to check first before heading out (does the boat have fuel?...are there keys?...a kill cord?... making sure there are no rogue lines, the VHF is on etc.). We were going to be using 2 different types of RIBs over the weekend so we got a chance to look over both.
After we heard about the importance of wearing the kill cord at all times we headed out onto the water, with myself and Zac heading out with Tom, whilst Craig and Graham were under the guidance of Stu.
After a quick demo from Tom, we were ‘straight into it’, practicing wide turns in both directions, then smaller turns, then moving on to manoeuvring around buoys and figure of 8’s (in both a forward and backwards direction). It was a ‘baptism of fire’ and I was loving it! We were soon onto practising berthing the RIB and even tried ‘holding off’; where we attempted to get very close to the buoy with touching it.
Suffice to say we had achieved a lot on the first morning! It was time for lunch but first we retired back to the classroom for a quick ten minutes to regroup and for a few suggestions on what pages to read in our ‘RYA Start Powerboating’ book (just a couple of pages to help with the afternoon’s activities).
Since things had gone well in the morning, Zac and I headed back out on the RIB with Tom towards Largs Marina. Here we practised lots of exercises to help us get comfortable with berthing between boats on the pontoon:
The temperatures had started to increase and it was now a lovely late summer’s day. The boats on the marina glistened in the sunshine. One such boat was the centre’s ‘Santa Vey’, which had crew out on a ‘Close Quarter Manoeuvring’ course. It was great to have the vantage point from the RIB as we watched ‘Santa Vey’ being manoeuvred carefully around the marina:
It was then time to try a 3-point turn, after a demo from Tom first. Again all went well:
After a couple of ‘goes’ at berthing in tighter spaces, with the boat tied on at one end, it was then time to have a look around some of the boats in the marina. By now, not only was it still very sunny, it was really warm too so it was definitely time to remove oilskin jackets for the afternoon. Tom took all four of us around the marina, explaining the different types of propellers on various boats, as well as different hulls (pointing out the different ‘chines’ on the hulls) and identifying which boats would fair better in open seas. This really was an education!!
After this, it was time to get back to the boat, where we practised leaving the pontoon in a confined space. We then tested ourselves with some more berthing manoeuvres before heading full-speed back to centre!
Again we regrouped back at the classroom for a quick demonstration of knots. Our homework for the night was to try tying various knots and to read a couple of key pages from our handbook.
With it being such a beautiful evening it was lovely to be able to sit and relax outside the centre, reading in the sunshine, with birdsong for background ‘music’. Stunning:
After dinner, I got practising on the knots (never thought I’d ever say that!). I had the ‘reef knot’, ‘sheet bend’ and ‘clove hitch’ nailed but the ‘bowline’ was giving me headaches. It was time to ‘rope in’ (sorry!) Sam, who was ‘on-call’ in the office, for another ‘bowline’ demo.
Time to retire for the night and, unsurprising, I slept like a log!
After breakfast, the day got started with a quick discussion back in the classroom, this time looking at rescuing a man overboard (MOB), as well as a quick introduction to anchoring.
Once we were in our oilskins again were headed out to practise on the water. There was a little bit more wind this morning but generally another fair start to the day.
Again Zac and I headed out with Tom and after a quick demo of rescuing a MOB it was time for us to try. My first attempt would probably have resulted in the MOB being run over, rather than rescued, but I quickly got the hang of it, as did Zac, and it was really interesting to be carrying out such an important, practical, exercise. I definitely have a newfound admiration for those doing this exercise ‘for real’.
After we were comfortable with the MOB exercises, it was time to try more ‘holding off’ exercises - with attempts being a little different today due to the windier conditions.
We then moved on to ‘reverse berthing’ at the pontoon. Tom broke this down into its component parts and, surprisingly, this was fairly easy to achieve. Of course Tom made us both do the exercise a few times to make sure our successful attempts hadn’t been a fluke! Now seemed like a good opportunity to get out of the boat to take some photos of Zac for his Duke of Edinburgh portfolio:
Whilst this was going on, the other group were busying practising ‘picking up a mooring buoy’ and they seemed to be having a lot of success with that:
Now came the time to practise anchoring so we headed round to ‘White Bay’, the northernmost tip of the island. Here we met up with the other members of the group as Stu was carrying out an anchoring exercise with Craig and Graham. In the classroom that morning we had learned that a mixed ‘chain + rope’ anchor requires the anchor line to be 6 times the depth, so, after we did a few sums, we let out the required amount of line and checked we were stationary, using fixed points:
With the anchoring exercise having gone well, it was now time to turn our attention to towing. We moved closer to the other boat for a demo of towing ‘best practice’ and then we each had a ‘go at the wheel’. After Zac and I had had our turn we swapped boats with the other group, enabling them to tow us for a while:
After the towing exercise, we separated again and headed back to the centre for lunch. The trip back to the centre in itself was another learning point as, since we were still in the other group’s RIB, we got a feel for the various nuances of different RIBs…the difference in sensitivity of the throttle, the throttle position, seat positioning, ignition location etc.
Once back at the centre, we had a quick classroom discussion before lunch. This time we discussed ‘Collison Regulations’ (what vessels should you ‘give way’ to etc.). We also watched a video showing a powerboat capsizing and the importance of not being complacent as you can easily be ‘caught out’.
After lunch it was back to the classroom for some chart work - such passage planning being crucial to safe travel and since we were heading off to circumnavigate the island later that afternoon we needed to get the basics right first. Our instructors suggested a route to take around island and thereafter we plotted direction, distance and timing, based on our RIBs travelling at 20knots. This was a teamwork exercise, or more accurately, an exercise in the team helping me out (!), as most had some experience in this area and I was rather lost!
Before long we had charted out our route and so it was time to head back out to the RIBs to put our plan into practice. The weather had now deteriorated as the winds were stronger and it was now raining. However, we all agreed that this was beneficial to us, giving us a truer ‘taste’ of things and different challenges to deal with.
Zac and I started out well, then a few little errors in our chart work stated to appear…we realised we had one of the angles very wrong when we were pointing straight to the shoreline! Still, it was a good lesson in getting bearings from what’s around you rather than what’s written down. We decided on a course to take and headed off again. There was a bit of difficult decision making as we tried to judge the line to take to get us into Millport. Tom’s advice on what to line up with in the distance helped us out here. Once we got near to Millport, we tried a couple of mooring buoy exercises.
It was now time to head away from Millport and continue the circumnavigation. Some local knowledge from Tom helped us avoid potentially dangerous rocks as we made our way out. We successfully followed the notes from our chart work and before long we were on the last stretch back to the centre, with Zac and I each having a chance to have a final shot in the ‘driving seat’:
After we had de-robed from our oilskins, it was time to meet back in the classroom for a final debrief. We were all delighted to have passed and were given our certificates, which Tom explained last a lifetime.
All that was left to do was to thank Tom and Stu for their fantastic (and patient) instruction over the weekend, hand in our ‘feedback’ forms and make a sprint for the ferry off the island! Zac, Craig, Graham and I were all on the same ferry so more ‘debriefing’ followed, with us all agreeing that we had gained a lot from the weekend and had had a great deal of fun along the way.
It was then time for farewells and I promised to email the group with some photos taken over the weekend. These guys were a lovely bunch to spend the weekend with, and Zac, as my fellow crew member, had the patience of a saint!
In choosing this course, I had challenged myself with a fairly intensive 2 days, however the fantastic tuition made it all very manageable. I’m absolutely sure that it won’t be long before I’m signing-up for another course as this was a truly exhilarating weekend, one that I’d repeat in a heartbeat!
If you’re feeling inspired, the next RYA Powerboat Level2 course is running on the 15-16th October this year. If you have previous experience there’s an RYA Intermediate Powerboat running on 1-2 October and an RYA Advanced Powerboat on 19-20 November.
Now I’m left thinking about what to sign-up for next…?