Powerboat weekend

20 Oct 2013


Keen to gain experience of handling a boat under engine, and get more practice in the River Arun, and do my duty better during the Thursday evening committee boat work, I signed up for RYA Power Boat Level 2 which took place this weekend.

Saturday morning found 6 of us plus 2 instructors in the training room at 0900 (another little hut next to the yacht clubhouse). I know both the instructors and some of the other students. The weather was breezy and showery with some sunny spells. We started off indoors being instructed, then got ourselves dressed in our sailing clobber and went to the boats. The club has a small but heavy diesel launch called Diamond, this is the committee boat, shaft driven tiller steered and very noisy and a bit smelly (air cooled diesel). Then there’s the three RIBs, rigid inflatable boats, with 50hp petrol outboards. After more instruction beside the boats we set off into the river and got to practice various manoeuvres. The strong breeze and fast-flowing current (spring tide this weekend) gave good opportunity to learn how both types of boat behave. We got rained on a bit and got back to the clubhouse in time to get the damp clobber off and get lunch (catering has been resumed). Back to the classroom after lunch for more theory work then back to the changing room, back on with the damp clobber, and back out. The bit I found most interesting was when we were working down in the narrow harbour entrance. The bit I have always found most daunting, with the horrible steep concrete sides covered in weed and the fast current, was an idea place to practice holding the boat stationary and ferry-gliding side to side. We stopped the boats right in the middle here and transferred people from Diamond to RIB and vice versa so we all got to learn both types of boats. At the end of the day we were sent home with homework to do on knots, weather forecasts etc.

On Sunday we resumed. Weather forecast was less favourable but the morning was sunny and fairly calm. More theory work in the classroom then back out, in two RIBs with three students and one instructor each. We went a long way up river, past the Arun View pub, further than I have been before, to practice with the anchors and then towing each other. Then we dropped a couple of marks into the river and used them to do figure-8 driving, forward and reverse, all very pleasant in the sunshine.

There should have been a yacht cruiser race today but the poor forecast and freshening wind led to it being called off.

We knew we’d have to go to sea at some point as part of the course has to cover high speed driving – which can’t be done inside the harbour because of the speed limit. So, directly after the Sunday lunch, back on with the sailing clobber and boots and lifejackets and we set off in the two RIBs. We knew it would be bad out there and the plan was to get the high speed manoeuvring done as quick as possible then come back. The wind was about F6 by now and the sea was huge. Horrible greyish brown colour, steep waves, white horses, the RIBs were pitching and crashing around, we were all thoroughly sloshed-over. We had to keep stopping and switching the engine off to change driver so we all got our turn. After about 20 mins or so a squall hit us – it got even windier and stinging hail was lashing at us, the visibility dropped, we lost sight of the other RIB. We’d all had our turn by now so the instructor took over and we drove for home. Horizontal hail, huge seas, we regained sight of the other boat and surfed back up the river together.

Here’s a lesson learned – make sure every zip and every button is done up as the sea will find any gap and get inside. Facefuls turn into trickles down the neck, and if you put your hand up to hold your hood the sea will immediately get past your cuff and down your arm.

I have mentioned this many times before but yet again it’s interesting how different everything is inside the harbour. Still windy and still raining but flat water and the get-home urgency just evaporates, we spent another half hour or so practicing approaches to the berths before tying up and going back to the changing rooms. Wet in all sorts of unexpected places but I’d brought dry clothes and we were soon cupping our hands round mugs of coffee back in the classroom. We decided it had been at least F7 and maybe F8 in that squall. Some more theory to finish the weekend then our nice RYA certificates were issued.

I’m pleased to have done the weekend, it has certainly taught me stuff I didn’t know and I almost wish I had a powerboat to practice on – which of course I do, Elsa and her outboard, something to look forward to during the autumn.

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