Sunday, 2 December 2012

5* sea assessment - a candidates point of view.

I don't normally agree with plagiarism, but I've made an exeption this time.
A 5 Star Assessment
Setting off
 It all started on Saturday with sorting, then resorting and finally checking and sorting again all the kit I needed for the assessment. The boats were mounted on the car ready to go. Yes, boats, I can’t go without Sarah as she had been selected as a GP (* guinea pig or mock student). We, the other candidates and I, weren’t to meet until Sunday night at 7:45 so we set off for a pleasant trip up to Skye on Sunday morning.
We arrived at our B&B about 4; we had decided that B&B was a much better option than camping out beside Kevin. With 2 evening sessions planned, coming back to a hot shower and comfortable bed far outweighed the thought of pitching a tent and all the additional kit to sort out. We had time for a trip to the local metropolis of Broadford where we stopped for a chat with one of the locals, a certain Trevor Nicholson. By pure chance our B&B sat right behind the Hebridean Hotel so we sampled the bar meals and ale, both of which we can’t recommend highly enough. I set off to register and start my assessment leaving Sarah in the bar waiting for Kevin to join her.
There were 5 of us for the assessment and we started with the usual introductions. Assessing us over the 2 days were Gordon Brown and Rowland Woollven with Kim Bull observing. Both assessors had been involved in my training so I was fairly happy that the assessment would follow the same topics as the training. The four other candidates were Chris Loynes (a lecturer at University of Cumbria) , Ole Lindhardt (A Greenlander from Nuuk), Mark Williamson (an outdoor instructor from Ardmore) and Bonnie Perry (a pastor from All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago). The assessment started with a review of the required documentation; LR forms and log books, then a question paper on equipment, weather, navigation, the environment and history. Luckily this was an open discussion rather than a written exam.
This finished about 9:30 so I headed back for a night cap before retiring. No sign of Sarah or Kevin so assumed both had decided on an early night. This is where I found Sarah had the B&B keys and my wallet so after knocking on the door and paddling through the puddles to the back window I found she was now missing. As I headed back to the car to sit on my own I got a text from Kevin, sent almost 2 hours earlier, to say they were meeting up with some of the other GPs in the Broadford Hotel. Wolfgang Pfab and Sean Mulligan had been in although Sean had left just before I arrived. Wolfgang said he was German but his humour was very Scottish or I’ve met too many straight Germans. Sarah told me that we had met Sean before as he was on our 5 star training. So far a large number of the GPs were of a high standard, this might be easier than I thought.
After a broken night’s sleep and a huge breakfast I set off for the first full day’s assessment starting at 9. A set of 5 charts, pilots, Clyde yachtsman and Reeds almanacs were laid out waiting for us. A quick brief on where we were starting and finishing from and then we had almost 2 hours to come up with our route plan. I had 2 channels to cross with a small island to go round. Finding the tide times and converting to local times and the flow rates and times didn’t take too long. I’d never used the Clyde yachtsman so thought it best have a quick check in case there was anything I might have missed but it didn’t give me anything I didn’t have. The crossing would take just under 4 hours so I worked out the tide direction and rates over the whole range and opted for a start time to get the best use of the flow. I was just starting to draw the route on the chart when Gordon came in to announce that we should be starting to draw some form of route within the next 30 minutes. Now I’m either 30 minutes ahead of what is expected or I’ve missed something. 10 minutes later I’m fairly happy that I’m OK and continue with the plan. It all looked great until I decided to lay off my actual track position and ended up about 1km out. Once I worked out where the error was it was simple to explain how to correct it without starting again. Gordon re-appeared again to say most of the GPs were here and I was surprised to see that it was almost 11 already. He had been out for a drive and had decided we were going in at Armadale and paddling up to Isleornsay after a trip to the skerries.
Nearly back at Isle Oronsay
We were split into 2 groups, Mark and Bonnie were one and Ole and Chris were stuck with me. The GPs were brought in and after a brief introduction they were handed over to their candidates. Chris’ partner, Kate Rawles, was put in beside Sarah, Kevin and Wolfgang and left with Mark and Bonnie. I had Sean, Alan Jones, Neil and Roger Hamlet. We gave them a rough idea of the plan and were not surprised to learn they each had different ailments, a broken finger, a heart murmur, asthma like symptoms and a previously dislocated shoulder. With the boats racked and everybody changed we headed to Armadale.
The wind was a force 5-7 coming from the south so the put-in was fairly sheltered. While Gordon and Kim went off to arrange the shuttle the candidates had to get their group into a shelter with a hot drink and some food. Once they were suitably refreshed and warmed up it was time to get them on the water. Chris asked to lead first then me and Ole would follow on. Ole and I hung back while Chris got the group sorted and on the water. As we picked the boats up to move them to the water my rear toggle broke, I’ll blame Ole for that one. Not a lot to do other than tie a knot and hope it holds. As we headed out around the Armadale ferry the wind soon hit us head on as did the rain and hail. I half expected to take the group over behind Eilean Maol but Chris was taking them a bit further up behind Eilean Sgorach. I headed between the 2 skerries to see what the conditions would be like as I expected I’d be bringing the group back in there before handing over to Ole. Gordon shouted over that I could go out and have a look. This is where an understanding of Gordon’s style of coaching helps, he doesn’t tend to say much and when he does it’s usually a suggestion. It reminds me of an old warrant officer, a suggestion is his way of being nice and isn’t really a suggestion at all. As I headed, out the 1.5 – 2mtr waves changed into 2-3mtr waves and I was pleased to look back and see the Ole had also had the same suggestion. Progress was slow but I still preferred to battle on rather than turn around and then battle against the wind to catch the group. As we approached the end of the skerry the first group came through and by the time we got to the gap our group were there.
My turn to lead and take the group around the headland. There were a few breakers ahead of the first group and some more just off the headland. I had to race around the group as it was impossible to communicate any more than a couple of metres away. The plan was to head up to where the other group were, about 100mtrs ahead, then veer right avoiding the headland. As I explained this to my group the other group had decided to stop and turn around. It was a real surprise how quickly 100mtrs can disappear as we had to dodge through their group with many of them still side on. We were clear of the headland when Gordon asked that I turn the group around and hand over to Ole. I’d only been leading for less than 500mtrs so this was a bit of a worry, either I had done really well or really badly and Gordon doesn’t give anything away. With the headland to our right and rear the only safe way was to turn left. Rodger was slightly ahead and the most left so I had him turn first while I went back to explain to the others to start turning left and then drop the skeg. Over to Ole while I sat back with Chris and played on the waves.
Ole led the group back to the skerries then took them around again while we waited for Chris to adjust is boat. We then started heading for Ornsay, approximately 12km north east with Ole still leading. Over the first 1km Chris & I estimated we were travelling about 8 knots but this slowed down to about 5 after Armadale. It wasn’t much further before Rodger started to get cold which brought on his breathing troubles. With an extra storm cag on he still wasn’t showing signs of improving so a rafted tow was called for. Time to call the coastguard, so Chris and I had to give our position as a grid reference and bearing. After 1km of towing, Rodger started to recover. Ole had led for the best part of 6km and I was asked to lead the group into a sheltered bay for a short break. We were almost half way by this time and with Chris still due a second turn what could possibly go wrong in the next 3km?
More towing
The entry into the bay was a bit rough but once inside we managed to get out for a 10 minute stretch and refresh before heading back out with me still leading. We hadn’t gone far when Neil looked decidedly wobbly so I started to work my way over to keep an eye on him. But after 2 checks that he was OK he still went over, I’m not sure whether he tried a roll as the shout of agony told me something was wrong. What’s the 4 priorities of incident management; 1 – me, I’m fine, 2 – group, stop! they appeared to turn round, 3 – casualty, time to get him sorted. Neil had popped his right shoulder and was in a bit of pain. He still had his boat, his paddle was on a leash and his hat was drifting slightly behind (that’s 4th on the priority list so can wait). I slid him into his boat using a scoop rescue and got him to hold his arm in a comfortable position, it saved trying to attach a sling out there. I looked round for some assistance and had Rodger close so I had him help out with a raft and the pumping while I sorted out a tow. I could have done with somebody on the other side to assist with the stability while Rodger was pumping but to my dismay the sea was bare. I had lost half my group and couldn’t see them. A quick bearing check to content myself they were not behind me. It was almost time for the chopper for the casualty and a big whirlpool for me when I caught sight of them again, just ahead of their last position. They had slowed down and were happily chatting as they paddled off. I tried the whistle but you would need to be about 10mtrs away to hear it. The gap wasn’t much more than it had been so I set off towing as hard as I could to try and catch up with them. Now this is where reality and illusion meet. There was I angry with myself that I had made a simple error, despondent that I may have wasted my chance with a little bit of hope that I might catch up with the rest of the group. Puffing half way down a 2mtr wave when I look over and there’s Ole surfing past with the biggest smile he could give, if he’d been any closer I’d of punched him. My group eventually stopped in a small bay and waited for me to join them after a 3km tow. Chris took over here and had the job of landing my casualty, getting the group warm under a shelter and fed and watered.
Day 1 paddling done!
Chris then led us uneventfully back to the pier. The only challenges we were given were to get a bearing of the pier, paddle the last 1km with our splits and exit at the end of the pier. It was starting to get dark and the wind was still at force 7 so it was deemed too dangerous to continue with the night exercise. We’d been asked several navigational questions as we’d been out so although it wasn’t fully dark we had shown the skills that were required. By the time I’d gone down for the car Sarah had found the bar and downed 1 ½ pints of Red Cuillen. We loaded the kit and boats and headed back to Gordon’s to get changed and hang up the wet kit. A few of us met later in the Hebridean for a beer before Kevin took Wolfgang and us down to meet Trevor and his family.
After another fitful night’s sleep we met at Gordon’s again at 9. The plan for the day was to head down to Kyle Rhea and although he didn’t say it I expected it to be a fairly wet session. The assessors were going to swap over so we would have Rowland for the day. Chris arrived with a badly swollen wrist and had to withdraw although he would come down and watch as Kate was still going out. We also had the added bonus of having an assistant while we were leading.
The tide was south going and estimated to be about 8 knots just after 11 with a south, south westerly wind of up to force 5. With the groups ready Ole won the choice of leading first or second and gracefully passed it to me to lead first. I got the group on quickly as the ferry was already half way over before giving them a brief on the plan. We paddled up to the lighthouse and then we were to head over to a bay on the other side. I split the group in 2 with Ole heading off slightly ahead of me. Half way over and while in the fast flowing water we needed to perform a roll and self-rescue if that failed. Ole was first and his roll went well, it was only later that I found out he had done a rolling demonstration for the Danish royal family. My turn came and over I went, back up cleanly and hardly broke my stride; this is usually a good indication of how the day is going to go.
Ole rescueing
As we settled into the bay I was taken out to the edge of the flow and made to sit like a good puppy while Rowland took Alan midway into the flow. Once there Alan capsized and let go of his boat, either he’s been on these before or he listened to the instructions on day 1 as he held his paddle straight up so I could find him. Once Rowland raised his arm it was off like a sheepdog to round up all the separate bits. It didn’t take too long and we were both back on the bay pumping out while Ole and Rodger went through the same exercise. Next Ole and I had to each tow another tired paddler back out of the flow. Ole was upstream so went for the upstream paddler and I went down stream. A minor problem with the zip on my towline cost me about 200mtrs and meant another long slog back to the bay towing. The final challenge was without the GPs, we had to go into the flow and carry out a self-rescue. We had to make our way back to the side and pump out ourselves. Once this was completed Ole was to lead back across to just below the pier.
Sean and Alan were too tired to paddle and as we only had Ole and my towlines and as the assistant I was back on towing duty. Half way across the 2 other paddlers played at synchronized capsizing. With Alan back in his boat but still half full of water he joined the raft while he got pumped out. Once Rodger was back in he was a bit cold so also joined the raft. Ole being a considerate leader hitched up his towline to me and we headed off to the beach. Just after the pier Ole capsized and released his towline before rolling back up. Before my turn I pleaded with Rowland to allow Ole’s line to be detached as I’d be rolling right over it. It all seemed to go OK but the line stayed connected and just as Rowland was asking me to roll again I lifted my BA to free the toggle. By the time we hitched up again we had drifted way passed the beach and had another slog back up stream. Once on the beach with the GPs under a shelter for lunch Rowland asked if we were happy that we had been given enough chance to prove our abilities. We were both happy with the day and had about 1 hour to lead in rough water for real, the group wanted to play in the bumpy stuff so we headed out for a quick play. Rodger managed a roll and a self-rescue and left delighted. Back at the pier Ole showed off some of his skills by standing in the boat, duly copied by Rodger and then I had to make it 3. Ole and Rodger had big stable boats and managed to stand on the back deck, that’s one I’ll need to work on.
Playtime
 Back on the pier while tidying the kit and boats Gordon called us over to tell us that all 4 candidates had passed. I don’t know what felt better the joy of passing or the relief that the work over the last 18 months was worth it. What’s next? A holiday somewhere warm and a chance to build up some experience then possibly the advance water training but that’ll be next year anyway.

 

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