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River class leaves Raleigh’s rookie sailors ‘buzzing’
19 April 2012

Rookie sailors at HMS Raleigh are learning the basics of navigation, boat handling and life at sea with three days on the water around Plymouth and Torpoint.

The fundamentals of seafaring were introduced to the revamped ten-week course, which turns civvies into sailors, last year and has become the highlight of training for many.

Pictures: Dave Sherfield, HMS Raleigh

MUD + boat = bad.

It’s an important lesson to learn if you’re going to be a professional sailor.

And right now AB Taff Miles is teaching it.

Yelling it, really.

And finally, six lads in a boat get the message and head back for the middle of the Tamar rather than the worryingly-close Devon bank.

A year ago trainee sailors merely had a ride around the creeks and rivers of Torpoint and Plymouth in a RIB.

Now they have to navigate them on their own in a small inflatable with an outboard motor (top speed circa 6kts on a good day…), use Admiralty charts, take bearing fixes, make a note of the water’s depth.

This ‘nautical orienteering’ exercise is part of the new fifth commandment introduced during last year’s fundamental shake-up of basic training: thou shalt learn the art of seamanship and navigation.

Two MIBs head down the Lynher towards the Tamar

The whole ten-week civvy-to-sailor course at HMS Raleigh is grounded on nine principles or commandments, the ‘core maritime skills’, to feed the Fleet with tougher, more resolute sailors.

Come week six of the training and the rookies spend three days understanding the fundamentals of navigation, boat handling and life at sea (they spend one night aboard minehunter HMS Brecon moored in the middle of Lynher getting used to mess decks, ship’s routine and a not-entirely-expansive bed).

By the third day of their seamanship experience, the trainees are ready to carry out their navigational exercise.

Half a dozen sailors clamber into a MIB (Medium Inflatable Boat) and head out into the mouth of the Lynher – some head north up the Tamar and past the ammunition depot at Ernesettle, another across the Hamoaze towards Devonport.

“We let them get on with it as much as possible – if we can see they’re struggling, we’ll give them a bit of guidance,” says Taff. “The important thing is they learn for themselves.”

The trainees check their chart in the shadow of HMS Brecon (nice regulation haircut, by the way, lads...)

Today we’re going up the Tamar, in the accompanying Pacific 22 RIB from Jupiter Point; a safety boat with two experienced matelots is always on the water.

Having passed under Brunel’s iconic railway bridge, not run into the mudbanks at Ernesettle, and re-started the outboard motor on several occasions, the trainees turn around and return slowly to Jupiter Point.

“The trainees come back buzzing,” says WO1 Mac McLaughlan, Jupiter Point River Officer.

“Their smiles go from one ear to another. The feedback is excellent.

“From our viewpoint, it’s not about ‘can they drive the boat?’ It’s ‘can they navigate. It’s down to them to plan their waypoints, to use the charts, to take bearings. And from what we’ve seen, it works excellently.”