Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sailing Courses

I was off to the Isle of Wight to take my STCW95 (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) VHF Radio (Very High Frequency Radio) and Power Boat Level II certificates so I would qualify to work on super yachts.

Before leaving, Mum asked if I was excited about my courses and the truth is I wasn’t. I need to sit them before being allowed to work on a super yacht and I viewed them as something that needed to be done. I was looking forward to getting out of Maidstone and seeing somewhere new but I certainly wasn’t excited. The trouble is since getting back from New Zealand I haven’t had any commitments or things I’ve needed to do so I’ve gotten complacent and a bit lazy.

I caught the train to Southampton and then a Ferry to Cowes. I was nearing the end of my current book The Game and was engrossed in that so the train journey passed fairly quickly and before I knew it, I was on the ferry heading for Cowes. Before boarding the ferry I thought to myself that I should have a look around and I take in the sights as I’ve never been to the Isle of Wight before. Unfortunately the view from the ferry wasn’t great as the weather was overcast and as is it was approaching early evening time the backdrop looked grey and moody so I gave in.

The first person I saw on the Isle of Wight was Ben, who I’d met when working for Explore NZ. He worked on the America’s Cup boats and as soon as I saw him, I remembered him saying he was heading to the UK to spend the summer sailing. I couldn’t believe I’d bumped into him and thought to myself what a small world. We swapped numbers and said we’d meet one evening for a beer, unfortunately that didn’t happen. He txt me that evening but as I was starting the course tomorrow I wanted to be on form and when I txt him on Friday night he was in London, visiting a friend.

The cottages (from the brown door to the water's edge).
They look much better in the photo.
On arrival my first impressions of the cottages weren’t great. From the outside they looked dirty, a little run down and in need of a lick of paint. The accommodation was okay and would do the job for the week, I mean all you need is a bed, shower and somewhere to cook and the cottages ticked all three boxes but my expectations from the pictures and descriptions on the website weren’t met.

No one was about so I decided to have a little look around and walked along the sea front to the esplanade. I was shocked at how many pubs I passed on my way. Cowes is a pretty small place, I only walked for about 10 minutes but saw at least as many pubs. During my walk I got a call from my parents and Granny. It’s the first time I’ve been away since my accident and returning home so anticipated a few calls. After them both calling at least three or four times during my trip (8 days) I smiled to myself and thought do they realise I’m a 27 year old man? At least my trip to Cowes let them get used to me being away again because they aren’t going to be able to call every day when I’m at sea!

VHF Radio.

The course didn’t start until 10am so was nice and relaxed. We all meet in the outside court yard then went up to the class room. There were about 12 people taking the course. 5 of them had been in Cowes for 6 weeks sitting other certificates; there was a group of ex army guys that were going into marine security to combat the threat of pirates on container ships and one other fella who wanted to pick up some yachting work before joining the Navy. I really didn’t understand why the guy who was joining the Navy was paying for these certificates as the Navy finance you to do more in depth training than we were doing, still, each to their own.

The courtyard.
Our teacher, Angus was a lively fellow who had a strong enthusiasm for sailing and in particular the radio. He told us lots of humorous stories relating to the radio that happened while he was out sailing. We covered a fair bit of information and most of the sailing related theory went over my head. The army guys were used to using radio’s so only needed to learn the bits related to the marine industry and the 5 that had been here for 6 weeks seemed to take things on board especially the sailing theory better than I. You never know they may have been thinking the same. My trouble wasn’t taking notes while listening to Angus but I found it impossible to try and memorise the key points whilst the class continued. Fortunately Angus told us that although we had to sit a test, he had never had anyone fail and the exam wasn’t taken in strict exam conditions. This relaxed me and I stopped worrying about taking too many notes and just listened to what he had to say. At times I relaxed a little too much and caught my self tuning out and starting to drift off.

As soon as the exam paper was handed out my mind went blank and I thought here we go. I tried to relax and flicked through the questions until I saw one that I definitely knew the answer to and started from there. In the end it all came back to me and I found the exam fairly easy and straight forward. After Angus had marked my paper he told me to look at question 5 again, no wonder he has never had anyone fail the exam before.

Elementary First Aid.

This was the first day of the STCW95 course so we had 6 or 7 new faces join the group. Our group was pretty cool, it was made up of people in their early twenties right up to late thirties possibly even early forties and from all different backgrounds. I no longer felt like the only one struggling to grasp all the sailing terminology so was much happier.

The class room.
Our teacher, again was very good and even pulled out a bag of jelly babies and chocolate biscuits (and told us to get stuck in) when talking about Diabetes and the need of an instant sugar hit. He worked as an on call helicopter medic for the oil rigs and earned £800 a day! He was very eccentric and made a few comments including sticking chocolate bars in inappropriate places and having allergies when PVC touched his mouth that made me wonder about his sexuality.

The course was more in depth than I imagined, covered a lot of topics and I found it really interesting. This time we were given a course book to take away that covered all the topics. I felt much happier that we had the book as it meant I could pay more attention to the lecture and read up on the subject on my own time. I was determined to pay attention and get as much out of this course as I could as I think having a decent knowledge of first aid is a good life skill to have.

At the end of the class we had another exam, this time he didn’t tell us if we had answered questions incorrectly but did allow us to use the course book to answer the questions.

Sea Survival.

I was really looking forward to this part of the course as it was practical and sounded good fun. The course was taken by Richie and Richie, both ex Navy and now working as fire fighters.

For the first half of the day we were in the class room covering theory. After lunch we were taken to the local swimming baths and had to prove that we could swim two laps of the pool in overalls. I decided to dive into to the pool and instantly didn’t feel right. I felt disorientated and had a slight head ache but didn’t think anything of it and started swimming. As I was turning round for my second lap I twigged that the reason I wasn’t feeling too good was the impact of the water on my head. This brought back the reality that I’m still healing and need to slow down a little and be more cautious. 

A life raft. The inside is blue to boost morale.
After the swim we was taught how to enter the water wearing a life jacket, learnt how to keep the group together in the water while being able to swim and how to fend of sharks. If you notice sharks whilst in the water you are supposed to form a circle facing outwards, link arms and kick your legs. The shadow from everyone joint in a circle and the noise from the splash will hopefully make the shark think whatever’s above is bigger than them and scares them off. Hopefully I’ll never need to try this technique out.

We then got two life rafts out, had to get on board without any help (which is trickier that it sounds), learnt how to flip it over if it’s blown on its side and piled in and had a little chat about sea survival. To finish the day we paired off into two groups, entered the water in our life jackets, swam two lengths in a line connected together and then enter the rafts. Richie and Richie whispered to people to act as if they were unconscious at different points to see how the group would react and if the casualties were rescued.

I didn’t enjoy the day as much as what I thought I would. Ever since my accident I’ve felt the cold considerably more and was uncomfortably cold in the pool, which ruined the day for me. I was also a little concerned about my head after the dive and I didn’t feel comfortable in the raft with everyone piling in and swinging their arms and legs everywhere, as I was worried I’d get a whack to the head.

Personal Safety and Social Responsibility.

This part of the course was supposed to be the worst because it was so boring, but I actually enjoyed the class and found it interesting. I learnt a lot and it made me realise that you need to have your wits about you. I was always a little na├»ve when thinking about working on a super yacht and only thought about the travel and life in the sun. This class made me realise that going to sea can be dangerous and made me aware of what can happen. 

Fire Prevention & Fire Fighting.

The fire fighting part of the course is covered over two days. We started the first day in the class room and learnt about different types of fire and how to tackle them. The theory side only lasted a few hours and then we jumped on the bus and drove to the fire station.

We got kitted up then had a go using fire extinguishers. When putting out a fire you don’t aim the extinguisher right at the fire, you’re supposed direct the hose at a backboard or shoot up into the air so that fluid splashes or drops onto the fire. We were also shown what happens when you use water to try and extinguish a fire caused by burning liquids, the result was frightening.

We then broke into two groups, my group was shown how to set up the breathing apparatus (BA) and put it on. I was surprised that fire fighters rely on verbal communication and don’t know hand signals for back up. I suppose that when you’re fighting a fire it’s dark and smoky so you won’t be able to see hand signals. Before going home we were shown around hot house where tomorrow we would be fighting a real fire.

The next day my group was shown how to set the hose up, do the fireman shuffle, how to move around a burning building and open doors. Everyone’s coordination when doing the fireman’s shuffle was awful. You have to put your weight on your back foot while stamping your front foot on the ground to make sure it will take your weight then shuffle forward and repeat. While doing this you have to move your arm from the top of your head to the front of your face in a circular motion, with the back of your hand facing out to protect you from falling debris.

The Hot House.
Once we had practised all the theory it was time to go in. While we were waiting to enter the hot house I felt slightly nervous but as soon as I was in the front door, instinct took over and I was too focused on the job at hand to be nervous. We had to navigate our way around the outside wall and through two rooms until we got to the hose that was coiled up at the top of the stairs. The room was pitch black and I kept tripping over the hose on the way to the top of the stairs. I was number 3 so my job was feeding the hose from the coil and around the corner in the stairs. When we reached the fire, Richie talked to us about what to look for and told us again how to fight a fire. We all had a go at cooling the gases around the ceiling and the door frame and fighting the fire back to its origin. We couldn’t extinguish the fire completely as it had to keep going so four more groups could experience the hot house.

Before leaving the hot house we had to work our way back up the stairs coiling the hose back at the top ready for the next group. Someone accidentally kicked the branch on and water started spraying out. I found this funny as we couldn’t see anything and didn’t know where the branch was. Richie wasn’t so amused as the more water that was sprayed in the hot room the hotter it would get through out the day.

Power Boat Level II

As the STWC95 course finished yesterday most people had gone home and only Dave and I was left. We were joined on the course by another guy who had previously done the course and wanted to do it again as a refresher. We started off in the class room to cover a little bit of theory then we changed into wet weather gear and headed out to the rib. The rib was much bigger than I expected, had four seats, enough room to fit 6 people comfortably in behind the seats and two outboard motors. The weather was miserable and I had to squint so I could see where I was going through the rain. Even though it was cold and wet I loved driving around on the rib and it reminded me how much I enjoy being on the water and how badly I want to work on a super yacht.

Resisting the urge to go for a joy ride.
Fortunately the bad weather cleared up and was actually sunny the following day. Dave needed a passport picture for his power boat license so we planned a journey to Portsmouth in our theory class and practised a few man over board techniques on the way. The most important thing to remember when collecting an overboard passenger is to turn the motors off before you get to them so the propeller doesn’t chop off any limbs!

The navigation side of things was pretty easy and I now know how to follow the bouys to where I need to get to. We also got to practice the using the radio as we had to ask the harbour master for permission to cross the channel and to berth temporally in Portsmouth Harbour.

On the way home I drove the whole way, and had to restrict my self from doing 360’s and generally messing around. I had to be a good boy with the teacher sitting behind me and it took all my will power as the boat can turn on a six pence and has some serious power so is just asking to be taken for a joy ride.

I really enjoyed my time in Cowes and the courses, more importantly I’ve got my drive back to get on a super yacht. I learnt a lot and I can see why you need to have the certificate before being allowed to work at sea. I definitely feel more competent, aware of the risks and confident. All I need now is a job.

Click here for more photos.

Let me know your thoughts and leave a comment :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

6 Months On

Looking back it seems like a long time ago since my accident and 6 months has flown, though at the time the month I spent in rehab felt like a month! Don’t get me wrong the time didn’t drag but I had a lot of time to think and I guess being so focused on getting better and what needed improving made the time move slower.  My memory has conveniently forgotten the hard times, but I still remember thinking I never want to feel like this again and have to go through a similar situation.

I’ve come along way since feeling constantly tired, grumpy and the sensation of having a permanent haze slowing my brain from digesting and acting upon any information. At this moment, I feel fantastic. I’m definitely recapturing the old me and my previous personality. I’m surprised that my personality has taken the longest to heal and I still think I have a way to go. Every time I’ve made big improvements I remember thinking, I’m nearly there. Funnily enough 6 months on and I’m still thinking the same, all I say is long may the improvements keep coming.

It didn’t take me long to until I was living what I would call a ‘normal life’. With in 3 months of the accident I was back to full time work, regularly working out at the gym and being able to comfortably fit things in like food shopping. After about 5 months I finally let go of my afternoon rest. To start with it was hard work but I knew I didn’t really need it and my body was getting addicted to the rests. I could have stopped the whole rest saga after 4 months but I stupidly reintroduced it as I was having a bad week. Never mind, we live and learn.

Since leaving New Zealand and returning home to my family, I’ve made huge improvements. I think it’s because I’ve been able to relax and not worry about commitments like work or fitting things in. My fatigue has totally cleared up and I can now stay out clubbing until the early hours of the morning. It is a little weird not drinking but I’m getting used to it and actually quite enjoy it. You pick up on a whole lot more being sober, especially female attention :) Initially I used to feel a little self conscious when dancing and struggled to let my self go but to be honest dancing was never my strong point. Fortunately, each time I go out, letting go and relaxing gets easier and easier and it won’t be long until I even notice a difference.

I’ve also decided to take up mountain biking again. Initially I wouldn’t entertain the idea as like I’ve said I never want to go through the situation again and wasn’t prepared to do anything that increased the chances of me having another brain injury in the 2 year recovery period. Riding again has been a bonus and it’s forced my brain to improve how it deals with processing at speed. I no longer ride like the maniac I used to, racing everyone and pulling out all the stops to win or doing things that people said I couldn’t. Now I just ride for the social side and plod along with in my limits. I am getting quicker down hill but I’m well within my comfort zone.  One day riding home from my mates on the path I fell off and it shock me up big time. I wasn’t confident bumping up an angled curb so slammed my brakes on, but hit the curb before I stopped, washing out my front wheel. Initially my pride was all that was hurt; I felt an idiot and quickly got back on my bike. Shortly after picking myself up the adrenaline wore off, my arms and legs turned to jelly and the crash started playing on my mind. I did however get to see how your body does a great job of protecting the head.

Another thing I’ve done that may not seem the most sensible thing, is occasional labouring for my Dad. He owns a felt roofing company so I’m up and down the ladder with 40kg rolls of felt on my shoulder or hot cans of bitumen in my hand. At first my footing was a little shaky but each trip up the ladder and every day I worked the job got easier and my balance steadier. The work hit me hard though, and after the first two days I was in bed by 8:30. I honestly can’t remember ever feeling so tired after a day of doing something, I was wiped out.  The one thing I’ve learnt from this recovery process is you have to keep pushing yourself and it’s surprising how quickly the body improves. If I didn’t work with Dad or ride my bike again my brain wouldn’t have been forced to deal with the new situations and the improvements wouldn’t have been made.

Well that’s all my news and the last I will write on the subject. Hopefully my recovery will keep going from strength to strength and the plan is to return stronger than I was before my accident. I’ve got no doubt that will happen.

If anyone is reading this blog after a recent brain injury or knows someone who’s had one, you do improve and things do get better. You may not believe me when everything is a struggle and the recovery seems like a long rocky road but it’ll happen. The advice I would give is stay positive, know you will recover and constantly push yourself. You’re the only one who knows how you’re feeling so trust your judgement, if you’re happy you can move to the next level do it.