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If your instruction to ship’s master
comes with a merchant marine twist,
this accountability is reinforced with
mind-snapping calculations to establish
metacentric gravity and the increasing
destabilization of tanks emptying
underway. You learn why a boat-load of
whale-watching passengers all moving to
one side of a fly-bridge in a rolling seaway
may not be good for repeat business.
We are trained in a state-of-the-art
ship simulator in North Sydney. After
successfully navigating your simulated
100 foot patrol boat into a simulated
lighthouse (rather than appointed
harbour), your basically good-humoured
former merchant nav y instructor will
shower you with profanities only just
strong enough to make a wharfie blush
and salty enough to strip the barnacles
from a harbour buoy. Your former real
navy instructor shows no such restraint.
My final test was to command a
bridge crew of three through a relatively
innocuous passage to Auckland’s
commercial wharves. My navy instructor,
(who in radar class baptised any blip
other than one’s own as ‘Enemy Vessel’)
decided to make things interesting from
the control booth.
Voyage start time is now 0100hrs, no
moon. Very clever, these computers. Thick
fog was called in, hiding a tanker aground
three miles ahead on the starboard bow.
Ready for wheel-over on your second
planned waypoint in the narrow channel,
a passing vessel radios to report a
crewmember falling off your aft deck into
Ever helpful, your lookout reports
those pesky floating shipping containers
you thought you’d left behind forever in
your last watch have now miraculously
resurfaced between you and the
unfortunate swimmer. And the Navy feller
wants to know your reciprocal bearing for
pick up. Right now.
Somewhere in the pitch black of
monitors around the bridge a little flashing
light from the MOB life-jacket strobe
insisted I not give into the perfectly rational
thought, “don’t worry, he’ll make it ashore
So I execute a Williamson Turn
ordering the wheel hard around to the side
the simulated wretch had fallen overboard
on, and at about 60 to 70 degrees off
the original course guess the reciprocal
heading and take it at 15 knots.
Throttling back to dead slow, the tiny
white light re-appears, and my career,
according to a classmate who has crept
into the control room, is saved by the skin
of my teeth. Lovely place New Zealand,
but I may cruise elsewhere for the next
century or so.
As a prospective Master 5, I will be
apparently qualified to helm a commercial
vessel to 24m up to 100nm offshore in
Australian waters. After completing three
months of class room theory, leavened
with sometimes overly exciting training
dousing petrol and gas fires then diving
into pools fully clothed to right upside
down life rafts, I am now ready to do my
So what’s a recreational skipper to
make of all this training that commercial
skippers must endure?
Regardless of the license you hold for
your own private boat, there’s a few things
I’ve learned, thanks to naval ‘persuasion’,
that even I will remember.
Here’s a couple for you. Your boat can
turn from a $10m dollar investment into
a $100 salvage in the slip of a line if you
don’t know your knots, when to use them,
and how to teach them to your crew.
Look at any dockside and count the
boats who land crew to make fast ashore.
Much safer to lasso the dock fitting with a
looped-end line and make fast aboard with
an easy-to-release and perfectly secure
If your vessel is heavy, practise using a
forward spring to slow the boat with figure
of eights wrapped around bitts on deck or
turns around a Samson post, making sure
you never stand directly in the line of the
pull in case the line gives way.
And a courtesy on berthing. When
sharing a dock bollard, always ‘dip the
eye’ of your own line through the eyes of
other’s existing mooring lines. This way
they’ll be able to cast off without bothering
you, or you them.
You don’t need to become a commercial
skipper to know that the sea’s big enough
for everyone if we’re courteous to other
*Ian Lang is looking for sea hours from Sydney
to Cairns. Contact him at iwlang@unimelb.
edu.au; 0456 170 156.
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