First qualification done – I’ve completed the STCW basic safety course. I’m now minimally qualified to stand a watch on a commercial vessel. I think this is roughly the equivalent of being trusted to wear a hard hat and carry bricks around a building site, but I am actually allowed to do that now.

My inner 12 year old is still absolutely sure that this is a big adventure holiday. It really, really isn’t. This is not what I was expecting at all. I think what I was expecting was to climb aboard a pretty boat and to swan around the Med for a while hauling on sheets and watching dolphins go by. What I’m coming to realise is that being a yachtmaster is more of a management role. Getting a boat from A to B is definitely part of it, but so is provisioning it, keeping it in good repair, leading the crew, general problem solving, not catching fire, and so on. I can sail a boat; until this week I had no idea what to do if it started sinking with passengers aboard. There’s a huge amount to learn here that’s not about pushing a boat around with wind.

In that vein it’s been interesting to see how, in a mixed classroom of YM candidates and industry workers on the STCW course, the instructors have offloaded any and all leadership tasks to us to see how we fared (“You’re the OIC. I need you to organise getting the class kitted up with a jacket, trousers and helmet”). I do find myself stepping up and owning things more than I did when I arrived.

When we arrived we asked one of August fast-trackers if he’d enjoyed the course, and the answer was conspicuously not “yes”. Rewarding, worthwhile, an incredible experience, but “enjoyable” was not a word that seemed to apply. Oddly, this is increasing my conviction that coming here was the right thing to do.

I’m in with a nice group of people. If we were sat in a bar by the sea with nothing else to do, I’d be happy to hang out with them. But we’re going to be living in a confined space for a long time while studying for a relentlessly intense and really expensive training course, and I’m already spotting “why the fuck would you do that?” behaviours. In a couple of weeks we’re going to be a lot more tired, a lot more stressed, and little things are quickly going to become big.

My assumption that everyone else would be here for the adventure was very much based on the flawed assumption that it was going to be an adventure. Everyone I’ve met so far is here because they want commercial sailing work. It might be security, might be yacht delivery, might be purely because crewing superyachts == big money, but I suspect I’m the only person who came here just because I thought it’d be cool. Can’t work out if that makes me carefree and awesome, or an idiot.

There’s a concept that keeps coming up called the 7 P’s: Prior preparation and planning prevents piss-poor performance. In my other life, I help build and lead teams in delivering new things. Planning and performance is what I’m all about. And yet somehow, this week has been like an out-of-body experience where I’ve watched myself jump straight into things without taking a moment to think about what I’m doing first, and then thought “shit, I should have thought about this first”.

What I wanted to know

Bunking was one thing that worried me. Turns out that my old self was right to be worried. Fortunately my new self, the post-commercial-course realisation self, understands that this is the reality of commercial yacht accommodation and that not getting attached to a bunk is part of the learning experience. This is not home. This is a commercial working vessel.

Gear-wise, I think there’s about a 60-70% overlap between what I brought and what I should have brought, but I haven’t worked out what belongs in which side yet. Pants and socks, deffo. Books and entertainment? I spent half an hour reading this evening, but I don’t think that sort of free time is going to be a long-term feature of the course.

The rest of the crew are a varied bag of folks. I have some worries about whether we’re going to be able to work together. I like them and they’re good people, but we’re all very different and back in the old world I’d say we stand a good chance of achieving the goal or building a good team dynamic in 4 months, but doing both at the same time is giving me amber alerts. It’s not going wrong yet, but in these circumstances it probably will.

What I needed to know

Getting this out of the way; Gibraltar pound coins are not the same as mainland pound coins. They’re missing the middle shiny bit. And for some reason, the laundry facilities in the marina only accept mainland pound coins. When I go home for Christmas, I need to bring back a shitload of them. Yes Zina, that was indeed a subtle hint for when you come to visit.

Kit list: Don’t worry too much about the specialist gear. Get good outer wear and plenty of changes of normal clothes. Gibraltar is still civilisation. You can buy stuff here.

You need a fair amount of stuff throughout the course. Too much to fit in a bag you can take on board. The only way to deal with this is to have a second bag that’ll fit a week of pants, socks, study gear, a few t-shirts and spare trousers. And a wash kit. The mother-ship bag lives in the office storage cupboard and you go back to it and swap things around when you have to. If I were doing this again, I think I’d make sure I had the weekly bag sorted first, then work out what I needed for the mothership. I actually did it the other way round. My mothership is a great bag, but it just sits in a cupboard while I live out of my gym bag.

Things to do better next week

I foolishly asked the instructors who was going to be our duty skipper next week (one of us has to play Dad / Mum for the crew each week and make sure chores get done). Obviously that meant it was me.

Downsides of this:

  • I have to manage the victualing fund and make sure the boat is provisioned for the week, which sounds easy but will involve getting everyone to list before Sunday the ingredients they’ll need for the meals that half of the crew haven’t yet realised they’ll have to cook on the day that they’re chef on the rota
  • I have to supervise the chef, bosun and crew. Not sure I actually know how to do any of these roles, let alone supervise them
  • I have to find the tidal curve and ladder (don’t know what this means)
  • complete the handover checklist (don’t know what’s on it)
  • complete the safety briefings (don’t know what these are)
  • and provide a 24 hour detailed weather brief and 72 hour summary, which I assume needs to be more than “BBC says it’ll be sunny”.

There’s going to be a lot of “Huh?” over the next week.

Upsides of being duty skipper:

  • These are all things I can learn to do
  • If I’m duty skipper and everyone has signed the rules of the course (they did; Amy was duty skipper last week and she made us do it), then I think I’m somewhere between allowed and required to fix some of the problems we’ve seen this week. Fixing problems is something I can do.