Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Reflecting on a busy week away

Heading north from Sumburgh we transited Mousa Sound, which separates the Mainland from the Island of Mousa, on the south west of which lies the largest and most complete surviving Iron Age round tower or broch.  Even without the opportunity to land and visit it is a most impressive sight and I hope somewhere that I can return to for a closer look.   In the meantime you can read more at http://www.shetland-heritage.co.uk/mousa.  I have also been unsuccessful in my efforts to find and insert a suitable map but suggest that google maps do give good coverage; on the satellite view you will get an impressive bird’s eye view of the broch of Mousa.  (Search on Mousa first and then the broch is labelled.)

Arriving in Lerwick we said goodbye to one crew before spending an uneventful Saturday night and awaiting the arrival of a new crew before heading north through Linga Sound which separates Whalsay Island from The Mainland.  Swan was fished from Whalsay in her early years and today it has a reputation as the home of the pelagic boat owners.  Sadly there was no time to linger and we continued north to The Island of Yell and into Burra Voe, a small village with a primary school of 11 pupils (in two classes).  We were greeted on the pier side by the primary school headmistress and made to feel most welcome.   

The following day we started this season’s school programme with two separate trips, each aimed at slightly different age groups but with children of between 5 and 9 years old.  Each trip was only about an hour and a half long and combined an introduction to the boat, including climbing into the bunks which for some was the highlight, with experiments with pulleys to lift the table top and finally a short trip under engine during which all took the helm for long enough to have their mantelpiece photo shot.  Afterwards we had lunch in the school before returning to the Swan. 


The following day we embarked a group of 14/15 year olds for an overnight trip to the Outer skerries.  The trip out was somewhat lively and it took its toll on some of the crew and school staff.  There is absolutely no doubt that sea sickness is a physical condition and that it can be very debilitating.  Equally there is no doubt that mental resilience and robustness are either negative or positive contributors to speed of severity and recovery.  One member of the school staff suffered but worked through it whilst the youngsters were, generally, too ready to give up.  Whilst disappointing it is perhaps not too surprising and mirrors Kurt Hahn’s work on survival during the battle of the Atlantic (I fully intend to pick up on this work soon!!)   Another striking observation was the reluctance of any of these youngsters, without significant encouragement, to help look after each other.  Instead there was an automatic assumption that the staff (sea or school) should be doing this.  I have no disagreement with the notion of my duty of care or leadership role but equally “God helps those who help themselves” conveys a powerful philosophy and approach to interdependence.  It might be tempting to ascribe, at least in part, this observation to the uncertainty of the environment of being at sea but this is not supported by another observation.  My initial welcome on the quayside included the mandatory brief on taking care boarding the boat which included crossing the decks of another boat.  I also asked that they help each other by passing bags between them and so forth.  In fact not one of them did.  Again there was both an expectation and actuality that the school staff do this.  After explaining and demonstrating the fitting of life jackets I asked them to work in pairs to assist and check each other, with limited results.  I accept that as a former soldier I might have a different expectation on how people form teams and look after each other, and I also accept that these children were younger than the soldiers (or British Schools Exploring Society young explorers) that I have previously worked with.  However, this automatic reliance on teachers or adults is both striking and disappointing; it seems to me to point to both an unwillingness to accept responsibility and to a system that is reluctant to empower people by accustoming them to exercise responsibility.   I have observed this in another setting during Army life.  Some years ago I worked in the army “basic training” organisation.  (The army doesn’t use the term basic training but it concisely describes the scenario.) After about 3 weeks in the Army every soldier is required to pass a series of tests about safe weapon handling.  The test is classroom based and in a standard format.  It is mandatory that all soldiers pass before progressing in training (and at 6 monthly intervals thereafter regardless of rank or experience).  Move forward to week 20ish of their training course and these same young soldiers are now taking part in demanding field firing exercises.  They are firing live ammunition during practice attacks (or similar).  Occasionally their weapon might jam and malfunction.   The correct response is one of the tests that they passed in week 3 and have to re-pass within a short period before taking part in these battle exercises.  In other words we know that they are capable of carrying out the drill . . .and yet their first reaction is typically to turn to the range safety staff. 
It seems to me that in both cases there has been a failure to develop not the skill but the confidence to enact the skill in a real situation.  I think this has enormous implications and ramifications which posse a challenge to all concerned.

The Outer Skerries are an extraordinary place.  At one level not so very different from the Mainland or the rest of Shetland but the community of about 70 people live on about two and a half square miles.  A few fishing boats work out of the harbour which whilst secure enough is subject to the vagaries of weather and sea.  A salmon farm nestles in the shallower and more tranquil water.  I won’t dwell on it but it must take a very particular person and attitude to live and work in such a place.

The following day was more kindly and we sailed back to Mid Yell in almost ideal conditions.  For me the highlight was one 14 year old girl who displayed that little bit extra when taking her turn on the helm.  I asked her if she wanted to take the wheel whilst we gybed the boat and she said yes.  I knew that we would have to gybe that day and so had explained the concept before departure. (For the non-sailors, a word of explanation but without the benefit of the white board. You are probably familiar with the term tacking; its when a boat changes direction by turning her bow through the wind.  The sails then set on the “other side” and is considered a routine manoeuvre.  It can go wrong but is seldom, of its self, difficult or dangerous.  Gybing is changing direction by turning the stern through the wind.  It’s a relatively more dangerous manoeuvre with more potential for things to go badly wrong if it’s not done under control.  (The consequences of an uncontrolled or even accidental gybe can be sever.)  Having set up the gybe, I then coxed her through the procedure whilst she gave the orders and with a little mentoring executed it very competently.  I told her to “midship your wheel” and without even a blink she glanced astern noted the rudder position and gave a turn of the wheel.  Perfect!  When I congratulated her she appeared non pulsed and didn’t really appear to understand why I was so impressed.

Returning to Lerwick on Thursday evening we were in something of a choppy sea and a foul but falling wind.  Our Volunteer crewman, Nat (the one who is always in his shirt sleeves) was at the wheel as we entered Bressy sound into Lerwick and half in jest asked him if he wanted to bring her alongside.  To my absolute delight and surprise he said he’d give it a go.  It was not an easy first “park” and required some toing and frowing with a tight turn and then some gentle manoeuvring to come alongside.  This time the helmsman did realise what he’d just accomplished and he had the broadest smile I have seen for a long time.  We celebrated with a pint.

So I completed my first week of the schools programme.  At one level it has been very satisfying but at another posses many questions.  I suspect though that it is the latter which gives me most cause for reflection but for the moment I shall keep my own counsel whilst I mull the experience and consider how it might help shape future events.
The following day I returned to Scalloway to join a short but moving ceremony to commemorate the Shetland Bus operation. Shetlanders and Norwegians have always enjoyed a close and kindred relationship and this sometimes little known wartime operation carried out in secrecy with foe ,sea and weather as enemies cemented that friendship in an enduring bond. Although not conventionally dressed for such an event, I like to think that it was in someways an appropriate attire in which to commemorate the courage and sacrifice of these men.
So to finish on a lighter note; the Shetland Boat Show provide a weekend of water inspired activity. The boats have a distinctly local flavour

The shanties sung by the Yell Shantymen aboard Swan over lunch were universal and even persuaded me to join in!!
But a highlight was the Faeroese sailing trawler "Westward Ho TN 54". When the British fishing fleet converted to steam, the Faeroese fisherman brought up many of the sailing boats and continued to fish them under sail. “westward Ho” is one of only two survivors. Built at Grimsby she now proudly flies the Faeroe’s flag and is much loved by not only her crew and community but by the wider historical maritime fleet.
And The Faeroese hospitality aboard Westward Ho was something else!! 


Monday, 20 May 2013

The Leaving of Scalloway

It occurs to me that I have been rather remiss in not giving any form of description of Scalloway which has been my temporary home since I arrived in Shetland. Now that I am on the eve of departing and although I will be back later in the summer, I confess to a twinge of regret at the prospect of leaving.
  Such is the sense of community pride for “Swan” that everyone is keen to support her and there is no doubt that I derive considerable spin off and benefit from that good will.  The Hotel allows me internet access and only require me to buy a moderate amount of beer in recompense!  The Port Authority have given me use of their washing machine and been very helpful to the “baby skipper”. 
Scalloway is a working fishing port and boats off load catch here and prepare for sea.  In bad weather the pier side fills up as current EU fisheries regulations limit the number of days a fishing boat can be at sea; so rather than ride it out, boats run for port so as to save days for fishing.  This same regulation includes time spent steaming to and from the fishing grounds, thus landing at the nearest port rather than steaming to mainland Scotland preserves days for fishing.  So not only are there local boats but also a steady stream of visitors to the fish landing wharf where there is a processing plant, net repair business and lorries leave at all times of the day bound for Lerwick and on to Aberdeen.  

With a population of about 800, Scalloway is Shetland’s second city and in the foreground you can see the new housing development which underscores the strong links with Norway and Scandinavia in general. 
 I expect that back in the early 1800's others were commenting on the then new estate:

It was also the ancient capital

and today there is a friendly rivalry with its near neighbour the current capital, Lerwick.  It is also a microcosm of the wider “east and west coast” divide.  As well as the expected school and shops, it boasts a swimming pool, a Chinese take away and a youth club.

Scalloway was also home to the Shetland Bus operation of World War Two that played a critical role in supporting Norwegian resistance.  For many Norwegians fleeing Nazi occupation it represented the end of a perilous escape route.  For others it was the last place of safety before setting off to face the dangers of return through arctic waters and the covert courage of fighting with the resistance.  Today several houses routinely fly the Norwegian flag and the local museum was opened by the Norwegian Prime minister. 

As we slipped out we were also privileged to see an Orca mother and calf



As we headed south about to Lerwick I made the first of what I am sure will be several roundings of Sumburgh Head.  Of course to Shetland seafarers it’s a routine event, but for me a significant UK headland and a moment to savour.  The shipping forecast will never be the same again.


Friday, 10 May 2013

Final Preparations For Sea.


In the same week that we are in the final stages of preparing for the start of the school’s programme, there have been two nationally reported tragedies at sea.   The death of a father and daughter, and life changing injuries to four other members of their family in a powerboat accident in Cornwall was followed by the news of the death of a gold winning Olympic sailor in a high performance multihull yacht preparing for the America’s Cup.  Elsewhere there will have been numerous other accidents and “near misses” at sea.  On the face of it these may have little relevance to the Swan.

The relevance is, I suggest, a stark reminder that no matter how much fun or how professional and prepared you are; there are inherent risks associated with boats.   (But keep it perspective because there are inherent risks associated with life.)  So rather than these tragedies being a reason to stop going to sea they are a reminder of the necessity to prepare and plan for the unexpected and not simply leave things to chance or hoped for good luck.  Failing to prepare is preparing to fail and at sea the stakes are high.  An in vogue saying as I was leaving the Army, coined I believe by the Americans was “hope is not an acceptable action or measure”.

It won’t surprise you to learn that commercial sailing is subject to a regulatory frame work and all vessels and crews required to meet and adhere to a code of practice.  Rather than seeing this as an onerous bureaucratic hurdle, I choose to see it as an articulation of sound seamanship and a navigation aid or check list of good practise.  After all, in all walks of life, we know that common sense is not always common practice.   At times the code might sometimes appear pedantic.  For example we now have a full functioning fire fighting capability (following my bath in paraffin!!) in addition to 4 fire extinguishers, an internal engine room fire fighting system, two pumps and a fire blanket, we needed to purchase two buckets with lanyards to complete compliance.

So how do you prepare for sea and how do you know when you are ready?  It’s potentially quite a deep question.  Complying with the code is a possible answer but not one that sits easily with me.  Equally if you take the view that you can always be better prepared then you might be tempted to say “never” because there is always something else to do.  So there is a judgement to be made.  In this case there is also a timetable to be adhered to, or if it can’t be then there needs to be a very good reason. 

The Italian economist, Pareto was studying wealth distribution when he noticed that 80% of Italy’s wealth came from 20% of the population.  To his surprise the same ratio appeared again in a different studies.  Intrigued he now set out to find other examples, which he did in abundance.  Today The Pareto or 80-20 principle is a well-recognised guide.  Suppose you are going to repaint the door.  You could burn back to the wood, prime, undercoat and apply two top coats.  Let’s call that the 100% job.   Alternatively you could rub down, scrap badly damaged areas, spot prime, spot undercoat and reapply two top coats.  Lets call that the 80% job.  Chances are that you will have an 80% result that only took you 20% of the time it would have take to do the 100% job.  The question is how important to you in absolute and relative terms is it to paint the door?  Now apply the same thought process to getting ready for sea.  Clearly there are some jobs where a 100% solution and nothing less will do, but equally there are some jobs which only merit an 80% solution using 20% of the time and freeing up time to tackle the 100% jobs.  The trick is to identify which is which.  In fact apply it to what is important in your life.

So lets think about preparing for sea. The principle suggests that 20% of the hazards will cause 80% of the injuries, so it makes sense to target those 20% but how do you know which are the 20% to focus on?  Well if you had a system of accident and near miss reporting, that might be a good start point, so why not go to the old cutlery draw and have a look?  So efficient accident reporting informs efficient accident prevention.  A word of caution though, not all accidents have the same consequence.  In fact MOB is very unlikely, but very high impact if it does occur, so don’t just use empirical mathematics, temper it with good old common sense.

Scott and I have been completing work in two other vital areas; bungs and Medical 1st aid.


For non-sailors bungs might need some explanation.   Firstly they are nothing to do with a backhand bribe.   Most vessels will have some through hull fixtures.  For example, our fire pump draws water from the sea through a pipe intake in the hull, so does the engine cooling system.  In fact we have 9 holes through the hull below the water line.  Each of these is fitted with a seacock (which you might think of as being a big tap).  Question: what happens if the seacock fails?  Answer: potential disaster.  However a simple conical soft wood bung banged into the pipe or hole could be a life saver.  (common sense let alone the code of practice require in place measures. )
 So measure the size of hole, get a bung made and tie it in place next to the hole and you will always know where it is and that you have the right size.  Soft wood because it will swell and seal more effectively than anything else. 

When I came aboard I couldn’t find any soft wood bungs let alone any tied in place.  It was on my must do list and last week during routine maintenance of an inlet pipe, the pipe sheered.  Fortunately the sea cock was closed but it doesn’t require much imagination . . .

a bung: that's the wooden conical thing not the porridge
Most of us are used to the idea that we can dial 999 and have a paramedic with us very quickly then medical emergency is not something we regularly plan for or think about.   At times this year Swan will be more than 20 hours from shore.  In fact even if she is only a few hours from harbour then it could still be a long few hours.   Again the regulatory framework requires the carriage of certain medical stores.  These are ordered through a local chemist who is used to supplying boats of all type.  The medicines arrived shortly after I did, unsorted and in a big bag.  Thus far my main interaction with medical matters on board has been to discard out of date medical stores and to note that reorganisation was needed. 
 I need to be able to tell someone to get the burns pack or the minor injuries 1st aid without having to sort through the indigestion tablets and cough medicines. 

So I feel much more comfortable but there is still some work to do an boxing it up.

I want to close with two thoughts.
The first is that the Swan has always complied with her legal responsibilities to carry medical stores.  So too did the majority of our MPs when they claimed their expenses.  We oft heard them say that their claims were within the rules and legal.  Equally we know that what they did was wrong.   Tax loop wholes might be legal but we regale about transgression of a moral responsibility.  So my moral responsibility with the medical stores didn’t end with compliance with the regulations, it extends to being able to do my absolute best for any injured person, whether it’s having tweezers (which aren’t part of the legal requirement) to remove a splinter or ready access to the flamazine which is.   

So compliance is necessary but not sufficient.  I hope that we won’t need the flamazine or the bungs and most people who sail on this boat won’t ever know what it took to get them organised but I will sleep a little easier and know that tomorrow morning when we slip I have done my best to prepare for a medical (and other) emergency and not just fulfil a legal requirement or hope that it will be OK but I also know that the sea and life can never be made completely safe. 


Saturday, 4 May 2013

Lest I sound too grumpy . .

 There are some pleasures to my day; like the fisherman who asked if I wanted some scallops?

Little steps make big steps

Three recalls from previous posts:
  • Frustrating shopping trips with little obviously achieved and time eaten up.  Sometimes a necessary evil and an essential precursor to success.
  • The little issue of the cutlery draw. 
  • Recovering Fred in a simulated MOB exercise.

Now hold those thoughts – or go back and reread them?!

Today three little steps bore fruit; emergency torches housed throughout the vessel,
 we also have a prototype boom crutch 

 I have no idea how it will be received but both Scott and I are delighted that it has reduced deck clutter and made getting about much easier.  I also think it brings additional safety benefits.  I hope that it won’t stumble against the “that’s not how we have done it before” argument.  (Just to be clear I completely understand and support authenticity as a powerful argument in the preservation of the vessel.)


Now for the third; spot the two differences:




Give up?  OK, they are very small but here they are:
Replacing the nuts and bolts with R-clips to hold the stantion posts in their housing might seem like semantics and not worth two-man days of shopping and work with grinders, punches, heavy hammers, socket sets and some cursing. 
And why replace a bespoke shiny rigging bottle screw with a lashing?   

Well, in an emergency we can now rapidly drop the guard rail and stantion posts with a pull of a clip and the slash of a knife. 

Quite useful to say, launch the life rafts or recover a man over board.

So again it’s the little things that are important detail.

Now it’s back to work; I have also discovered that although the fire pumps work, the hose fitting doesn’t connect properly to the pump. . . . .   probably a bath in paraffin will do the trick, that’s the connector not me!!