Messing around in boats

Sabine and Neils take the African Queen for a spin

Sabine and Neils take the African Queen for a spin

We used the time spent getting to Jakarta constructively and many of us in the crew spent two days doing boat training with both the large and small launches on board. Learning how to handle the boats is essential for the smooth running of the ship, and when the Esperanza is anchored out in a harbour or at sea, they’re often used to ferry people to shore and without them we’d be rather cut off when we’re not docked.

I was a bit naïve to think that boat training just involved driving them; of course, we have to get them in the water first and under the watchful eye of Sabrine the boat engineer, we spent several hours practising that before we even got close to getting wet. The larger boats have all been christened with names like the African Queen and Susie Q.

They have to be attached to the crane which will lift them over the railings and down into the water; the tag lines – which stop the boats twirling on the crane – have to be secured and held tight; and the painter line is attached to the bow of each boat to keep it attached to the ship after the crane hook is released so the crew can get the engine started. The range of ropes, hooks and winch blocks was bewildering at first to a novice like myself, but the principles are pretty straight forward – keep the tag lines tight, and keep your fingers out of the crane hook or risk losing them. I defaulted on any knot tying though as the few knots I learnt in the Scouts have long since been forgotten.

Silas and Marta get to grips with one of the inflatables

Silas and Marta get to grips with one of the inflatables

Eventually, we did get to scoot off around the ship and even though unhooking the crane looks easy when other people are doing it, it’s a different matter in a boat which is moving in the swell and the ropes never seem to go exactly where you want them to.

I also got the chance to take the tiller a couple of times and Locky tutored me in the art of drawing alongside the ship. To get the inflatables in the right spot to be picked up by the crane (another big objective of the training), you have to match the speed of the ship and approach it at the right angle which, even in the mild swells I was working with, was tricky. Sea currents are constantly pulling on the boat and, unlike steering a car or a bike, you point the tiller in the opposite direction to the one you want to go.

After nearly colliding with the ship a few times and getting very wet from the splashbacks, I felt I was starting to get the hang of it and, like anything, it just takes practice. Although for the time being I think I’ll leave the boat driving to those with a bit more experience.

posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza

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