3AAC SAILING – HQ SQUADRON 08-22 MARCH VILLAMOURA TO PALMA DE MALLORCA
We joined the boat Kukri around midday and met the Skipper Stuart Southwick. We stowed our kit, stocked the boat with rations for 48hrs and started some boat familiarisation. Four of the crew had never sailed before and one of the objectives was for the novices to gain their RYA Comp Crew qualification, so without further ado the crew were split into Blue & Red Watch each with a watch leader and three crew. The rest of the afternoon was spent practising mooring, hoisting, lowering sails and general teamwork. It was the first time Sailing for AirTroopers Bowen, Leung, Lynch and Dix and it was down to the more experienced LCpls Brown, Robinson and AirTpr Nadin to help pass on their knowledge.
The itinerary changed slightly due to a weather window developing that gave us the opportunity to head straight for Gibraltar. We slipped lines at 09.15 and headed SE under engine and mainsail. The wind remained very light and variable for the next 24hrs. Blue and Red watch settled into the routine of ‘four on four off’ with the Skipper and Mate bridging the watches by two hours each. The night sky was crystal clear and star spotting and naming became the night’s pastime, as well as AirTpr Leung keeping an eye fixed on a phantom glowing ship on the horizon that was on a possible collision course, thankfully after an hour of close watching it dawned on him it was in fact the moon. The sea state changed from long Atlantic rolling swells to short steep choppy and confused sea where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. Beating hard and tacking regularly to keep out of the shipping lanes and the worst of the seas we made good progress and tacking became fast and slick. The first passage of 30hrs went very well with a variety of conditions to test the crew.
With a brief run ashore to Gibraltar to restock with essential supplies we slipped our lines at 11.30, winds very light and unable to carry sails we motor-sailed out into the straights of Gibraltar and turned into the Mediterranean. Our destination was Almeria however due to a weather window the Skipper decided it was prudent to push on to Cartagena some 50Nm further north. We encountered numerous pods of Dolphins that came and played to help make the journey more enjoyable.
Cartagena has a large university which happened to be celebrating with a live open-air concert. 3000 students were raving from around mid-day, which the crew members looking to embrace the local culture joined in. Sadly everyone had to be back on board to set sail at 1900.
16.00hrs saw Kukri safely moored in a marina 5 miles from Benidorm. With crew morale high, 6 days at sea, 490 nautical miles and 50 night hours under their belt a couple of days R&R was in order. LCpl Robinson thought that buying some new fishing tackle would help catch some fish, however they continued to ignore his best efforts of luring them onto his new shiny hooks, as they did for the remainder of the trip.
Our next destination was Ibiza. Having cleared Alicante marina, Red & Blue Watch settled into the all too familiar routine for a 24hr stretch at sea. Wind 18-20 knot sea state slight. Everything was looking good, however things were to change rapidly, the wind increased, the waves increased the sky already grey was turning a darker shade of grey, the sea already grey (reflecting the mood of the sky) was also turning a darker shade of grey, by contrast, the crews faces nicely bronzed from a week of Mediterranean sun, started turning white. It is said that if one person succumbs to seasickness it sets off a chain reaction amongst the rest of the crew and so this proved to be, before long the crew of Kukri were in full vocal harmony with each other regurgitating and reciting unique tunes that only the body in its totally out 3 REGIMENT ARMY AIR CORPS of control state can produce. This one-off performance was to last for a while or at least until the body was so exhausted that even breathing became an effort for most.
Beating into a sea that has had several days to build is always going to be a very wet experience, but this particular sea was vicious. A wave profile is determined by its height and length, height is crest to trough and length is crest to crest and so it stands to reason the longer the wave at a given height then the angle of its slope is a ratio of that. However this particular sea seemed to defy the laws of nature – it was high and short which meant the waves were steep, and steep waves are like walls of water that one has to navigate through. Not easy at night and not easy to maintain boat speed at around 5.5 – 6kns. These waves in open water were like a never ending assault course, no sooner had one recovered from overcoming the wall of water then the next one slammed into the boat, killing speed and direction. The best course of action was to get into the lee of the land as soon as possible. Easier said than done and progress was depressingly slow. In conditions like these 4 hours on watch can seem like 8 and the sleep period of 4 hours can seem like 2. During the night while the crews resolve remained strong and determined to complete this ordeal the No1 jib sail did not share the same aspiration, it gave up when the seam ripped and needed replacing in the middle of the night when conditions were at their worst. We experienced Force 8 on the nose for long periods with foam and spray stinging the eyes and making reading the binnacle with its red light challenging.
Wet and tired but in great spirits the crew of Kukri arrived in Ibiza late evening, however it was to be a whistle stop tour. By mid-afternoon, fed, watered and recovered, we prepped for sea, another night passage this time to our final destination: Palma de Majorca.
Having come through the last 24hrs, we all knew what to expect but hoping it wouldn’t actually be like the previous night. Sea sickness was far less prevalent the 2nd night despite much larger seas, perhaps attributed to acclimatisation of the conditions and another remarkable example of the human body’s ability to adapt to an adverse environment. Isn’t this the real outcome of Adventure Training and isn’t offshore-sailing the epitome of everything that Adventure Training is designed to do? Develop the individual with skills to perform as a team and overcome one’s adversary – in our case – the Weather and all it has to offer.
Arriving in Palma was a relief but also tinged with a little sadness because we all knew that our particular contribution to Exercise Gallipoli was at an end. When one reflects back to that first coming together at Gatwick airport at 04.30 in the morning with everyone casting a cautious eye over those they didn’t know and wondering what the next 14 days would bring, the camaraderie and friendships that have been established, to witness a crew working together as one was an honour to observe and a privilege to be a part of. The AAC have successfully completed its mission with true grit and pride with a passion to do it all