1320 – ‘Broad Reach’ – Gibraltar

In July 2012, six members of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) took part in the second ever international sailing exercise organised by the Corps. The exercise, which received support funding from the Ulysses Trust, was led by an experienced Yachtmaster from the London Scottish Regiment. The crew made the most of their six days at sea by familiarising themselves with the yacht ‘Pickle’ in the Bay of Algeciras, before sailing from Gibraltar to the Spanish ports of Marbella, Estepona and La Duquesa – returning to Gibraltar having sailed 95 nm and experienced diverse weather conditions ranging from winds gusting at Gale Force 9 to dense fog.

Sailing has become a regular Adventurous Training activity since being reintroduced to the Corps in 2009. More than 38 members, ranging from novices to those with significant experience, regularly undertake sailing exercises on the Solent utilising the Victoria 34’s based at JSASTC, Gosport. Exercise Broad Reach II provided an ideal opportunity for all members (experienced and novices alike) to learn how to crew a modern sailing yacht, practice watch-keeping, helm and perfect the art of stern berthing – a skill not required in UK sailing waters.

A modern Elan 37′ sailing vessel, ‘Pickle’ features roller reefing sails and a wheel –different from the traditional rigging and tillers featured on the Victoria 34s in service at JSASTC. Working together in a confined area required excellent teamwork, a positive attitude, good leadership and communication skills, intellectual and physical stamina together with a good sense of humour.

The crew on this exercise comprised; one Coastal Yachtmaster, one Day Skipper, one Competent Crew, an experienced dinghy sailor and three very keen FANYs with limited sailing experience.

Having arrived at Gibraltar late on Sunday evening, 8 July, the following morning was spent familiarising the crew with the boat, undertaking a safety briefing and acquiring victuals for the boat. Once complete, the rest of the day was spent in the Bay of Algeciras learning how to use the new rigging, practice furling and un-furling the jib as well as hoisting and reefing the mainsail.

Having checked the weather forecast [which indicated a ‘fresh breeze’] we rose early on the Tuesday intent on crossing the Straits of Gibraltar to Ceuta, a Spanish port in North Africa, some 14nm south of Gibraltar. However, rough seas and high waves battering the yacht led to implementation of ‘Plan B’ and the yacht turned NE heading for Marbella some 30nm away. ‘Pickle’ ran with the wind at 5 knots on a furled Jib covering the distance in just six hours. Upon arrival, we successfully berthed stern-first and introduced those members new to sailing in the Mediterranean to the delights of the ‘slime line’.

On Wednesday, 11 July, we woke to beautiful blue skies and light winds. Keen to hoist the sails again we left Marbella heading for Estepona. Still struggling to find an accurate weather forecast our ‘light’ winds meant we required only a furled jib and fully reefed mainsail to achieve 7.8 knots. Conditions were perfect though and everybody took turns at helming before arriving safely at Estepona.

With temperatures quickly rising above 30 degrees, Thursday seemed the perfect day to cool off in the sea. Some 2nm from shore we headed ‘Pickle’ to wind, lowered the sails, fixed fenders to lines from the stern of the yacht and five crew members braved the fresh waters whilst two stayed on board. Once revived, the sails were hoisted again and we headed for La Duquesa with the hope of sailing to Ceuta the following day.

We rose early on Friday 13 July – again the weather forecast was favourable showing early mists ‘burning-off’ by mid-day. At 10:30 this seemed unlikely and by noon – impossible. The mists we experienced off-shore soon became dense fog and we wondered what this ‘Friday the 13th’ had in store for us. With an ‘eagle eyed’ crew member posted to the bow, two members to the port and starboard amidships and, two to the stern looking behind us; our yachtmaster went below, to monitor the GPS and Radar, whilst the FANY ‘Skipper’ stayed at the helm. None of the FANY crew members had ever ‘sailed’ in fog before and with no wind it was an incredible and eerie experience. We came across a flotilla of fishermen – fishing in canoes under the watchful eye of a leader based in a rowing boat with a parasol [yes, we all thought we had arrived on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean!] and a couple of larger fishing boats.

We soon realised that a safe crossing of the Straits would be impossible so we crawled cautiously back to Gibraltar. Using the GPS and Radar we inched our way from moored containership to moored containership along the eastern side of the Rock. With visibility down to 50 metres and fog horns blasting all around us, making for Gunwharf was quite clearly the right decision. We reached our destination some eight hours later – enriched and sobered by the mystical experience.

Our last full day, Saturday, was our final chance to make the crossing to Ceuta. Again the weather forecast was favourable – so we set sail in earnest. However, upon arrival at Europa Point the waves were building and the wind increasing in strength. Some other sail boats turned around – and so too did we. Not a moment was wasted though and we spent the rest of the day practicing our ‘tacking’ and ‘jibing’. With each member of the crew moving one place anti-clockwise round the cockpit after each change of direction, time passed in a flash and we returned to Gunwharf confident in our abilities to ‘race’ around the Bay.

We woke the final day to gale force winds. Grateful that we had not sailed to Ceuta the previous day we spent the day returning ‘Pickle’ to shipshape state ready for her next crew.

The exercise was a great success. Two members of the crew have decided to take RYA Competent Crew qualifications, another her Coastal Yachtmaster theory. One member feels more confident for her RYA Day Skipper theory course, which she will be attending in November, and another is determined to introduce the activity to her family.

The FANY are extremely grateful to the Ulysses Trust for their support of this exercise.

With thanks to:

Ulysses Trust

In partnership with:

Nuffield Trust