Lifeboats Where There Are None: Day 7 – “It’s ‘Mad Max’ Out There”

Today, on the sea, we learned how to recover people who are stranded on rocks and areas of land beside the sea. After my low day yesterday, I wasn’t looking forward in the least to getting back on the boat this morning, but I rebounded a little bit and was able to get my head back in the game more today. Rescuing people at sea is kind of the whole point of this course. The migrant crisis in the Aegean and the crisis in the Southern Mediterranean have fueled this course into existence. Unfortunately, rescuing people at sea is not easy, so there are many maneuvers to be taught. Trying to pick someone up who is stranded on a rock in the sea, which apparently happens a lot near the island of Lesvos when the refugee boats run aground, the rescue boat needs to be anchored to the bottom of the sea and then slowly letting out line while reversing up to the stranded casualties on the rocks. The conditions in the water today were not the best, with decent sized waves crashing ashore as I tried to navigate the boat, so each time a wave came, I’d have to coast on it and then rev the engine again, all while continuing to move backward toward the stranded casualty. I don’t think I was great at this particular scenario of the course, but I didn’t totally fail at it either. Doing anything with ropes and anchors isn’t fun in a boat, I’ve decided.

While on the water, we also practiced our landings about ten different times. This is how you get the boat to the shore, disembark the crew, and get the vessel safely onto a trolley and up the slipway without any huge issue. Each of the people in our boat practiced this twice, so we did it a total of eight times. Landing requires coming into the slipway very fast, quickly killing the engine, and then everyone jumping out of the boat all in one motion while hanging onto its sides and directing it onto the trolley waiting on standby. It’s all one giant motion, and quite annoying after ten different tries. I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to write about what it’s like to actually get into these boats. The sea often isn’t cooperating, so the waves have the boats bobbing wildly in front of us, and when the Helm (driver) yells “crew in!”, we have to get ourselves into the boat, which usually involves jumping as high as you can, throwing yourself forward, and clinging to anything you can find while heaving yourself in. It’s fun, but doing it ten times in a row is exhausting, not to mention that there really is no dignified way to go about it. We all flop around like fish getting yanked in from the sea with nets. It’s not pretty.

In the afternoon, I was so relieved to be done with the sea for the day. I felt like I still needed some time to fully get my head back in the game. Unfortunately, once we were out of our stinky wetsuits, we had only an hour for lunch before having to return and slip them back on again as our afternoon session began with “Sea Survival Training” in the pool.

I’m not sure how much I maintained about how to survive at sea other than that your life jacket is your friend, keep the survival kit with you, and read all of the directions. We were trained as if we were on a boat that was sinking and we had all the necessary means to survive on the sinking boat with us. In the pool was an inflatable raft with a roof, so it looked like a tent. Even in a pool, it was most unpleasant to sit in this tent as there was no air circulation and the bobbing of the water was a bit much.

The afternoon involved a lot of bobbing around in the pool and jumping onto floating objects. For the most part, it was really fun, but still the water was too cold, so it wasn’t something anyone wanted to be a part of for hours and hours. I continue to be amazed at how wholistic this course is. We’ve just had classes and briefings on so many different things.

One of the instructors said, “It’s ‘Mad Max’ out there”, in reference to being on the seas. This isn’t a comment made because of the rough waters. It’s a comment made because of people. Laws are literally changing these days to work against migrants who are risking their lives at sea on non-seaworthy vessels in attempts at new lives, futures. The fact of the matter is, if you put out a distress call, depending on who you are and who the people near by are, you may not be rescued. And that is 2019.

When the classes were finished and dinner was done, some of the instructors volunteered an hour of their evening to review some casualty care scenarios with us on the castle lawn. I did not feel the need to do anymore reviewing, but I went to the lawn nevertheless, just to get a little more individual attention and to prove to myself and the instructors that I was committed. The evening turned into a grand, goofy time as my classmates and I got to switch back and forth playing the patients and the first responders. It’s amazing how quickly people can bond, get to know one another, and execute new tasks.

We will be assessed tomorrow. First thing in the morning, I’ll be dropped into a scenario like I have been over the last week, and I’ll be graded on everything I do. 60% is a passing grade. I’m not too worried.

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