Delicious as they may look, albatross make for terrible survival treats. Seabirds, fish, and anything else high in protein will dry you out. That’s bad news when you have limited fresh water, waiting for rescue on a salty sea.
I just completed the weeklong Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) basic safety training at Cal Maritime Academy. It’s an extension course offered monthly and is open to anyone in the community, but mostly taken by commercial mariners for licensing purposes.
The course material is roughly 2:1 classroom learning to hands-on practice. The hands-on stuff includes CPR and AED practice, survival “at sea” with life rafts, PFDs, and survival suit drills (in a swimming pool), plus firefighting in full turn-out gear with air tanks.
We were the first class to use Cal Maritime’s new firefighting prop in Richmond. It’s a pyrotechnic boat in a parking lot—possibly stolen from Burning Man.
Here are a few highlights from my survival at sea notes:
Make your own PFD: If you’ve got nothing else, you might have a shirt. Button up tight, pull your collar forward, and blow down your neck to create a bubble over your upper back. Or you have bell-bottom trousers, perhaps? Tie the ankles together and hold the waist open, swoop pants over your head to fill with air, and then hold the waist underwater. Pop your head between the legs and contemplate a PFD purchase.
Fast for survival: Once you’re safely ensconced in the life raft, take a 24-hour food and water fast to reset your metabolism for scarcity. A properly stocked raft carries special food rations that take very little water to digest, a graduated cup to measure water intakes, and a manual with rationing tables. No albatross.
Swimming through an oil fire: Dive down and mermaid to windward, letting the breeze push the oil away, lead with your hands when you surface, and splash an opening for air. Rinse and repeat.
Safeway bags: Roll a couple Safeway bags into the legs of your cold-water survival suit to cover your feet while you slide in. It’s like putting on an oversize wetsuit really quickly; grippy shoes can really slow you down. Why Safeway? Our instructor explained, “We’re a union household and the grocery workers union says to shop at Safeway. Use Walmart bags and you’ll probably drown.”
All jokes aside, it’s a week of training that provides a good introduction to key skills for any serious offshore sailor. With each course unit we were reminded of the importance of ongoing practice and, of course, preparation.
When the requisite technical difficulties held up inaugural drills in the new fire course, one of the old salts aboard grumbled, “A good sailor is a prepared sailor.”
Let that one ring in your head for a while.
Samuel D.S. hails from the great inland sea of Lake Michigan where the seagulls are much smaller, but the water’s just as cold. He’s a history and psycholgy nerd by training, dedicated to socially and ecologically-engaged maritime education.