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SEPTEMBER 2014 ISSUE

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Force Magazine
Guest Column - Force Magazine
A Beginner’s Course
Providing sea legs to future naval officers
 
Cmde K.P. Mathew (retd)
By Commodore K.P. Mathew (retd)

I spent about a third of my three decade-long innings with the Indian Navy on training jobs. These included what was called Sub of the Gun or being the nursemaid to freshly inducted direct entry acting sub lieutenants on the training ship INS Cauvery, command of the cadet training ship INS Beas and Commandant of the Naval Academy at INS Mandovi. The primary task during the first two tenures listed was to make the trainees’ experience the basics of seafaring on their first exposure to a ship and the sea, or provide them with their – ‘sea legs’ - in nautical parlance.

During the three-to-six month-long stint on board the training ship, the trainees while living, working and performing duties on board like those of the junior rungs of the crew are also prepared for their tasks as future officers. While the former includes maintenance of allotted ship spaces, watchkeeping duties, steering the ship, anchoring or tying up the ship on a jetty and such like, which is a seaman’s lot; the latter covers terrestrial and astro navigation, navigational watchkeeping and connected tasks in the realm of controlling the ship’s operations. In addition to these regular components of a ship’s day at sea or harbour, there are a couple of exercises which have been handed down over generations. These are so designed and conducted specially in a training ship to help the trainees understand the role and interplay of the elements in seafaring and how best to face them. Here I will describe in brief two of the premier such exercises.

Seaboats
This is the term denoting lowering the ship’s boat into the sea to perform an allotted task. For trainees this task is invariably to recover a lifebuoy which stimulates a man fallen over the side into the sea. In a training ship there are usually two boats, called whalers, one on either side of the ship, earmarked for the exercise. The boats could be propelled by oars or sails and did not have any engine.

When the ship is at sea, the day invariably started at dawn with the call ‘Away Seaboats’. This sets in motion an orderly scramble. The trainees who are pre allocated to be specific members of the boat crew scale the ladder and take up their positions. Similarly those meant to lower the boat and tend to the boat’s lines do so accordingly. Once the preparations are complete, the officer in charge gives the order to turn out the boat to make it clear the ship’s side and then lower away. When the boat is just clear above the water, the order is given to slip at which the boat is released to be water borne while still being pulled forward by the line between the ship and the boat.

While these intense activities are taking place on the deck, at the controlling position or Bridge in ship parlance, the Captain would have reduced speed and then ordered stop and also directed that the lifebuoys, one for each boat to recover, be thrown over the side.

Once waterborne, the boat’s in charge, or Coxswain, assumes full charge and gets the crew to have the oars ready and also lets slip the line from the ship. Now propelled by oars, the boat manoeuvres and heads towards the lifebuoy which by then is at some distance astern. The lifebuoys are next recovered from the sea and brought aboard and the boats rowed back to the now stationary ship.

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