A female’s perspective with Al Gwyer in a male dominated environment.

A week with Al

In preparation for our sea voyage back home, we decide to sign up for a few courses while back in NZ.  Gary had decided to sit his RYA Commercial Skippers ticket that enables him to skipper boats up to 200 tonne.  He already had all the prerequisites, so all he needed was a few tutorials before sitting the exam.  We also decided to both sit the Advanced Sea Survival course and First Aid (both being a recap for Gary, but first time for me).
With a bunch of coincidences and a bit of luck, we found ourselves under the care of Al Gwyer, tutor extraordinaire.  While technically it was Gary sitting his ticket, I was required to be his crew for the test and therefore needed to attend the training.  We managed to steal Mum and Dad Bonser’s boat for the training – thanks!
From the moment I stepped on the boat with Al, I knew we were in good hands.  Cool, calm and confident, Al put Gary through the paces.  Al could truly sell himself as a marriage counsellor too.  We didn’t think we needed a counsellor only 4 days into our marriage, but boy was Al a godsend.
Generally, if you don’t want a divorce, don’t go sailing with your spouse.  Tempers are easily set alight in the stressful situations that go hand in hand with sailing.  Husbands, although it is desperately difficult to admit it, often have more sailing experience than their female counterparts and are therefore in a position to direct, lecture and instruct their wives.  Being told what to do from a man is difficult enough for a feminist like me, but being told from my husband is like shaving with a cheese grater.
That’s where Al comes in.  For his ticket, Gary was required to tell his crew where to be and what to do (my job being to stop myself from telling him where to go!) while completing complex manoeuvres. Gary needed to demonstrate his ability to manage people as well as the boat.  If Gary would give me instructions that weren’t clear enough, Al would step right in on my behalf.  “What do you mean by that Gary?”, “You need to give her more warning Gary” and “you can’t really expect her to do that Gary” says Al my saviour!  Gary couldn’t raise his voice at me without a stern look from Al to put him in his place.  Gary even stopped giving me a frustrated sigh when I wasn’t doing something fast enough – all thanks to Al.
Gary came away with his Skipper’s ticket, but I reckon he also came away with a much better understanding of how to communicate with women.
Next up with Al was our Sea Survival.  Day one was theory.  Al told us the dos and don’ts from “don’t get off the boat unless it’s flooded or on fire” to “never tie the rope sent down from the helicopter to the boat”.  All the lessons were drummed into our memory like a jackhammer by the horrific footage of rescues.  I am still haunted by the film of a family being rescued, who really should have just battened down the hatches – their boat was just fine.  The helicopter arrived and assessed the situation as too dangerous to take the people off the boat, but the family wasn’t communicating with the helicopter. The mother jumped into the water with a four month old baby.  Clutching the baby to her chest, the baby was underwater and being drowned.  It is a miracle the baby survived thanks to the bravery of the helicopter crew and pure fluke.  Another take away from the course was when you ask for rescue you are risking the lives of your rescuers, so it better be your only option.
In the afternoon we sat our first aid course with Scott.  Direct and to the point Scott taught us the basics of first aid for the injuries we might encounter on the sea (not just “coughs, colds and sore holes” as he put it!).  The talk of blood and guts was informative but left me a bit queasy, especially after Gary asked what you should do if you lose your hand!  Scott, unalarmed, gave us the how to and made it easy to remember.
Day two of sea survival was the practical.  Bright and early we arrived at the Mt Albert wave pool.  We learnt about the different types of life jackets, what to do if they are faulty, the realities of surviving without a life jacket, how to swim as a crew and keep warm, as well as real life experience in a life raft.   All the time while you are floundering in the waves attempting to blow up your crappy life jacket manually, our good friend Al is pouring water at your face with a high pressure hose.  We practiced righting the life raft, both being inside while it flips, and trying to right it.  In full wet weather gear, saturated, and your life jacket tight at your neck, being rolled in the life raft is not much fun.  I swear that morning was the closest I have ever been to drowning.  Although the practical could never be described as a good time (well, despite going down the water slide at the end) it was one of the best things I’ve done for my boat safety.  Before you have been there, you just can’t comprehend how difficult it is to survive in the water, how shit a life raft is, and what a miracle it is to survive if you ever have to get into one. Despite yelling at Al what a bastard he was while he sprayed water in my face, it really did make the practical much more real, and made me take so much more away from the course.
After our week (well really two) with Al, I felt much more prepared for our voyage, and am so thankful to have done it with Al.