Sam plotting his position on the passage to Fowey.

Geography student sails around Cornwall thanks to Floella Benjamin!

Sam Gillchrest, a third year BSc Geography student at Tremough was awarded a £1,000 Floella Benjamin Career Development Award.

Here's Sams account of how he used his prize money.

Winning one of the £1000 Floella Benjamin Career Development Awards allowed me to sail the beautiful waters of Cornwall (see below), gain experience of handling a sailing yacht, practice navigation and develop my seamanship skills. Practicing and developing these skills and increasing my marine experience will help me towards gaining the Royal Yacht Association, Yacht Master Qualification. This is an essential and valuable marine qualification that will enable me to begin a successful maritime career.

The following report will outline the activities and experiences completed on my Floella Benjamin Award funded course.

I joined the 34ft sailing yacht ‘Gone with the Wind’ in Falmouth Yacht Marina on Sunday 27th of June 2010 where I met my instructor Ray and the other students on the course. We stowed out gear (clothes etc) and completed a series of safety briefings in preparation for setting sail the following day.

On Monday, we set sail and practiced handling the yacht under engine power in Carrick Roads in Falmouth. The weather was fantastic and this was a good experience as individual boats have different handling characteristics. We practiced coming alongside marina berths, pontoons and mooring buoys. These are all essential manoeuvres for safe sailing. When our instructor was happy, we plotted a course to the Helford and sailed there for the night. The weather began to deteriorate so we picked up a mooring buoy for the night.

When at sea, time and tide wait for no man! So, all hands were up bright and early on Tuesday morning in preparation for the 24 mile coastal passage to Fowey. We let go the mooring at 0630 BST and headed down the Helford into fog, hoping to make the most out of the tides ‘push’ to help us on our way to Fowey. We hoisted sail and plotted our position every 30 minutes using a range of techniques to practice our navigation skills. Ray our instructor emphasised the importance of knowing where you are in poor visibility; maintaining a good lookout was also essential as we did not want any collisions!

We made good time so we anchored up in Par Bay for lunch prior to practicing handling the yacht under sail. We completed several exercises which were designed to develop our ‘wind awareness’ this included completing figure of 8’s which enable you to practice tacking and gybing (Effectively turning through the wind). The gybe in particular can be a dangerous manoeuvre; to we were taught and practiced the ‘controlled’ gybe, which is much less alarming than an uncontrolled gybe!

As the evening drew in, we sailed into Fowey, I had not been there before, and found it a stunning place; quintessentially Cornish!

It was my turn to cook so we all had spaghetti bolognaise, anyone who has cooked before on a boat before will appreciate the difficulty when your galley (kitchen) is moving around madly as you sail along!

We had a nice evening in Fowey and went ashore using the yacht’s tiny dingy which proved to be great fun. On Wednesday we left Fowey on the return passage to Falmouth. The weather was perfect, with the sun shining and a good 15 knots of wind which allowed us to make a good speed of ~5-6 knots. This passage allowed me to practice my boat handling and I took the helm for much of the passage which was a great experience.

During the passage back to Falmouth, we again practiced our navigation, plotting our positions using dead reckoning, running fixes, estimated positions and the more modern GPS equipment. In addition, we learnt about and practiced collision avoidance which is essential for making safe passages. Again we made Falmouth in good time as the wind ‘freshened’ or increased. We picked up a mooring buoy in Carrick Roads and prepared for the night time passage. The plan was to sail from the mooring, down the Fal, out of the harbour and then back up to the mooring. By day this is easy, however at night this is more complicated – boats don’t have headlights! Sailing at night can be unnerving in an area that you do not have experience of. I prepared half of the passage plan, using the method of buoy hopping. This involved sailing from buoy to buoy which could be identified from their individual flashing light characteristics. When this exercise was completed, it was very late or very early on Thursday morning, as I ‘turned in’ (went to bed) it was obvious that the wind was freshening, tomorrow was going to be interesting!

I woke on Thursday morning to the sound of wind, rain and clanging rigging. It was a day for oilies (water proofs). Because of the conditions we practiced sail handling in Carrick Roads. This gave us some shelter, but the conditions gave us a taste for poor weather boat handling, with three reefs (less sail because of the strong winds) in, we enjoyed a day of tacking, gybing and practicing the most important manoeuvre of all, the man over board (M.O.B). We practiced this manoeuvre again and again until we got it perfect every time. The aim of the game was to recover the person in the water as quickly as possible and get them out of danger. We also discussed issues such as hypothermia and how to call for assistance in an emergency such as a M.O.B. Having got thoroughly wet, cold and weather beaten, we returned to the safety of the marina for a debrief and discussion about the weeks’ activities.

Overall, I found the course very beneficial. I have messed around in motor boats for years, but prior to this course I had little knowledge of sailing and yachts etc. Furthermore, the mileage completed on this course adds to my motor boat mileage which will contribute to the overall experience I need to complete prior to taking my Yacht Master Examination. In addition, having completed this course, I have more confidence in my navigation, pilotage and seamanship, which again puts me in a good position to successfully gain this qualification in the near future.

Finally, I would like to thank Floella Benjamin for funding my course; I had a great week which I would not have experienced, had I not won the award and am a step closer to realising my career ambitions. I would encourage everyone to apply for the Floella Benjamin Award, you never know, you may well win!

Floella Benjamin Career Development Awards of £1000 are awarded each year to penultimate and final year undergraduate students studying a University of Exeter degree programme. Students must write a proposal about their career plans and describe how they would spend up to £1,000 to help them get a great job. They must also write a covering letter to Chancellor Floella Benjamin who chooses the five winners. Find out more about the Floella Benjamin Career Development Awards .

Date: 30 July 2010

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