Exercise caribbean wings
In January 2014 I had the privilege to deploy to the Island of St Lucia with 13 members of 3 Regt AAC for a sailing expedition around the Caribbean Islands.
An amazing opportunity, but not an easy task, as eight crew members, including myself, had no previous experience of sailing. We arrived in the picture postcard Marigot Bay to meet HMSTC Discoverer and Skipper SSgt Greg Miller (Royal Signals), who had sufficient experience to overcome the challenge of taking us to sea on a 67’ yacht.
First we were put into watches and cabins allocated to individuals. We then received a detailed brief on basic ship life, which covered all the safety aspects and precautions of living on a boat. A four man team led by Capt Paul Whatnell set off to buy supplies for the two week voyage whilst the remainder ofthe crew checked equipment on board and explored the local beach. With news from home of wind and rain storms we set about the arduous task of enjoying the winter sun and Caribbean breeze as the sun set on our first day in paradise.
The next day we sailed to the bottom of St Lucia, to learn how to raise and lower the different sails whilst on the move. The crew also practised man over board procedures and the different jobs that we would be tasked with during sailing. No one was prepared for what happened next however. As the wind picked up half the crew became sea sick, which was not a pleasant thing to witness or experience. We were grateful when we dropped anchor for the evening, even though it meant carrying out anchor watch throughout the night.
With a new day and revitalised crew we sailed South for the Grenadines and our first stop, the Island of Bequia. On route however we made a terrible discovery; the starboard head (toilet) was blocked. The Skipper and First Mate (Capt Russ Archer) went below to start to clear the blockage. After much initial amusement I was soon made to regret my smart comments as Airtpr Sam Hodgson and I were called upon to help. Disconnecting sewage pipes in order to clean them out was not what we had signed up for! Sam made it very clear that this was the worst job he has ever completed in the Army as I threw up over the side of the boat.
The next island stop was Mustique; playground to the rich and famous and home to the likes of Brian Adams and Mick Jagger. ‘Basil’s’ jazz bar and grill right on the beautiful white beach became our base to explore the island whilst the skipper and mate carried out yet more repairs to the boat. Meanwhile whilst snorkelling LCpl Aiden McBeth and Sam both stood on sea urchins, black balls of four inch spikes. Their trip to see the local doctor included an island tour before being prescribed vinegar and a dose of ‘man up’.
Another day of sailing south found us in the islands of Tobago Cays, a collection of small-uninhabited islands in a marine reserve surrounded by a large coral reef. The beaches were just getting better and better. We snorkelled with turtles and stingrays and explored the reef. That evening we had a crew meal hosted by ‘Mr Fabulous’ on one of the deserted islands. We were cooked a lobster meal fit for a king. The bring-your-own drinks policy meant that Cpl Guy Hockaday could be creative with the cartons of juice and screech to disguise the day’s rum ration. The cocktail was shared with crews of neighbouring boats who dined alongside us as we demonstrated the impeccable British Military hospitality.
Fully rested and resupplied, we set sail for Barbados, a 30hr trip heading straight into wind over rough and ragged seas. Sea sickness set in once more as the wind and waves increased, and we experienced the challenges of cooking and eating when the boat is leant over at a 45 degree angle. The trip was worth it to hear Airtpr Heidi Bushell sing Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’ in a karaoke bar near the village where Rihanna had grown up and enjoying a bank holiday game of volleyball on the beach with the locals; more training on our part is definitely required!
The last stop before home, and definite highlight, was Dominica. We anchored up, and went ashore to meet our tour guide ‘Sea Cat’. He told us that people go to the Caribbean to sit on the beach and get fat, but they go to Dominica to go exploring and get fit. He was not wrong. We climbed up gorges and waterfalls before bathing in natural hot springs and tasted fresh local produce, coconuts, grapefruit, star fruit, and sugar cane straight from the trees.
On return to St Lucia our last duty on the boat was the final deep clean ready to hand the boat to the next crew. I really enjoyed Ex CARIBBEAN WINGS and I know the other crewmembers did too. This really was the chance of a lifetime to see and experience some amazing places and creatures; from flying fish, dolphins and turtles to exotic birds, from beaches to rainforest, and the open ocean between. It was extremely challenging at times, but all the more enjoyable for it. We sailed over 570 nautical miles, 45 hours sailed at night and at the end we were awarded our competent crew qualification. It was a brilliant all round Adventure Training experience, which I would highly recommend.