II (AC) Squadron’s Ex Shiny Sail

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Despite a very busy period between Ops, Exercises and prepping for Ops, II(AC) Squadron’s Ex SHINY SAIL was on. Two weeks adventurous sail training on the beautiful West Coast of Scotland on the RAF Sailing Association yacht Sirius.

The expedition would be split into two parts so as to maximise attendance during a busy period on the Squadron and in the end 11 Sqn members would experience sailing in conditions from flat calm to a Force eight gale.

At the end of a long drive to Largs it came as no surprise to the first crew that team work was going to be essential as they squeezed their kit and a vast amount of food, which would still only last 3 days, into the confined 35 foot hull. They would sleep, eat and cook in a space smaller than the Sqn WO’s office! Over the next few hours the tone would be set for domestic arrangements; including safety briefs, cooking, washing up and rigging the saloon for sleeping four people. Each team member would cook a meal using a recipe of their choice and they would also give a small after dinner presentation based on research they had done on the areas we would be visiting.

The first full day on board was filled with learning the fundamentals of how a modern yacht works and how to deal with emergencies like a Man Overboard (MOB). The MOB drills were conducted in the company of a pod of Harbour Porpoise who were busy chasing their Lunch.

The following days saw Sirius cruise anti clockwise around the Firth of Clyde to eventually end up in Stranraer where the crew change would take place. Whilst visiting Lochranza a couple of swimmers had to face jellyfish infested waters to release the mooring line that had us firmly tied to the Isle of Arran. Apparently the warming effect of the Gulf Stream is not that obvious when actually immersed in it! During these days the crew worked as a team to master the various evolutions of working the boat, culminating in a fast downwind passage using the spinnaker. None of us were that used to flying this sail, so it was with determination and persistence that eventually it was set properly. But once up it was a great sight to see the massive sail dragging the boat along at a good pace. As we settled down for the long cruise to Stranraer a pair of II(AC) Sqn’s Tornados passed close by on their way North just to remind us of our ‘day job’.

The start of the second week was delayed 24 hours due to a storm which caused a large yacht to be towed back into harbour after dragging her anchor and eventually running aground in Loch Ryan. The tail end of this storm had some effect on the dinghy which broke its moorings only to shoot half a mile to the far side of the harbour. It was eventually rescued by those who couldn’t tie a knot properly and they were curiously watched by the locals as they walked down the busy street with a dinghy swinging between them. Sailing conditions the next day were superb and an exceptional 50 mile cruise was possible thanks to fair winds and a settling sea. Our destination was Troon via the remote isle of Ailsa Craig which is home to one of the largest colonies of Gannets in Europe and is also where all curling stones originate from.

Continuing North to the former home of the American submarine base at Holy Loch, a visit was also made to the ‘Sugar boat’ wreck off Greenock and a friendly race with that famous yacht ‘Drum’ saw them give up in worsening weather conditions.

Finally back in Largs the boat was stripped of personal gear and deep cleaned prior to the long drive back to Marham. In conclusion the expedition was a great success that promoted virtues of Team Work, Determination and Tolerance in spades, and whilst there had been many challenging moments the participants were able to relax and recharge batteries ready for the upcoming round of preparation for Op deployment.