Sunday, 8 November 2015

A weekend on the Lake

Hi everyone,

Monday morning, and I'm using a quick lull in work to do a recap of the weekend.

As you know, this was the weekend of the first half of the boat rescue course, and happily it had been shifted to Tatura and Waranga Basin instead of Wodonga and Lake Hume.  Four members from my unit were attending, as well as one member and a trainer from Mansfield and one member from Seymour, and the lead trainer from the North East Region.  So, it was quite a small course which was ideal for what we were doing.

As usual we kicked off with some theoretical knowledge and were issued with a copy of the Australian Emergency Manuals issue for Flood Boat Operations (reading material for me!), followed by familiarization with rescue boats in general.  Intriguingly, of the three that were brought along no two were the same.  North East Regional Headquarters had supplied a tinny -

Tatura Unit's boat is a narrow rigid hulled affair -

And Seymour's is an inflatable rigid hull -

Saturday afternoon was spent on Waranga Basin becoming familiar with being on the water and being at the controls of a boat (which was a refresher indeed for me: I think the last time I was out on a boat was about 5 years ago on Lake Verrett, Louisiana, with my sometime brother-in-law Jerry).  I was out on the Seymour boat, which was incredibly manoueverable and could turn on a sixpence.  The chief piece of skills training was using a boat hook and manual handling to recover floating blue chemical barrels.

Waranga Basin is dishearteningly low at present - about 45.3% full according to its operator - and I don't think our depth sounders ever showed there being more than 7 metres (22 feet) of water under the boats.  This sounds like a lot until you realise that we're still in mid-Spring and widespread heavy rainfall probably won't come again until April.  I suppose if the lake keeps dropping they can use it to run the Land Search course!

Part of the course has to include operations at night and Saturday night was it.  We had dinner at the Tatura Hotel (I recommend the pepper and salt calamari salad) and then went back out to the Basin.  By then the wind had sprung up and I'd transferred back into the Tatura boat, which has much less freeboard (or at least felt like it did).  Waterproof trousers and wet weather jacket notwithstanding, I was pretty well soaked as we worked through the choppy waters to pick up the drums we'd left on the other side of the lake.  I had the incredible luck to be at the wheel for the return across the lake, so I got some experience navigating at night and in a wind.  I can tell you it's not simple, especially on a lake with not-many lights around the edges and where it's easy to lose your bearings.  A challenge for sure but frankly I was pretty pleased with how it went.

One thing with this course is that we're required to wear a lightweight two-piece uniform, rather than our usual heavy overalls.  This has a good additional benefit (or it may be a design feature): the lightweight uniforms dry incredibly quickly: as long as there was either some wind or a little sun, I found that my clothes dried out within maybe 20 minutes of being back on land.

I drove back to the farm after this jaunt, had a shower and went to bed and was back at the unit for day two at 0900 the next day.  There was another hour of PowerPoints and then we went back out to the Basin.  It was a gorgeous sunny day and there were a lot of boats and trailers scattered shambolically along the lake-edge.  The particular exercise to start with was improvised launching, using the vehicle winches to lower the trailers and boats into the water.  It was hard not to be a bit stirred by the image of multiple SES vehicles and boats lined up by the water's edge

The morning for my crew was spent on towing drills, with the tinny from North East Region playing the part of a disabled vessel.  Again, not a bad exercise, although something the trainer pointed out is that often the people you're towing will be drunk and think it's a huge joke to untie the tow-rope.  Personally, in a case like that I'd probably leave them there!

It was a gorgeous morning to be on the water and sunblock was vital.  After lunch by the lakeshore the crews swapped roles and we went onto casualty recovery from the water.  This turned out to be surprisingly simple and involved using a Stokes basket with pool noodles lashed to the side to (in effect) scoop the person up.  The dummy we were using had to weigh about 80kgs (176lbs) or more, so communication and teamwork was vital in the confined spaces of the boat.

We were able to knock off by about 1700 and I was home by about 1800.  I'm very pleased about how much was learned this weekend, and I'm looking forward to the final day of the course and the assessment in a few weeks.  I'd genuinely put this under the heading of "stuff I wish the Ex could have seen".  South Louisiana has such a lacustrine, estuarine, boat-friendly culture.  I'm kind of proud to be acquiring a skill that not only lets me control a boat, but to get boaties out of trouble as well.  Officially Louisiana is known as the Pelican State, and on both days of the course there was a big pelican hanging around the landing area.  Somehow, that seems to me to be a good omen!

Image from here

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