A week on Exercise Pacific Longbow

A blog from Royal Signals troop commander, Alan Spaven

Soldiers head for Lanzarote on a challenge of a life time.

Over the next year 180 soldiers will be embarking on an epic voyage in a test of endurance and stamina as Her Majesty’s Sail Training Craft ‘Discoverer’ casts off from the Joint Services Adventurous Sail Training Centre (JSASTCin Gosport on Ex PACIFIC LONGBOW, a trip totalling more than 24,000 nautical miles.

Day 1 – 29th September 2017

Departure JSASTC Gosport

Today’s the day we’ve been preparing for; D-Day.

There was a lot of excitement on the yacht this morning, with everyone keen to get underway. Plenty of media coverage as well, which was a little overwhelming for some. However, we were soon put to the task of hoisting the sails, and Red Watch were assigned the role of ‘mother’ on board by preparing lunch for the shipmates – no easy task with the swell and heat of the galley. Little did everyone know that we’d soon see that lunch again, just after the Isle of Wight, as the lesser experienced shipmates succumbed to ‘mal de mare’.

Day 2

24 hours in, and it’s been tough for the shipmates of Discoverer. Some took to hanging off the rails, and others went for impressive displays of synchronised vomiting in the heads. Saturday morning breakfast saw us approaching Dartmouth, but with a worsening forecast the decision was taken to stop in Falmouth. This allowed the weather to pass, and shopping for anti sea-sickness bracelets. We were then prepared for the infamous Bay of Biscay; excited, nervous and ever so slightly terrified of getting thrown around the decks again.

Day 3

Once again underway, albeit with much less fanfare and fuss, everyone is getting very much in to the swing of things now, even though many are on sea-sickness pills and the weather has been very ‘British’ since we left Gosport. The shifts spent on deck have seemed to be getting easier, or at least more bearable, and we’ve had the opportunity to admire the beauty and the power of the sea. Craig, Red Watch leader, has been leading the line in sing-a-longs due to his eclectic musical tastes and ability to keep morale high for all on board – especially his midnight brew making exploits, cheers Craig!

Day 4

The sea-based wildlife are clearly a fan of Elvis as a pod of dolphins erupted from the water this morning and caused much excitement on deck. Unfortunately most people were too excited to realise we were not in the water alone to get them on film. Ironically, tonight’s dinner was fish pie which seemed very apt. Everyone seems to be getting the hang of life at sea, and the sea-sickness seems to have abated – touch wood. On board dramas have included blocked heads (ship’s toilets) requiring our resident plumber to put on his marigolds and go fishing, only for the problem to be solved in 5 seconds once the First Mate, Al Smith, arrived on the scene and simply turned a valve in the plumbing.

Day 5

Maybe we’ve been at sea too long, but the good ideas have started to emerge around the breakfast table. This morning, a moustache growing competition was mooted with mixed uptake – things are getting hairy around here (pun intended). Not all fun and games though, as we’ve had the news that our flights back have had to be changed to a day earlier just as the sun was starting to shine – typical. The Bay of Biscay has been kind to us and good progress was being made until the boat broke! Vicious rumours blamed a kindly and courageous Lt (who shall not be named), but these were found to be false, and once the problem was solved (broken coolant pipe in the engine) we were back underway after only an hour lost floating at sea. Luckily, nobody had to walk the plank and the situation was calmly discussed over a latte once the cafetiere was prised away from the Air Corps on board.

Day 6

The early hours of the morning saw us enjoy a lovely light show in the water as we passed through some phosphorescent algae which gave the boat a neon blue wake. Surreally beautiful. As the morning broke we arrived in Cascais under a beautiful Portuguese sun. Calm waters and light winds meant that we’ve had to rely on the motor today, although as we neared land we managed to get the Spinnaker up and do some real sailing, even if it was in slightly the wrong direction! Eventually, we made land much to everyone’s exultation and after everyone dug in to put the boat to bed, it was time to enjoy a glass of something cold and the beauty of the marina at night.

Day 7

All hands on deck to put the boat to bed, which was quite a relief as it got us out from the stale air that was omnipresent below decks after a week at sea. Everything was pulled out, cleaned or aired out, and the boat feels like a much fresher place to be. The crew managed to work so hard that they were able to finish their work at midday and get themselves some R&R time. This is most fortunate as it seems we are now leaving for Madeira a day earlier than we thought…no plan survives contact after all.


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