“What do you mean, we have to jump into 6º C North Sea water?” asks Floris after being told we are going outside to practice our survival skills. “It’s called ‘Survival at Sea’, not ‘Survival at the Pool'”, quips our instructor. Minutes later we find ourselves on the quay of Den Helder marina. It’s raining, it’s cold and the water 5 meters below does not look inviting. But it’s what we came for. “Ladies first” – our friend Toos ‘volunteers’ to be the first to take a big step forward into the air. She covers her nose and mouth with her hand, shaping it like bowl, and as she jumps, crosses her feet for a smooth impact. With a big splash she disappears into the brown water, but moments later pops up with a huge smile on our face. We soon join her and immediately feel the freezing cold on our hands. The rest of our body is covered by the professional survival suits of the training center, which are more or less water proof. With all eight of us in the water, we huddle around our friend Rolf to keep him warm. Luckily, that’s about all the exercise we need to do outside – the rest we can do in the rather tropical water of the indoor pool at the training center.
We are at the Den Helder Training Center (DHTC), where we are getting trained in sea survival. This professional center primarily services the navy, the offshore and commercial shipping industries, but also offers a one-day course for us yachties. The sea can be a dangerous place, so we need to prepare ourselves for an emergency. That is also what our family thought, so Thank You to our Moms for funding this day!
We start the day with theory lessons on safety equipment, rescue procedures and survival techniques – all very useful. Of course we cannot wait to try things out ourselves – how will it feel to be in the water, having to get into a life raft and helping others? We soon find out: we jump from a platform into the pool and take the ‘foetal position’ to keep ourselves warm. Then, holding each other’s arms, we form a big circle and splash with our feet to signal our position to an imaginary rescue helicopter or airplane. Our next challenge is to swim on our backs in one line, feet under the next person’s arms, to the life raft and climb in. This requires some technique and strength, so we are glad we can do it in a warm pool and in good condition. We even manage to get one of the participants, who simulates being unconscious, into the life raft. Finally, we are rescued by a helicopter! Well, a sling suspended from a beam. Rolf and Toos get a duo-rescue and Floris is lifted out horizontally for extra drama.
It was a useful day, we learned a lot and we actually had fun doing it. Perhaps the most important lesson is to be prepared, and hopefully we’ll never need our new skills!