From the 28th October to the 4th of November 2011 I had a life changing and amazing experience that will never let me see the Sea Cadets in the same way again, the TS Royalist is a course that crams you into a life at sea but gives you plenty of room to develop and form great friendships. It is certainly a week I will never forget.
Travelling to Portsmouth, an adventure in itself, and the seemingly never ending wait at HMS Excellent, our overnight accommodation, had every single cadet gathered from every corner of Britain itching to get aboard what would be our home for the week, as we were prepared for what we were to face. But try as they might, it was impossible to get us ready for the awe inspiring first glimpse of the ship, the beautiful square-rigger that we soon claimed as our own as we filled the shoebox storage space with our now clearly over-sized bags!
The first day or two on board we got to know each other and were shown the ropes, literally, as we zigzagged about in the Solent. We had to get used to the group, the close proximities and the strange language being spoken to us referring to parts of the rigging such as the halyards and leech lines to unusual names for the toilets (‘Heads') and the rubbish (‘Gash'). We were also divided into 4 groups of 6 called ‘watches.' I was selected for Aft Port meaning we controlled the ropes at the back left of the ship – I can still remember all the names!
As we travelled from Gosport to ports such as Poole and Southampton, there was always something to do, be it climbing up the ratlines to help tidy the sails, going to our many different stations to assist with the manoeuvres of the ship and mooring, cleaning every inch of the ship including scrubbing the deck barefooted, being duty mess man (waiting on the ward room – officers mess – and the mess room for the 3 meals of the day), various lectures from tacking and gybing to using a sextant – the most important lesson being to throw up on the leeward side when on deck to avoid any redecoration of the ship or crew – and going on watch and steering the ship. In our free time (‘stand easies') we had tea, an important drink in the Navy, and learned knots. In the evenings we got to use the well-needed showers at the berth facilities, watched movies (Pirates of the Caribbean suddenly becoming even more interesting) and at one point, visited an air museum with a dedicated section to the history of the Air Training Corps.
After a small collection of performances by the cadets, crew and staff as a fun-filled farewell, a final clean of the ship, and one last movie, we packed our bags and disembarked – a quiet and sad moment for everyone. Making our way to the train station we all said our glum goodbyes but we left with a collection of great friends, an amazing experience and even a qualification: Offshore hand grade 1, an award we could all build on to go sailing in the future; something I would love to do again.