Alarm goes off at 8:30. Wake up. Shower, dressed and finish packing. Squeeze last minute essentials into kit bag. Shoes and coat on. Last minute check for consent forms, passport, EHIC, 3822, rail warrant. Check. This is where my journey began. Friday 1st November 2013.
That day, I left for TS Royalist, a sailing training ship. I was early to the train station so I went and got some well needed snacks for my 6 hour train journey. I boarded my first train at 12:30 from Four Oaks Train Station. 30 minutes into Birmingham. I arrived at New Street, and decided to treat myself to a Starbucks and a pannini, not knowing how well I would be fed for a week. 1:04 train to Southampton, a 3 hour journey. I had a nap, read a bit and mostly watched Top Gear episodes on my phone. Change at Southampton, for hour and a half journey to Portsmouth Harbour.
Waiting on the platform: Then two people with large rucksacks and sleeping bags attached to the side strolled over and both, separately stood within a few metres of each other, I turned round and said “this might sound random if you’re not, but are you Air Cadets by any chance going on ...” and before I could finish my sentence they both replied “TS Royalist” and just like that three complete strangers had found common ground and it felt like I had already made two friends. The next train journey was pleasant, finding out about each other and realising that each was just as apprehensive as the next. We arrived at Portsmouth Harbour and from there we were to get a taxi to Whale Island where HMS Excellent is based. One of the boys joked about how that taxi fare was going to be cheaper and that we should go and get fish and chips with our spare change. We got some chips and sat in the harbour looking up at the Spinnaker Tower talking and eating, it was nice, and I felt a lot more at ease; like most cadet events and activities you settle quite quickly, as by nature most Air Cadets are friendly and polite. We finished eating and caught our taxi to Whale Island. Upon arrival we were supposed to meet Sqn Ldr Cope. There were a handful of cadets waiting outside the guardroom. And we were quick to establish that he wasn't here, he was stuck in traffic and would be late. The rest of the cadets eventually arrived and so the staff on base took us up to HMS Bristol, a training ship, on which we would stay the night. We had health and safety briefs and then with Sqn Ldr Cope’s absence some of the NCOs’ decided that it would be best to catch some sleep and so everyone just had an early night.
The next morning we awoke early in time for breakfast, forgetting how little room I had, I banged my head off the top of my bunk - not good. But we went to breakfast in the junior ranks mess, it was lovely, a ‘full english’, a perfect recovery from standing out in the rain the previous night. We returned to the ship, packed out bags and took them out to a car park, where Sqn Ldr Cope began to teach us Sea Cadet drill and courtesies and also just a basic overview of the week onboard, as Air Cadets we knew little of what to expect. We then took taxis back to Portsmouth harbour and caught the ferry over to Gosport, our bags were picked up to be taken to the ship and then the Sqn Ldr walked us over. We arrived and were welcomed with hot chocolate, the key to my heart! Then the girls went downstairs first into the Messdeck, we were issued with foul weather kit and a bunk to sleep in, and beneath the hanging bunk beds was a massive wooden chest, split into compartments, these were our lockers and we were told that all of our kit for the week was to be stored in this. As you can imagine, the girls thought that they were joking, but they weren’t! We began to unpack and compress everything into this little wooden locker.
We were to assemble on the Foredeck; this is the front part of the ship on the upper deck. We were shown around the ship, and shown all of the emergency exits, some of which were pretty cool for fire escapes, like little hatches in the ceiling and through the walls. Then later, we were introduced to a Task Book. This was to be filled out during the course of the week, it included chapters such as; safety, sail setting, sea terms, bend and hitches (knots), parts of a sail and buoyage. Most of which were quite alien to all of us! We talked through the workbook and then got taught how to put our harnesses on, although it was too windy for us to climb up the rigging.
Next up, dinner time! After full-on day of learning so many new things and so much information I was excited for dinner to really just chill out and get to talk to everyone properly. We had chilli for dinner, and as the first meal of our expedition, apart from Standeasy (hot chocolate and snack break), and wow should I have not worried about food! The cook was honestly one of the best that has ever served me food! Especially considering that she slaved away in a 2 square metre kitchen tucked away in the ships middle, and that she had to make 74 meals daily in that small space, the food was phenomenal, I’d go back just for the food! We had fruit and chocolate cake for dessert too, and this was just the beginning of the week’s delicious food! Then the messmen (the 4 people who were to serve dinner and clean up afterwards, which rotated daily) cleared up the table, and the bunks were let down and the Messdeck became a cabin instantly. We had an early night as dinner was a bit later than it was supposed to be anyway and then the Bo’sun read us a bedtime story and we all tucked into bed.
On the ship there were 7 members of staff, the Captain, Boatswain who controlled to forward part of the ship, Coxswain, who looked after everyone and organised Standeasies and just generally look after us, Sailing Master who was the Captain’s 2 IC (second in command), Engineer, he’s quite self explanatory, Cook, also quite self explanatory and also a Boatswains mate, who stays with the Boatswain and learns what to do, to become one in the future.
On day two, the wind had settled down and we were going to try an ‘Up and Over’ which is where you climb up the rigging of the mast, come up onto the platform and then go back down the other side. It was actually a lot higher up than a lot of us thought at first, and some struggled understandably, but everyone powered through and all completed the exercise. Then after lunch we were taught how to open the sails using all of the coordinating ropes and knots and then we ‘set sail’, quite literally’ and left the harbour to put our new skills into practice. After a sail around, I think everyone felt much more like a team, because we had to work together to do anything on this ship and it was very much one of the best team building experiences ever.
6:00 means dinner time again! Sunday dinner, how perfect! The cook went all out, with vegetables and potatoes and gravy, stuffing and it was a lamb roast too! And then for dessert we had apple pie and ice-cream, it was just gorgeous! We settled down for bed and that night we got to watch a film that the Engineer had selected for us because he was on duty to look after us that night. The film finished just as everyone started to drift off and then we settled down to sleep, day two complete.
Day three, we woke up at 6:00 hoping to sail to Cowes! We got dressed had our breakfast and went to our assigned stations, so that during the voyage, we could control the appropriate sails; putting up and moving when needed. Unfortunately as we set out, it became clear that the weather was just too severe to travel to Cowes so instead we sailed to Southampton and due to the bad weather we were to due arrive in darkness so the staff decided that it would be a good idea for us the learn about sea navigation so we had to create a route plan, much like we would for D of E or when flying.
We had to learn about all the buoys and how they would navigate us to the harbour in Southampton. We arrived safely to Ocean Village and we got to have lovely hot showers and a walk about after being cramped on a ship for a few days. Some of us got sea legs; this happens when you’ve been on a rocking boat for a while and then when you get onto flat land you still wobble about because you’re not used to the floor being still, its rather funny to watch! We had a gorgeous sweet and sour chicken dinner with homemade banoffee pie for dessert, banoffee pie is my favourite and it was honestly the best that I have ever tasted! We played card games and dominoes until bedtime at 10:30 again, and then we settled down to sleep in our new home, Southampton.
Tuesday, we set out to Cowes, but again due to weather we travelled across the coast, back to Gosport. It took another day to do so, but it was very much enjoyable, we anchored for lunch which consisted of pulled pork baps and apple sauce with crackling; cooked to perfection! Then we continued back to Gosport and we chilled out for a bit and then the staff told us about the Air Cadet Squadron that were on the base we were staying at in Gosport. So after a chat with their CO, we were welcomed to their Squadron Halloween disco. It was really lovely to meet people who do much the same as all of us, but still do things differently to some of our Squadrons, but it was nice that we all got to talk about Air Cadets for a while, as all of us on the ship were from different Squadrons and then we partied to a few classics like the Macarena and the Cha Cha Slide, we were all a little too old, being 17/18/19, but that just made the night even more hilarious! We returned to the vessel and rested our heads …
We were awoken earlier than usual and were told to get ready and muster on the foredeck asap. We were told that there were gales coming in and they thought it good to take us out to Southampton while they we could, saving us being stuck in Gosport on base where there was little for us to do. So we worked through the morning, and it was quite tough, we were all beginning to get very tired by this time of the week and we hadn't eaten breakfast yet. We arrived and had breakfast, we got a ‘full english’ as a treat. I was messman this day so I got an extra couple of slices of bacon because I made the wise decision to make friends with the cook! We were given shore leave to have a shower and pop to Tesco, we returned for lunch and then we were told we would be visiting a plane museum with an Air Cadet section, which seemed fitting. We returned for dinner to find out that we would be preparing for Pirate Day! We sat down and began to make hats out of cardboard and staples with felts and cellotape. Then we had to be judged for best pirate by the staff, who had also dressed up as pirates, in the wardroom (their equivalent of the Messdeck). Initially we had to wear our hats, do our best pirate ‘Argh’ and do a quick pirate dance move. Then there were recalls, four got selected and I was one of them! I had to then tell a pirate joke and do a proper pirate dance sequence. The results were to follow on the last day, so we drank our ‘grog’ and sat down for dinner, to find out that were getting a Dominoes and we were going watch Skyfall, then go to the cinema afterwards to watch Captain Phillips, it ended up being such a funny evening, especially because people had become good friends by now and there was a lot of camaraderie.
It was Pirate Day! We awoke early again to return to Gosport whilst the weather wasn't too destructive, we set all the sails that day and we also got sea boat rides! In groups of four we got to go in the sea boat, we went fast for a bit and then slowed down as we came past the ship so that we could take pictures. It was actually so exciting; I didn't think that it would be that good! Then we made a safe return to Gosport after a long and windy return home. We made a video of the week to show everyone back home and promote the trip to other Air Cadets. We watched the rest of Skyfall after our lovely beef casserole and packed away all of our kit. Then we hit the sack and dreaded the wake up to go home the next day.
We awoke to clean the ship, we had a de-brief from the Captain and we left the ship at about 9 when we caught a coach to the ferry terminal to return to Portsmouth and the train station home. We had to wait about an hour for our trains and so we made a Harlem Shake in the middle of the train station, before we all departed off to our homes. It was sad to leave everyone and especially that staff on board the ship, but it was honestly such a brilliant week, and I seriously would recommend it to anyone! You don’t need to know much about sailing or boats or anything related, you’ll get taught everything that you need to know, and so if you’re reading this and think that you would enjoy a week away with other Air Cadets from around the country and would love to explore new places in a completely new way then a week on TS Royalist or any of the other Sea Cadet Training vessels would definitely be for you. If you know anyone that would be interested or you are and have any questions feel free to speak to Cpl Beth Edmonds, I’m happy to help anyone get involved that wishes to!