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This article first appeared in  Motor Boats & Yachting.

 

Swot team

If you cruise foreign parts, an International Certificate of Competence is as essential as your passport and Mastercard. And there's no better place to take the two day course than under some French sun on a bright blue Med.

In this thrusting age of wizzbang go-fasts, loadsamoney owners, and showbiz marinas, it's a shame to interrupt one's boating with anything that seems like hard work. But I recently did just that by returning to the Learning Zone in an effort to recall all Iíd forgotten in the finer arts of boat handling and safety at sea. An effort, in fact, to achieve that increasingly useful requirement known as the International Certificate of Competence (ICC). For me, this is a bit like re-taking oneís driving test some 35 years after Iíd last glanced at the Highway Code. There is absolutely no guarantee of success the second time around.


 


What is an ICC anyway? In effect, itís the nautical equivalent of the international driving licence. In continental waters, time has all but run out for skippers with zero certification. Ever more frequently, the official document that rubber-stamps oneís ability to operate a vessel is the very first thing that Mediterranean harbourmasters will inspect.

Oceanpro are a small, British-operated powerboat school based at Beaulieu-sur-Mer on the French Riviera, a few miles west of the maritime mecca called Monte Carlo. They are owned and run by Phil Godwin, a former Royal Marine Reserve. Phil is in the process of shifting emphasis of Oceanproís operations from Southampton to the sunny and colourful setting of the Riviera. If, at my advanced age, I am to return to school, the pleasing union of sunshine and the blue Mediterranean is a handy draw.

The course is held over two relatively stress-free days spent mostly at sea., with the theory work covered a by a couple short indoor sessions, or over lunch, or apres-ski style in the bar. Phil Godwin keeps things refreshingly informal, though the RYA rules and curriculum governing the ICC/Powerboat Level 2 course are unswervingly applied. The final exercise is held in a decidedly school-like atmosphere; a heads-down written test inside a small conference room, when all the quips and chuckles of the past couple of days are temporarily forgotten. This is crunch time, when 27 correct answers from the 32 questions posed are required for a pass.


THE GROUP

In the truly glorious sunshine of a Riviera autumn morning, three students board the confined space of Oceanproís 5.5 metre Mako RIB, powered by a single Johnson 115 outboard. We are a convivial mix aboard a fairly basic boat. There is Russell Crump, 32, positively public school with an appreciable dash of 007 tucked into a hugely outgoing persona. He already holds a yachtmasterís (sail) ticket, but now finds himself inhabiting that slightly twilight world of the Riviera Sunseeker salesman. Down here in the Med, the EU-recognised ICC licence is fast becoming a necessity of his high-octane profession.

And there is his delightful live-in girlfriend, Katja. Courtesy of Russell, she has many times been hurtled across these playboy waters in a fast Sunseeker Ė but sheís not been on board anything as small at the Mako before, let alone ever taken the wheel of a boat. Katja is a complete novice.
 

DAY ONE
Following an initiation into the safety equipment and handling characteristics of the Mako, the day starts close inshore with low-speed manoeuvring among the buoys. We perform figures-of-eight in forward and reverse. We pick-up mooring buoys, we practise coming alongside, and there is some general handling to do.

It's all seemingly kindergarten stuff - Hey going back to school is a doddle! - until itís pointed out that that oneís technique is at some variance with RYA/MCA recommendations. For instance, with outboard or outdrive steering, coming alongside is made from a sharper angle of approach than with a shaft driven, rudder steered vessel. Also (I now know), correcting the steering angle while gliding up to the dock should always be made in neutral gear before giving the boat a nudge.

Between us, Russell and I have probably got thousands of sea-hours under our belts Ė yet even at this basic level, we are both definitely learning things, or at least re-remembering them. As for Katja, she is seriously getting down to business, concentrating hard, and doing her best to master each move as if her very existence depends on it.

These gentle exercises are followed by high-speed S & U turns between distant offshore markers at various points of the compass, thus testing our handling abilities in beam, head, and following seas. It may be yawn-inducing to the nonchalant driver of a big flybridge cruiser, but slicing through the swell at 30 knots on a low lying RIB keeps you busy. At one point during the day, Russell admits to finding the Mako more difficult to handle than any of the Sunseekers he regularly puts to sea in.

Lunch is in one of the marinas' many outside restaurants, where the time is used to talk over chart plotting exercises and GPS navigation. Then itís back to the boat to practice buoyage drill and confined-space manoeuvres, the latter being of particular relevance inside these tightly-packed marinas where the docking of a boat is almost a spectator sport.

Given the weather conditions (Med-beautiful with the wind at a pleasant Force 2), we opt for a change of scenery. Round the nearest headland lies Eze-sur-Mer, a gorgeous bay with a backdrop of high cliffs and cool villas. Down at sea level, the most prominent feature is the rusty-red beachside hideaway of U2ís Bono, an easy barefoot stroll from Julian Lennonís pad.

Then we spin the other way, high speed past Cap Ferrat and into the port of Villefranche, where the dayís learning process is gone through once more over a welcome beer.

Lunch is in one of the marinas' many outside restaurants, where the time is used to talk over chart plotting exercises and GPS navigation. Then itís back to the boat to practice buoyage drill and confined-space manoeuvres, the latter being of particular relevance inside these tightly-packed marinas where the docking of a boat is almost a spectator sport.

Given the weather conditions (Med-beautiful with the wind at a pleasant Force 2), we opt for a change of scenery. Round the nearest headland lies Eze-sur-Mer, a gorgeous bay with a backdrop of high cliffs and cool villas. Down at sea level, the most prominent feature is the rusty-red beachside hideaway of U2ís Bono, an easy barefoot stroll from Julian Lennonís pad.

Then we spin the other way, high speed past Cap Ferrat and into the port of Villefranche, where the dayís learning process is gone through once more over a welcome beer.

DAY TWO
The morning is dedicated to theory work in a nearby chateaux (which doubles as the hotel for Oceanpro students). We cover the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea; the markings and meanings of buoys; tides; weather forecasting; distress calls.

Back at sea, our afternoon is given over to towing procedures, the all-important Man Overboard drill, and anchoring practice. (Chain and rope, five times the depth; all chain, three times depth. I had completely forgotten this elementary premise).

Back in port at 4pm, and it is now time for the written test. At this point Phil issues a three-page list of questions on subjects which have been covered at some point in the course. Much has been crammed into two days, and this is the moment of truth. Phil himself retires to an ante-room while we three sit in concentrated silence like school kids. I hope Iím not going to make an idiot of myself.

As it happens, we all score pass marks, despite the slender margin for error. Phil then issues us with signed RYA National Powerboat Certificates, Level 2. In turn, the RYA/MCA will convert them into the multilingual International Certificate of Competence, which theoretically clears each of us to operate leisure craft up to 24 metres (78 ft) in length.

Katja, still a relative novice, is not about to go to such lengths - not yet, that is. But of the actual course she has this to say: ďBefore, I used to be scared of being out on the water. I didnít understand one thing about the sea or boats. But I had complete confidence in Phil, and now I just want to be out there at every opportunity, learning all the timeĒ. She is unlikely to abuse her new qualification.

Russell is equally pleased with his few days: ďFor me itís been a refresher course. A re-learning of those easy-to-forget basics. Iím very glad I did itĒ. Yes, me too. It has honed rusty skills, re-engaged confidence, and provided a sharp reminder of the rules of the game. Despite my lifelong resistance to bloated authority and its epaulette-wearing lackeys, I have some sympathy with the growing bureaucratic demand that all skippers be licensed to at least the ICC level.

Besides which, itís a fun thing to do. Well, down in the South of France anyway. MBY

 

Author: Quentin van Marle
Contact: www.motorboatsandyachting.com
 

 
 
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