There have been some very famous British maritime explorers, Captain Cook, Sir Francis Drake, Earnest Shackleton and Richard Ward……………….who?
OK, Richard Ward may not be quite as well known as some but in the ranks of Huddersfield BSAC 18 he is known for single handedly organising famous expeditions to the Orkneys, the Shetland Isles, Oban and, most recently, the Channel Islands.
Commander Ward, as I shall now refer to him, has all the hallmarks of the great explorers. Great organisational skills, a steely determination, uncanny man management skills, a capacity to respond rapidly and positively to changing circumstances (mostly climatic) and a profound belief in the principles and process of democracy.
The long awaited exploration of the channel Islands became a story of both profound and very ordinary experiences to those intrepid followers of Commander Ward – Steve and Diane, Kate, Gaz, Damien, Frankie, Scott and Lynne, Will, Ray and Matt – your humble author.
It was a trip of firsts. The first affected by the tail end of a hurricane (Katya) which frustrated the attempts of Commander Ward and his boat Captain Darren, to achieve the longed for goal of land fall on the channel Islands. The first time Frankie had been seasick but certainly not the first time Matt had been. The first trip, for Scott, to the James Egan Layne in all its rusty abundance (but no John Dory). The first trip where two, almost legless dogs (Daschunds or sausage dogs to you) called Sinbad and Popeye, held court on the upper decks entertaining us all with their vertically challenged antics. The first trip in a steel hulled ex. auxiliary fleet tender which was well appointed, well organised, well spacious (mostly), well equipped, well skippered (apart from shot placement ) and various others wells I can’t think of.
It was a trip of dangers. Descending to the Scylla, our intrepid explorers were confronted by the guillotining action of a huge metal plate at the bottom of one shot line or a huge barrel drumming its deadly tattoo on the hull at the bottom of the other. Only their great skill and buoyancy control saved the team from that great watery dive site in the sky (or is that a contradiction in terms?)
It was a trip of spookiness with a ‘hangman’s head’ on the Scylla – you’ll have to ask Diane about that as I haven’t a clue. The deep Clyde like gloom on the Armed trawler (no it was not a boat with arms) and the weird current on the Scylla that tried to suck you into the bowels of the ship. Perhaps it was the ghosts of those poor, unfortunate divers that had so recently perished inside!
It was a trip of love. A trip where Steve formed a deep and abiding devotion to Sinbad, or was it Popeye, with the devotion being returned in full measure. Or was he just sitting in the right place? A trip where the obsessive/compulsive ‘love gift’ purchasers were frustrated by closed shops whenever we were able to make land. They resorted to sending IOU’s on postcards to their loved ones…………how romantic.
It was a trip of unmentionables mostly blocking the shower waste pipes. This was variously blamed on foaming shower gel/shampoo, disposable contact lenses but was really just a load of………………no, I can’t say it. Of course it was all the fault of previous passengers/divers most of whom were foreign……….probably French or Belgian and probably women. (thankfully no photograph available)
It was a trip of democracy in action with Commander Ward giving his devoted followers the opportunity to vote on whether to push for the Channel Islands for one day, or not. It was a ‘hung’ vote, three in favour of a push to the island, three in favour of the security of the south coast and three wanting chips with their tea (actually it was for an attempt on the Scillies). Commander Ward had the casting vote. This is where his steely determination came to the fore, as he was driven to fulfil his promise of getting all his disciples to the Channel Island by hook or by crook. So we settled in for a 10 hour steam there and a 10 hour steam back where much sleeping, reading and listening to music went on. It was quietly mentioned that there is a lot to be said for benevolent autocracy.
It was a trip of accommodation inequalities with Commander Ward and his cabal of youthful (well relatively youthful) followers, commandeering the largest cabin and the rest of the group squeezing into the remaining couple of square metres. To be fair, however, we were constantly reminded that we (Matt, Ray, Gaz and Will that is) had the best cabin
for rough seas as it lay at an exact rotational pivot point such that, whichever way the boat rolled we would be completely motionless………………..yeah, right.
It was a trip of discovery with Steve finding an almost full set of kit over the week – probably on ebay soon. Matt finding a handy double clip which, in a moment of uncharacteristic generosity, benevolently gave it to Gaz. He later realized that he could have done with said double clip for his Practical Instructor Exam (doh). Ray decided it was time to buy a new bottle for his auto inflate blobby a determinedly chucked his current one into the briny.
As in all feats of exploration and derring do, there were times of social conflict, personal irritation, tedium and tiredness. But, there were also many times of humour and even hilarity, wonderment, excitement, close camaraderie, a sharing of experiences and enthusiasms (often underwater), of help and encouragement and an overall sense of achievement and personal satisfaction. We all came away happy and desperate to, yet again, follow our beloved Commander Ward to the far flung reaches of the United Kingdom and toward the setting western sun.