Cleveland RAYNET Group

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The exercise name explains all.  SOCRATEES - Safety Of Canoeists Racing Along the River Tees.

Only one member of Cleveland RAYNET Group messes about on boats and he was unavailable for this exercise.  The rest were completely ignorant of nautical terms and procedures.

There were three main events with different classes in each. The Juniors did a 2 mile course, the Intermediates did a 6 mile course and the Seniors did 8 miles. Each of the three main events has classes with esoteric names such as Open Canadian Canoe, Slalom Kayak and White Water Racing Kayak.

The canoeists (kayakists?) were all qualified in swimming and in righting overturned canoes. The obvious danger was a canoeist being trapped under water or knocked on the head.

The Red Cross supplied first aid facilities at the base and on the rescue boat.  RAYNET manned the base, check points and rescue boat.  

Navigation for competitors wasn't really a necessary skill.  The number of alternative routes on a river is severely limited.  The only possibility of error was where the River Leven joins the River Tees.

RAYNET members normally have to do some basic navigating to get to allocated locations, whether it is by road or on foot.  On this event, most of the river bank check points were not accessible by vehicle.  A boat transported us to a tethered buoy marking the check point.  RAYNET operators jumped off the boat onto the river bank and experienced Newton's third law of motion, narrowly missing the experience of Archimedes' displacement theory.

After a few miles along the river, we spotted an oncoming boat with a blue rotating beacon and "River Patrol" in big letters down the side.  Our driver checked his speedometer (which was calibrated up to 80 mph for some strange reason) and dropped his speed by 1 mph to make sure he was below the speed limit.

Our rescue boat driver manoeuvred the steering wheel to pass the oncoming boat starboard side to starboard side.  In English, that means right side to right side.  The River Patrol driver must have attended a different driving school.  He turned his steering wheel to attempt to pass us port side to port side.  With lightning speed, our RAYNET brains switched from snooze mode to arithmetical spherical geometrical vector analysis mode, extrapolated from the available information on speeds, wind direction, water currents and relative courses to quickly establish the exact piece of water where we would crash and die.  There is probably a nautical term for this.

Sadly, we didn't crash.  The drivers obviously knew each other well and the River Patrol was probably quite used to other boats trying to ram them, so we missed.  The boats met alongside and the drivers exchanged safety information concerning the timings of the trips of the large tourist riverboat  "The Teesside Princess".  We were also informed that there were quite a few salmon and trout leaping the barrage weir. We took that to mean that the fish were walking up the stone staircase.

Communications for the event were done using low power hand portable radios.  Outstations couldn't hear many other outstations, but all had comms. with the base.

Two main lessons were learned.  There is nowhere to hide on a small rescue boat when the summer sun is beating down, so it was fortuitous that the driver (bosun? skipper?) provided sun block cream for everybody.

The second lesson was that small fast rescue boats have extremely noisy engines.  Noise-cancelling microphones don't cancel noise.  The RAYNET operator couldn't hear himself speaking, so had to guess what he was saying.  Unless a throat microphone is used when transmitting, others hear the boat's engine but no voice.  On receive, it is best to poke the earpiece so far into the ear that it enters the brain.

This practical experience was confirmed by a RAYNET member who was also a helicopter pilot.  He has used a variety of expensive RAF and civil noise-cancelling headsets & mikes in both "tootling along" mode and combat conditions.  Noise-cancelling mikes work up to a point and then are of little use in a very noisy environment.

One kayak was in semi-submersible mode. It was sealed against water ingress by the canoeist wearing the usual skirt thing around his waist which is sealed to the cockpit.  Unfortunately, a lot of water had indeed ingressed into the kayak and couldn't get out.  He couldn't be bothered stopping the race, so just paddled away.  As 98% of his kayak was under water, it looked like he was walking on the bottom of the river.

Children proved their normal fearless stupidity by jumping from road bridges into the River Tees to keep cool in the relentless sun.  Adults would have been scared of landing on a submerged rock, stolen car or shopping trolley.  Adults may also have looked at the river from both sides of the bridge before jumping, to prevent landing on an untimely canoe or kayak appearing from beneath the bridge.



River Tees Water Sports    Teesside Princess

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Page updated on 09 January 2017

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