Destination: Ajaccio, Marseilles, Cassis, Nice, St Tropez, Toulon, Monaco, Calvi…..

“2 weeks sailing around the Med whilst everyone else is at work! Where’s the catch???”

Well you are reading the catch. I and my colleagues SAC(T) Mike Cattermole and SAC(T) Richie Willcocks from Forward Engineering Sqn signed up to a 2 week leg of Ex MEDSAIL 2013, around Corsica and the South of France. The expedition is part of the Joint Services AT Scheme, organised through Gosport, and after applying for a space, all three of us thought “we’ll never be selected for that, there will be too many people applying”. How wrong were we?! In the 6 months between applying and departing, SAC(T) Cattermole organised the MT to the airport to meet with the other crew, whilst I fought a war on terror in Afghan.

Saturday May 25th 2013, two of the biggest events in this years sporting calendar took place; the Champions League Final between ze Germans and Carl Froch’s revenge fight against Mikkel Kessler. Instead we swapped them in return for a delightful journey in one of MTs finest speed-restricted half and half vehicles, for 3.5 hours down to Gatwick airport, with no sailing experience between the three of us, to take part in what would be 550 mile trip of the south of France.

After queuing at the wrong gate for a while, we finally managed to get to the correct gate for boarding to sunny Corsica with the rest of the crew. We landed, jumped in a taxi and, guided by a Group Captain, headed for the wrong port. Our skipper turned out to be a guy named Paul Molyneaux and to say he was eccentric would be an understatement; the guy was a legend! Upon meeting Paul he took us on board our new home for the next 14 nights. The vessel was a 55ft boat called “KUKRI”. We spent the rest of the day learning some basic sailing terms and knots that would stand us in good stead for the rest of the expedition.

On the first day we sorted out general admin such as getting the right kit issued out, sleeping arrangements and also the way the shifts worked. After this the whole crew went out into the port to try the local food and beer before setting out into the Med, heading towards Marseille, France.

For the next two days Mother Nature was against us for our longest trip of the whole exercise. The wind was nowhere to be seen and the sea was rough at times, however after we all found our sea legs there was no problem coping with this. The 36 hour journey was long and not much sailing was conducted as we had to motor almost the whole way. However in this time we were taught the basics, such as knot tying and general boating terms, and we arrived in port in Marseille on the third evening. After a good nights sleep, the skipper allowed us a day to go and see the local sights and food. We made the most of this and saw many amazing cathedrals and views and sampled a few Irish bars that evening before an early night ready to do some actual sailing the following day.

On the fourth day we started to make our way down the French coast. The skipper let us have input on where we docked and where we visited; we all decided to head towards a little town called Cassis. The day sail was really good; we had good winds and for the non experienced sailors, it was perfect for learning about how to sail. By the end of the day we were all getting good at helming the boat and trimming all the sails with the sheets, which can get quite hectic. That evening, time was our own to do as we pleased and Cassis was a picture perfect town.

The next day we had another great days sailing, with amazing weather and great winds. We travelled around a number of coves and put the anchor down in one to have lunch and do dinghy drills. We arrived in Cassis at around 1800 and then had tea on the boat. During the two weeks, meals were produced by the “mother watch;” this was a duty where 2 of the crew had to provide the daily meals, which came around every 3-4 days.

Over the next few days we did some more great sailing and got up to speeds of 11 knots, which is quick for the size of boat. We visited more coves and spent two nights in Toulon, hosted kindly by the French navy. We watched Toulon in the Final in the pub with the locals, which was an experience, had BBQs in the evening and did a lot of fishing in the port, but only managed to catch a seagull!

We then made are way to St Tropez, as this had all been on everyone’s to do list. Each day glorious sailing weather coupled with top tanning weather, each night a crepe with ice cream and a few pints. Oh and by the way, celebrating your birthday in the sunset whilst anchored in St Tropez is quite a nice feeling too. It’s fair to say it had some amazing yachts and many rich people. After an evening of wishing we were rich and watching England get a lucky draw off Brazil we set off to Nice. The sailing weather was amazing which made the trip go rather quick, and we spent the night in a port in Nice planning the main highlight of the trip which was visiting Monaco.

The highlight of the expedition came on day 9….. MONACO! Now if you’ve never been, this place stinks of money! Every boat was £100m upwards. The women were like super models and Bentleys were like ford focuses. So imagine how it must have looked when our 1970’s yacht pulled up in the harbour! As you can imagine, it cost a fortune to stay the night so we only had the chance for a quick visit before heading to our new destination, but that did not stop us making the most of it. We ran around most of Monaco taking in as many sights as possible, taking pictures of every Ferrari and Rolls Royce we saw, the famous Monte Carlo casino, the pits of the grand prix and obviously stopping for another crepe with ice cream. Since visiting this place I have played the euro millions every week!

After our lunch in Monaco we headed back to Corsica, which would take us over night. None of us were looking forward to it as the previous trip had been hard work, however this was amazing. The sea was really calm and there was not a cloud in the sky. The night weather was some of the best the skipper had ever witnessed and we managed to sail at 8.5 knots the whole way without changing course, and getting there 6 hours ahead of plan. When we arrived back we spent the rest of the time travelling down the Corsican coast, visiting a number of different places, before heading back to Ajaccio. On the final day, we cleaned the boat top to bottom.  As it was our final night we all went to a restaurant, had some amazing local food, two crepes and then the Coningsby boys went for a few “quiet” beers, at 6.30am it was time to get a taxi to the airport and come back to normality.

This expedition allowed me to develop as an airman; it improved my leadership capabilities, fitness whilst giving the opportunity to try some new Adventurous Training pursuits, enhanced my communicational skills within the team environment and instilled the RAF’s core values. It also gave a confidence boost as we overcame the various obstacles to succeed in a number of challenges. It is a great opportunity for nurturing the characteristics that the Forces look for, no matter what rank that person is.

But I’m also going to put it to you all like this: Not only did it improve me as an airman, I also got 2 weeks out of work, I got to see some great sights, I met some great people, I had a few local beverages, I ate some amazing food and all in work time! Not to mention I actually gained a competent crew qualification. It cost us £420 each initially, but ended up being subsidized by the Ped Flt and SIF so only cost us £140 each! My only concern is now that I’ve told you all this, you will all be applying next year and I will miss out.

The gains from this event were significant and the expedition took very little organisation as the majority it is conducted through the Joint Services Sail Adventurous Training Centre at Gosport and can be applied for as individual spaces or for a ‘leg’ to enable the boat to be filled by the Sqn. These opportunities are out there for everyone, both regular and reservists.  For more information speak to the PEd Flight who can explain about the scheme and the varying different opportunities that it presents.

SAC Ben Hubbard


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