Canberra’s Amphibious Department upskilling to drive new watercraft

Published on LSBM Andrew Downey (author and photographer)

Location(s): Ross Island Barracks, Qld

Topic(s): HMAS Canberra (L02)

Leading Seaman Boatswain's Mate Michael Hines from NUSHIP Canberra stands on the LCM-8 directing the vessel master as they approach the dock of HMAS Choules. (photo: LSBM Andrew Downey)
Leading Seaman Boatswain's Mate Michael Hines from NUSHIP Canberra stands on the LCM-8 directing the vessel master as they approach the dock of HMAS Choules.

NUSHIP Canberra amphibious department sailors were among the first to attend a dedicated Navy LCM-8 Advanced Marine Specialist course held at Army’s Ross Island Barracks in Townsville.

POB Shane Bellingham, LSBM Andrew Downey, LSBM Michael Hines and LSBM Clint Murphy completed the two and half month course which was the first LCM-8 Advanced Marine Specialist course held for the RAN.

The course was run by the Royal Australian Army’s Maritime Wing, (ALTC-MW), and consisted of 56 training days, the final 8 of which were in the form of a ‘Sailaway’.

The aim of the course was to provide Navy personnel with the skills needed (Master V equivalent) to be licensed to drive Army watercraft, LCM-8. Leading Seaman Downey said the course is crucial for Navy personnel who will be operating the future LCM1Es which will be embarked in Canberra, the first of Australia’s two LHD ships.

“One of the most valuable things that become apparent on the course is the fact that when you are coxswain of these craft, the buck stops with you. As a Leading Seaman you have three other people to lead away from the ship and other command support – so it’s a lot of responsibility particularly in rough weather or an operational situation,” said LS Downey.

“The guys on course found ship handling challenging at times. The LCM-8s have a flat bottom, twin screws and no keel so they are susceptible to the elements. A lot of skill was required to reverse park the craft into ‘pens’ which were in the vicinity of a tidal creek which ran quite fast,” said LS Downey.

The initial two weeks were a familiarisation on the LCM-8 and involved several days on the water around Magnetic Island conducting man overboard, fire, emergency and towing drills. During this time Canberra personnel were among the first ever to drive an Army Landing Craft into a Navy ship, (HMAS Choules) and along with the Sailaway and the night beachings, this was among the highlights of the course.

The Sailaway route was from Townsville to Townsville via Herald Island, Bowen and The Whitsunday Island Group. Each Vessel Master alternated with the other one onboard, taking turns planning passages and running the boat.

“We were fortunate to have fair weather for the duration of the Sailaway. However, as it was during a full moon, there were substantial tides and currents within the Whitsundays. At one point, between Denning and Hamilton Island, we reached 15.1 knots over the ground, more the 50% greater than the hull speed of an LCM-8.

“I cannot thank Army enough for the way we were made welcome and also the degree they were willing to assist us in the training,” said LS Downey.

NUSHIP Canberra personnel direct the LCM-8 Vessel Master as they near the dock of HMAS Choules.

NUSHIP Canberra personnel direct the LCM-8 Vessel Master as they near the dock of HMAS Choules.