Back to basics for Navy seamanship skills

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Des Paroz (author), LSIS Paul McCallum (author)

HMAS Anzac personnel man the jackstay line during a light jackstay transfer with HMAS Melbourne. (photo: LSIS Paul McCallum)
HMAS Anzac personnel man the jackstay line during a light jackstay transfer with HMAS Melbourne.

Residents living on the south coast of New South Wales witnessed their own Fleet Review as crews of HMA Ships Anzac and Melbourne turned it on in order to complete workups before Anzac’s NORTHERN TRIDENT deployment. 

Added to the mix, the ships have been joined by other major fleet units, such as HMAS Perth, to increase the task group operation war-fighting capabilities.

As she prepares to deploy next month, Anzac is being put through a range of development and assessment activities that will allow her to operate thousands of miles from home alone, and in company, with warships from other nations.

A fundamental part of this development is the refinement of seamanship skills, including replenishment at sea serials with light and heavy jackstay lines, along with boat operations and towing exercises.

In order to prove herself ready for deployment, members of Sea Training Group, known as the ‘Green Team’, have been assessing Anzac’s readiness across these and other skills during an intense five-week period off the New South Wales coast.

Chief Petty Officer Boatswain Brett Cotgrove is a part of the team of experienced officers and senior sailors who are simultaneously assessing both Anzac and the guided missile frigate Melbourne as they prepare for their respective taskings.

“For many years the transfer of provisions and even people at sea was done by the use of jackstay lines set up between two ships, but this is a skill that for the most part has been replaced by the use of a ship’s sea boats and embarked helicopters,” Chief Petty Officer Cotgrove said.

“As a result, the use of jackstay lines is a skill rarely used.

“Navy is reintroducing the development and assessment of these ‘whole ship skills’ so that vital replenishment activities can be conducted when operational or machinery circumstances preclude the use of helicopters and sea boats.”

With more than a third of the ship’s company directly involved in the more complex replenishment evolutions, these activities involve sailors and officers from all parts of the ship – maritime logistics, marine engineering, weapons engineering and the chaplain – working together with the boatswains to pass and recover lines between two ships.

Overseeing the briefing and conduct of these operations in Anzac is Petty Officer Boatswain Chris Opperman.

“We have a broad team involved and many have done next to no line handling previously, so we have to make sure that these evolutions are carried out efficiently and safely,” Petty Officer Opperman said.

“There are many moving parts to handling lines between two ships, not the least of which is having the bridge teams work to keep the two ships correctly spaced so we can do our job safely.”

Petty Officer Opperman said for many of the sailors and officers who joined in these evolutions, even the terminology was new at first. 

“For example, the instruction to ‘check away on the floating messenger handsomely’ is very specific for seamanship sailors, but results in some blank expressions from others the first time they hear it,” he said.

“When it comes right down to it, however, we need to get the whole evolution party on the same page so that we can get a good result safely.”

During her upcoming deployment, Anzac will work closely with ships from many navies, practising and honing time-honoured basic seamanship skills.