Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Heavens and The Earth, The Sea and The Dry Land

Waters off Changi Sailing Club are really busy
There is much to be said about the romance of cruising the high seas with wind harnessing sails, but when the cold beer runs out and the onshore barbecues are a-calling, an immediate return to land usually necessitates vigorous use of petrol-fuelled mechanical means. So it was only wise to top up RYA's competent crew certification with a powered pleasure craft driving licence - necessary for driving powered vessels from jet-skis to mega-yachts registered as SZ or SZH within Singapore waters.

Church-mates were greatly delighted by the news of the licence, especially since our church's constitution allows for the purchase of boats and ships. There were day-dreams of church services on barges, sailing and deep-sea fishing ministries and diving sessions off Pulau Hantu.

"Yes," I said,"And I am even trained in retrieving people when they fall overboard."
"Good, good."
"When we train, we try to determine how much might be left of the fallen person when we finally retrieve him - if there is a hard knock at the bow, we've probably killed him but he'll be in one piece; if we let him get too far to the stern before going to neutral, he might have lost part of his limbs to the propeller."
"Oh, actually, if we fall overboard, don't worry about us - we'll swim to you."'
"But I passed the test!"
"Seriously, don't do anything, man."

Anyway, while watching The Captain fix an outboard motor on one training boat which had conveniently spluttered its last just as smoke rose from one of the bilges of the other training boat, I realised that few things bring more joy that taking things apart and seeing how they work. Taking the Silly Black Car to the workshop and looking under its hood with John Tan, the long-suffering mechanic, has always been cause for excitement rather than frustration. Unlike others of the same ilk however, my interest has always been more rabid curiosity than useful practicality - in the toy box, together with the much thumbed The Big Book of How Things Work, there used to lie the carcass shells and innards of dozens of toys, alarm clocks and other household items that were taken apart and examined and once their workings were explored and more or less understood, abandoned for the next mystery.

The great thing about God, of course, is that he is endlessly fascinating - so no one can never really tire of him (or his creation for that matter). Which is why reading the Bible, God's word to humans, is so utterly good fun. It's not just exciting on the level that the pointers on getting a PPCDL* might be - that is, only to the speck-like minority who are keen on pleasure boating in Singapore; neither is it a book merely for geeky classicists to obsess over regardless of authenticity of historicity; nor is it just for those insecure types whose fruitless quests for self-improvement serve to emphasise their abject loser-liness.

First, it is a historical document corroborated beyond reasonable doubt by a variety of contemporaneous historical documents - therefore, it cannot be easily dismissed as one might Greek mythology. Second, it claims to be from the God of the whole world, even the God of those who worship other gods - there is no one He does not address. Third, even though it is the Creator's instruction manual to his creation how to make the best use of what he has created (which "experts" will never be able to deduce on their own), that is not the end-point. The historical record of God's dealings with mankind through hundreds of generations is most importantly about whom this God who made everything is, what he wants from all the people he created and about what he will do to the world and everybody in it in the future, depending on how they have related to Him.

One might have thought that such knowledge might be easily imparted in point form on a single A4 sheet. But on account of the mind-shattering complex bigness of God (which obviously the Bible cannot contain) and the stubborn stupidity of almost everyone who has ever lived, we not only need to read the Bible constantly to remind ourselves of its truths and each other to encourage us in the logical matter of living according to the truth, we need God's Spirit to first enable us to understand God's Word and the power to obey it.

Reading through the failure of all those generations in Exodus, Judges and 1 and 2 Kings with various people in the last week is warning enough that the seemingly simple matter of trusting and depending on God to help us is the hardest work of all for us sinners!


*To obtain such a driving licence, one might:
Book a course with Captain Jon Lum (97111411, cptjon@singnet.com.sg) - he's a cheerful, chain-smoking, experienced PPCDL teacher who runs courses at Changi Sailing Club and Raffles Marina and has plenty of anecdotes to prevent dozing off during theory lessons. Otherwise, try SAF Yacht Club or One Degree 15 Marina or other recognised PPCDL centres.

Go to Singapore Polytechnic's Singapore Maritime Academy page to register for powered pleasure craft driving licence theory and practical exams.

You'll need to have taken a course at a recognised PPCDL centre and passed an eye examination before taking the theory test.

My perfect score on the theory test came thanks to the Singaporean method of ace-ing exams - the 10-year series - which is basically a compilation of past test questions. Most course instructors will give this out but if yours doesn't, "seahorse" from the fishingkaki forum has been kind enough to make available an Excel spreadsheet which can be downloaded here. The Changi Nautical blog was also somewhat useful.

The theory test is taken on rather old computers at Singapore Polytechnic, Dover Road, W215A (Workshop 2, Level 1, Room 5A) - the sort that has screens that one views through a plexiglass window set on the tabletop. Balvinder Kour from the PPCDL Test Centre will send you a "gentle reminder" of the items to bring and dress code (no singlets, shorts, slippers) shortly before the test.

You'll need to pass your theory test (you'll need to get at least 26/30) before you can sit for your practical boat handling test. Ms Kour will again send you a list of items to bring and the dress code.

It's always useful to go for a refresher on boat handling the week before or on the morning of the practical test (book the 11.30a.m. or 3.30p.m. test if you want to do this). The test site is at PolyMarina, 50 West Coast Ferry Road (at the fork in West Coast Ferry Road, turn right for the PolyMarina and left for the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club). Some students sign up for the course at RSYC for this reason but I met a testee who'd failed twice even though she'd trained in the same area; and a few of us passed on first try despite training at the far more crowded and choppy waters outside Changi Sailing Club and the lovely calm channel outside Raffles Marina, so familiarity with the test site may not be a big factor. There are no snack shops at the venue so eat before you go (if you can stomach any food).

Wait in a hut next to lines of colourful overall laundry. One of the testers will brief the group of testees on the sequence of the test. (Boating, said the briefing examiner, is not about memorising steps to take but about being cognisant of the prevailing weather, wind and tide and acting accordingly. So while your club may have taught you to count a certain number of seconds before doing this or that action, conditions at sea are so variable that you'll be able to drive safely only if you're thinking on your own two sea-worthy feet.)

First, the processing - show your identity card (or passport if you are a foreign citizen) to the examiner and produce your theory test result slip, then write your details down at the top of the examiner's checklist. The group to be tested will then be divided amongst the three Dynaglass test boats and their accompanying examiners, and will go off to the test in pairs, in two waves.

Launch site of PPCDL Boat Handling Test Boats
The underway check takes place down at the jetty. The test boats will slip off as soon as the candidates are done, in no particular sequence. If you are in the front most or middle boat, the danger of hitting a neighbouring boat (= immediate failure) is high so extra caution is necessary. The "unberthing" space is also tight due to the ramp on the starboard side of the test boats, so going astern all the way out is best. But watch out for the kayaks behind the jetty. The "no-wake" zone of 3 knots extends to the end of the pier but examiners will tell you to speed up. Take note of exiting boats on port and fishing sampans on starboard.

West Coast Park Jetty, looking out to RSYC berths
A site plan of RSYC's berths can be found here. The man overboard test will take place just past the last row of berths. It is important to maintain 360 degrees situational awareness and snap to neutral immediately upon hearing the tell-tale splash - my lookout shouted (and repeatedly insisted) that MOB was on port when the orange fluorescence of the MOB life-buoy was clearly visible on starboard (turning port when MOB is starboard = immediate failure).

The berthing test will take place either at the outer part of the Row J along the megaberths just in front of the Shaws' Seashaw, on the exposed right side of Row J or in one of the stubby finger-piers in Row J. (My examiner told me to berth so that a particular cleat on the test boat was exactly aligned alongside a specific dock cleat on Row Juliet. Was happy to get this over with, spot on, on first try even while he was distracting me with questions about whether to pass a nearby red port hand buoy on port or starboard. He later admitted that he was deliberately trying to set up a bit of a challenge. :-))

When both candidates are done, the examiner will take the helm and motor back for the oral theory test. Unless you're the first person to be examined, you can then mug up on buoyage systems, lighthouses, regulations for preventing collisions at sea, conduct of vessels in restricted visibility, lights and daymarks of vessels and the activities they are engaged in, sound and light signals especially in restricted visibility and the international code of signals while awaiting your turn. (Possibly because I cleared MOB drill and berthing on first go, had only three theory questions while some others were grilled for 20 - 30 minutes. One came out crying.)

If the examiner then asks you to fill in a form headed "Application for Powered Pleasure Craft Driving Licence", and then takes your hand in his calloused one and pumps it vigorously, you've probably passed the handling test. Apply for a powered pleasure craft driving licence. It costs S$20 for applications by post and will last you till you're tossed into Davy Jones' Locker (or Singapore legislation changes).



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