A particularly tough walk as the route was 27km long with full kit
In July this year we had our annual Sea Cadet District Adventure Training competition in a rather sunny Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest.
Five teams from Northern District within London Area Sea Cadets attended the weekend. There was supposed to be a sixth but seemingly they thought it was the following weekend.
The weekend itself is a competition to test the cadets’ skills in navigation, team working, seamanship, first aid, communication and campcraft skills. The top three teams get invited to attend the London Area Chosin Cup competition later in the year to compete against the winning teams from other Districts within London. Over the last few years we have relaxed this criteria so that if a unit comes outside of the top three, they can enter for the Chosin Cup if they really want to. The competition is still very competitive but a bit more open now at all the levels.
Thankfully I do not have to do much of the organisational paperwork for the event as my good friend Keith Coleman has that firmly taken care of. Admin has never been my strong point.
I try to arrive early on the Friday and set up the parachute and the rest of the admin area. I was a bit gutted this year as I left the long extending pole I use to put up the parachute rope behind at the site and have never seen it again.
My hammock seat was well used this weekend but thankfully since then some of the guys have bought their own ones now.
Once we are set up it is a case of chilling out until the cadets arrive. The campfire cooking rig has been donated (on a long term loan) to the Sea Cadets by my good friend Mark Beer. It made a big difference to the amount of food that can be cooked quickly over the open fire.
Our District Officers Mark Macey and Mark Weston were both keen to try out a hammock but as yet have not volunteered to sleep in one. Apparently for Mark Weston this was the first time since he was a young lad that he had camped out. Good on you Mark for staying out. It seems though that his good lady Chrissie has learnt the art of delegation and supervised the whole tent set up business 😉
The teams all arrived on the Friday evening and set up camp. After they sorted themselves out they were sent straight out for a night navigation excercise with all their kit. We found all the teams eventually and had them set up camp.
In the morning I managed to get a group picture of each of the teams before the hard slog began.
Each team is supposed to have 6 cadets and they need to be totally self sufficient for the whole weekend. Kit checks are undertaken as soon as they arrive to ensure they have all the basics such as a sleeping bag, tent, waterproofs, water etc. They loose marks for any kit that is missing from the kit list they are sent out before the competition. I always bring extra sleeping bags, tents, jackets, roll mats and gloves as there are usually a few missing pieces.
While the cadets sort themselves out on the Saturday morning the staff tuck into a good breakfast as the day is a long one. By the time any night navigation exercise is finished at the end of the day they could have been on the go for 18 hours.
As part of the navigation assessment, each team has to produce a route card for the day’s walk. The route goes all around Ashdown Forest and there are various checkpoints they have to get to. At some checkpoints they are set various tests on Sea Cadet skills. This was a particularly tough walk as the route was 27km long with full kit – do not ever say that being in the cadets is a breeze, it can be tough.
I do not have any pictures of the cadets while they were out but by the end of the day two teams had completed the whole course and the others were either picked up or had just missed out one or two checkpoints.
This part of the competition is undertaken just in Pippingford Park. The cadets have to navigate to different stances in the training area and complete different tasks.
All the stances are designed to test personal skill, team work, leadership and communication skills.
One of the stances was to rope up a river crossing system, using their seamanship skills, to be able to carry the whole team across.
All cadets are trained in First Aid so we usually have a stance on this. It can be quite weird listening to all the theatrical shouts and groans that come from this stance 😉
Teamwork and communication are skills scrutinised on the mine clearance stance. Pretend mines are hidden and the cadets have to probe for them. If they find one they mark it with a tyre.
The Observation stance is set up with objects or people set out in front of the cadets. Some are obvious to spot but due to the skill of the Royal Marine Cadet instructors who set up these stances can be extremely difficult to find.
The challenge on this year’s Seamanship stance run by Paul Townsend was to use a variety of ropes, poles, blocks and tackles to set up a rig to conduct a Colours ceremony. I like this stance as it brings together Sea Cadet skills originally aimed at use on board ship out into the woods.
My favourite – the Archery stance – was run this year by Charlie Brookes. All the cadets look forward to this stance both for the fun of it and for its competitive spirit within each team and between teams for the highest scores.
At the end of the Sunday we have an Endurance race. A course is set up through the woods going through streams, over logs, under them, up and down steep slopes. Each team gets to run it twice: first to get to know the route and secondly as a timed event that can be scored.
We finish with a final river crossing and a group picture. The looks on the cadets faces tell you very clearly that they had a great time.
A special award was given to Enfield unit for saving a Fawn that had become tangled up in some wire fencing. Well done guys.
Enfield receiving the Fawn award and Waltham Forest receiving their Third place certificate.
Second place (and the Team Leader award) went to Enfield and the winners were Finchley unit. Both these teams scored highly in what was a very tough but fun weekend.
As well as being a weekend full of assessments this course was a great training event for the teams that went forward to Chosin Cup later in the year but more on that later.