Stan McTighe
Back to alumni stories

Stan McTighe - Aberdovey, Wales, 1955

Stan-Mc Tighe_Aberdovey
The highlight of my time at Turners was the opportunity to attend the Outward Bound Sea School at Aberdovey in Wales.
This was another life changing experience.
The school had been established in 1940 as the death toll amongst merchant seaman was increasing at a frightening rate as a result of the carnage in the North Atlantic from the sinking of merchant ships by German U-boats. It had been noticed that of the survivors from these sinkings the majority were older sailors. It was the younger and so-called fitter sailors who succumbed to exposure and who gave up and died.
To try and inculcate into these youngsters the will to live by building up there mental as well as physical stamina a program was designed to achieve these objectives. The result was the establishment of the Outward Bound Sea School
When the war ended the Merchant Navy continued to send their apprentices to the school and in addition decided to also make available to industry the benefits of training in the areas of self reliance, leadership and team work.
The entrants to the program were interviewed on arrival and I was designated as a watch leader in charge of thirteen boys ranging in age from 17 to 19. Three of them were from the Merchant Navy and the rest from industry like me. Our watch was Raleigh a watch normally comprised fourteen boys housed in a Nissan hut and there were eight huts located up a hillside behind the administration block. Inside the huts were seven sets of double bunks and there was no heating in the huts.
A serving Royal Navy officer was assigned to each watch and ours was a Gunnery Lieutenant with a very upper-crust accent He was tough, but fair. and had to be addressed as “sir” I had a great second in command who came from Birmingham.
It was my responsibility to get all the boys in our watch to work together on various projects. Some of these turned out to be hilarious. For example we had to lower a rowing boat mounted on davits 20 feet down to the water below the end of a pier, keeping it horizontal all the way down to the water. This required seven boys at each end lowering the boat together by means of ropes and pulleys
It turned out to be like a crazy uncoordinated tug of war with the boat firstly dipping at one end then the other until it hit the water with an almighty plash. We were timed for the exercise.
The first time we did it in something like four minutes and we were then told the record was one and a half minutes!!
We carried out this exercise about three times each week. By the end of the course we got it down to two minutes which I thought was pretty good.
We then had to scramble down nets and into the boat which was designed to carry ten oarsmen. The next step was to hold the oars vertically, which wasn’t that easy as they were quite heavy. Each of us took it in turns to then carefully lower the oar in a 90 degree arc straight out from the side of the boat while dropping it into the appropriate row-lock on the way down. The oars were something like 8 feet long and tended to wave around .Once we had more or less got the hang of this step we each kept a wary eye on the oar in front and it's owners ability to control it because once an oar moved from the vertical it could wave around , collide with another oar and all hell would break loose as we tried to avoid being brained by a falling oar. From the quayside it must have looked like a witches convention with all the oars looking like broomsticks waving in the breeze. Once we had all the oars standing to attention the next step was to lower them together until they were just resting on the surface of the water with the blade of the oar facing upwards. On the command “give way together” we all leaned forward, put the oar in the water and attempted to pull on the oars in unison. It was like a scene from a silent movie farce as some of the oars skipped out of the water and collided with the oar in front and chaos reigned for a few minutes. The officer in command had trouble keeping a straight face.
My role as watch captain was to lead by example. This I found demanding but greatly satisfying as slowly but surely we began to work as a team even when we were on the point of exhaustion. It was often a case of going that little bit further even when we felt absolutely knackered.
The course was extremely demanding and was run on virtually military lines.
From early morning reveille at 6am while it was still pitch black, we had to run up the hillside to the top of the track then back down again and into an ice-cold shower. We were then allowed the luxury of a hot 20 second shower. After breakfast we were assembled by our watch officer and the day’s activities laid out for us.
During my time at the Outward Bound Sea School, our watch had its first experience of kayaking.
The school was on the banks of a tidal estuary and was subject to strong tidal changes. Clad only in swimming trunks, gym shoes and life jackets and exposed to a biting cold wind, we had our first lessons in getting aboard a kayak and learning how to paddle using a two bladed oar with two boys to each kayak.
On the second day we were told to paddle from the wharf, up- stream and back, a total distance of about 5 kilometres. As watch Captain, I had to try and keep the seven kayaks together.
They were made of fibreglass and very light and therefore easy to capsize.
However, we managed to reach the appointed destination but one of the boys fell getting out of his kayak and hit his leg on a post and had to be driven back to the School. This meant that someone had to paddle a two man kayak single handed back to the starting point and it fell to me to do this.
By this time the tide had turned and I had to battle the in-coming tide while keeping the kayak head into the wind. I was soon freezing cold and my arms felt as though they were made of lead. Two hours later I eventually reached the starting point and although utterly exhausted felt an exhilarating sense of achievement and received congratulations from our Royal Navy watch commander.
Being a sea school most of the activities were on the water or related to it. This included tying knots and splicing ropes but by far the most demanding activity was learning to sail a boat, raising and lowering the sail, tacking into the wind and going about (or turning the boat round and going back the way the way we came) without being knocked overboard as the boom swung across the boat.
A highlight was spending two days out at sea and learning how to steer a two masted barque by compass. I was amazed at how sensitive the compass reading was to the position of the steering wheel. Steering on a set compass setting required a very light touch on the wheel.
Sleeping below deck in a hammock was quite an experience. Between trying to sleep, not falling out of the hammock and fighting the desire to throw up it was a very long night. Another harrowing experience was going out into the Irish Sea in a life boat. These boats ride so high in the water it's like riding on a cork. Without exception we were all sea sick!
Learning how to interpret an ordnance survey map was to come in very handy when we had to find a deserted farmhouse in the wilds of Wales. We were split into groups of three or four, and each lad was given a block of chocolate, a bag of sultanas and a bottle of water plus a sleeping bag. Each group leader also had a whistle, a compass, map and a torch and we were dropped off at various spots along the coast. It being early November the days were short, the weather lousy, and as we trekked up hill and down dale we began to wonder if we were completely lost as the daylight faded. Eventually we began to hear whistles blowing and torch lights flashing as we zeroed in on the farm house. It was pitch dark when we finally arrived absolutely stuffed.
There was a welcoming group of officers who gave us cups of hot chocolate and for dinner a plate of baked beans and corn flakes. We slept like logs. Next morning out came the maps and each group was assigned a different route to get back to the school. Our route took us over four two thousand foot high hills on the edge of
Snowdonia National Park. The group of which I was leader was one of the first to make it back to the school, tired but happy that we had achieved our objective.
The school had a demanding obstacle course that included a flying fox. It was exhilarating to whiz across a hundred yards of forest clearing hanging on to the end of a rope and letting go of it at just the right time. There was quite a bit of time spent on athletics. I managed to run the half mile in 2.5 minutes which pleased me.
Two days before the end of the course finished I had just completed the mandated morning run up the hill and went into the showers when I looked down and saw that I was standing in a pool of blood- and it was mine!. I let out a yell and the next minute was being carried, foot in the air, to the first aid room. The nurse began picking pieces of glass out of the base of my big toe. The artery had been severedhence all the blood. She stitched up the cut and bandaged my foot Apparently the evening before, a group had been in the shower room learning how to re-charge a fire extinguisher.
This involved removing the empty glass ampoule which normally contained hydrochloric acid when the extinguisher was charged, and replacing it with a full one. Some idiot had then dropped the empty ampoule in one of the shower booths smashing it. That was what I had trodden on. Later that day when I put my weight on my foot I could feel a stabbing pain. When I undid the bandage I began picking out bits of glass. It was decided that I should visit the local hospital where they removed the rest of the glass. When I returned to the school it was just in time for the closing ceremony. What a hell of a way to finish the course. However, I did receive a very good report!