Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On the Water

“'On the water' means every day of my life,” says Diane Bush, a deceptively diminutive figure who spends her days instructing people on motorboats and RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats), racing Sunbeams around the Carrick Roads, being part time skipper of the Flushing Ferry and as a member of the RNLI crew at Falmouth. “Before that I was coxswain of the Isles of Scilly Ambulance boat, which is the only boat run by the Ambulance Service,” she adds. “It's a 34ft twin jet propelled catamaran and seen as a challenge even to the local boatmen.”

Diane has lived in Falmouth for the last 12 years and runs South West Powerboating with her partner, instructing powerboat and motor boat training. “We do shore based courses so we can tailor the courses to people's needs. I am RYA trained for powerboats and one of 4 female RYA Yachtmaster instructors for motorboats,” she adds. “The best bit about teaching people is when they get the hang of the boat. The reward on their faces when they've cracked it is wonderful.”
Diane's father encouraged her love of boats when she was young. “On holiday, I'd be on the water the whole time with various different sports and activities,” she says. “I started off windsurfing at the age of 13 because my parents couldn't afford a boat, then my father got his first motor boat when I was 20.”
Having married a sailing addict, I was interested to hear what Diane loves about motorboats. “The time factor is different,” she explains. “You have enough time to shoot somewhere more sheltered. And they're more predictable – you can be somewhere like Fowey in a couple of hours whereas with sailing it can take 4, 5 hours or longer.” She laughs. “It's much warmer in a motorboat and you can shelter from the rain which is useful in this country.” And sailing? She sighs. “I love the peace and quiet of it all. When the wind's in the right quarter, you can't beat it.”
Diane must be the only sailor I've ever met who hasn't managed to get into serious trouble on the water. “I did get caught up on an anchor chain off Mersey Island when I was windsurfing. Thankfully my father was around and dragged me out.” But she was 14 at the time. “I've had a few hairy moments but I've managed to get myself back ashore,” she says cheerfully. “I have to be careful now we've got the school – the last thing I want to do is call the orange and blue boats out.”
Diane's first job was instructing windsurfing at Bude, followed by teaching dinghy sailing. The job as skipper of the Scilly Ambulance was advertised in the West Briton and not one that she ever expected to get. “But I knew I'd regret it if I didn't take it. I had to learn all about the different islands, and pass a Quay to Quay licence,” she explains. “One day, going over to St Agnes, the waves were bigger than the boat so we decided to leave it till another day.”
It was Diane's interest in powerboats which led her to the lifeboats. “I wanted to join the RNLI to give a little bit back and help others out who aren't that fortunate. The most frightening thing was getting to know the limits of the boat – going out in conditions that you wouldn't choose to go out in as a boating person,” she says. “You have to go out in it to appreciate it. But the craft are absolutely stunning.”
Dealing with fatalities is part of working with the RNLI, but Diane is philosophical. “We usually go to the boathouse for a cup of tea after a shout, and if there's anything unpleasant, that tends to be the time when everybody talks about it. Then you go home and everybody responds in a different way.”

But fitting in the RNLI with working life isn't easy. “Because we have this centre, I can't just leave people in the lurch if my pager goes off, so I explain to customers what I do and if they're happy for me to go on a shout, then I'll go,” she says. “Otherwise, I help launch the boat and come back. It's a hard balance sometimes but we're just round the corner from the lifeboat station which makes life easier.”

When it comes to her greatest achievement, Diane grins. “It's getting on the crew. But it's a team effort – there has to be different knowledge and experience or it wouldn't work. I hope I can carry on doing this till I retire – or they kick me off.” She pauses. “The best thing is making a difference to someone's life – you save them, get them medical assistance or treat them.”

But she has advice for those who spend time on the water. “Check the conditions, know your own limits and that of your vessel, and make sure you have the relevant safety kit on - and know how to use it.”

In addition to her many other jobs, Diane and her partner run the Flushing ferry on Sundays “and any other day we're needed.” So how does she fit it all in? She shrugs and grins. “Well, the summer goes by pretty quick.”
As for time off - “I crew on one of the Sunbeams in the summer – they're one of the oldest fleets in the harbour,” she says proudly. “They're very easy to sail – they're well balanced because of their age and it's one design racing so it's not handicapped.”
We're sitting in Diane's office, overlooking the marina. “What I love most about being on the water is the challenge,” she adds, her eyes lighting up. “Conditions are always different which makes for an ever-changing environment. You never stop learning.” She pauses and looks out at the beckoning boats. “If you take the water away from my life, I don't really have much else. It means everything to me.”
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Cornwall Today April 2011

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