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Fun with explosives

Last night Paddy and I sailed into the middle of Wellington Harbour and let off explosives – all in the name of boat safety.

Strange lights over the harbour

Strange lights over the harbour

Having completed my Boatmasters certificate through the Wellington Coastguard and done a keel-boat sailing course at the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club I still get the odd email from both organisations and the other week one caught my eye.

It was an invite to a night out shooting expired flares from the top of the Dominion Post East West ferry – how could I possibly refuse?

In all seriousness, knowing how your emergency equipment works is pretty important – and I have to admit I went offshore on our last trip never having fired a flare.

It’s somewhat perverse really. You spend hundreds of dollars (it costs about $1000 to kit out a boat with flares to pass its category 1 certificate to go offshore) on equipment you never want to have to use, then when you don’t use it it expires and you have to replace the lot.

This is where demonstrations come in – it means the flares don’t go entirely to waste – and you get to make things go boom!

When Paddy told me the most important thing was to make sure you held them the right way up I figured he was just messing with me. After a couple of horror stories about people who had melted their hands or shot themselves with the things however, I began to have second thoughts.

When faced with the different types of flares on a rocking boat in the dark I began to realise he had a point. We were bouncing about a tiny bit in relaxed circumstances and it was damned near impossible to read the instructions. I don’t even want to  imagine how much trickier it would be in an actual emergency where things are happening really fast.

It also doesn’t help that the cap you unscrew to set them off can be either at the top or bottom of the flare depending on whether it is a rocket or a handheld one. This threw me a bit at first until Paddy helpfully pointed out (the probably quite obvious) indents where your fingers are meant to go.

Spot the useful handholds

Spot the useful handholds




The flare demonstration required an impressive amount of coordination – with the club, coastguard and even air traffic control taking part. We had a light system which let us know to cease-fire when a plane was due to fly over. A very good thing I reckon because what looked eerie on the water would probably look catastrophic from the air.

Dom Post East?West ferry by the light of a parachute flare

Dom Post East/West ferry by the light of a parachute flare

Ooooh.... ahhhh....

Ooooh…. ahhhh….

While the parachute flares got the air time, the handheld ones were just as dramatic and with loads of people letting them off at once it gave the rather creepy illusion that the boat was burning.

Concentrating on a burning issue

Concentrating on a burning issue

'Bright light! Bright light!' (said in a squeaky Mogwai voice)

‘Bright light! Bright light!’ (said in a squeaky Mogwai voice)

Don't look now Paddy, but I think your arm's on fire!

Don’t look now Paddy, but I think your arm’s on fire!

Erm, anyone got a bucket of water?

Erm, anyone got a bucket of water?

My personal preference was shooting rockets however. The handheld ones went molten after a while and it was no mean feat to hang on to them.

Burn baby burn!

Burn baby burn!

Then there were the smoke flares – a bright screaming orange that can be seen really well by daylight and has anyone in a 10 mile radius coughing and spluttering. Those were great fun, but a little hard on the old allergies.

No smoking!!!

No smoking!!!

Apparently the explosives are on the way out though, with more focus on laser lighting that lasts longer and has a farther reach. At this stage though that is a rather expensive option so it will be a while before they are phased in I suspect.

And besides – flares never go out of style! (that Dad joke was brought to you by Paddy)

Groovy baby!

Groovy baby!



3 Responses to “Fun with explosives”

  1. I heard the warning from Bryan Crump on National Radio and saw the pyrotechnics from my new bay window which affords stunning panoramic views of the harbour. Love the reportage Anna, and the photo sequence with the ‘immolating’ Paddy is priceless. Looked like colossal fun!

  2. […] already feel much better now I have actually fired off a flare and I would rather know what to do if things went to hell than have to rely on others to tell me […]

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