Firing Line

Assault rifles on deck. (Clothes pegs in purple bucket.)

My 2013 sailing voyage on Lord Nelson from South Africa to India took us through a corner of the internationally recognised area of pirate activity in the Indian Ocean. The ship could not have obtained insurance to enter that area without taking anti-pirate measures. Unknown to any of us crew before the ship left Durban, the Jubilee Sailing Trust had arranged for three former UK armed forces personnel to masquerade as crew members. The men joined the ship in Durban; the assault rifles joined the ship in Mauritius.

Our route through the official pirate danger zone. (Note all those lovely latitude and longitude LINES!)

Our passage was uneventful with nary a pirate to be seen, although we all paid more attention than usual to nearby shipping! What to do with those deadly rifles and all that live ammunition? It was obvious, really: let the crew have a go.


We signed up for “weapons handling” (seriously, again) in which we were taken through checking, loading, firing and unloading, but without ammunition (sensible precaution!). In my journal, I’ve written that when it came to considering letting us actually fire ammunition, the security team “had conducted a formal risk assessment and concluded that barely trained civilians firing live ammo on the deck of a rolling ship would be ‘extremely dangerous’ but the chance of anything going wrong would be ‘highly unlikely’.”

Well, that was reassuring.

Firing Line the line of positions from which gunfire is directed at targets.

We each had three shots at a target being towed 50 metres behind the ship. By the time my turn came, the poor thing had been caught in so many LINES of fire that it was barely visible.

The target (a weighted life jacket) towed behind the ship. It’s attached to the ship by a — yes — LINE.

Again from my journal, with names removed: “The duty watch was removed from the bridge and [the two ex special ops men] did one-on-ones with us as we came up to the bridge in pairs. Before that, in a sort of holding area, we had a reminder from [the third security man] with the other rifle on how to hold it properly and aim, and what to expect from the kick.”

Ex SBS (UK Special Boat Services) man LINES the target up in his sights.

Despite appearances, this is not a pirate threatening one of the security men! Just a misleading camera angle.

Here’s how my turn went: “I put on my ear defenders and safety glasses, and he walked me through the firing. Using my newly acquired training, I executed a Normal Safety Procedure to first ensure the rifle was not ‘live’, then inserted the magazine (at the wrong angle, so he made me re-do it) and cocked the rifle to bring a round into the breech. With my knee braced against the life jackets locker and his hand on my back, and the ship remarkably stable, I had no trouble tracking the target with the red dot. Through the defenders, I could hear him calmly advising me and reminding me to breathe slowly and evenly. Then I slipped off the safety and squeezed the trigger. When done, I removed the magazine and made the rifle safe.”

And if you’re wondering — I hit the target on my first attempt. Pirates, beware!

Posted as part of October Squares Lines&Squares

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