Moving Parts | Carl Fereday

Moving Parts is an INEOS TEAM UK series looking at the invaluable work of different members from across the team. This time we are looking at INEOS TEAM UK’s Rescue Swimmer, Carl Fereday.

Up until seven months ago Carl Fereday knew very little about the world of professional sailing and the America’s Cup. He had spent the majority of his working life serving in the British military.

Since September 2019, however, Carl has been INEOS TEAM UK’s Rescue Swimmer. A transition that may not be as big as a leap as it may first appear.

“There a lot of similarities between being part of an America’s Cup team and the military way of life. There is the travelling, moving to live in different countries for short periods of time and then there is being part of a close-knit team with a competitive edge and all working for the same aim. That really appealed to me”.

For as long as he can remember Carl has always loved and sought out two things – getting in the water and the thrill of an adventure. Carl grew up in Derby but to achieve his dreams he knew he had to look and go elsewhere. At the age of 18 he signed up to join the British Army.

Carl in his role as rescue swimmer is on the water for every training session

“I just wanted to get away from where I lived. I never felt like I particularly belonged there. I wanted to have adventures. I never paid attention in school and spent a lot of time bunking off and getting into trouble. When my teachers used to say, “what are you going to do when you get no qualifications?” I’d simply reply, “I’m going to join the Army” so that’s what I did!”.

“The Army seemed to me to be a way of escaping, a way of experiencing adventures. I wanted to see the world and do some crazy stuff”.

The military life certainly provided that sense of adventure he sought. Carl ended up serving for 13 years, the latter part of which was with the Special Boat Services (SBS). A unique transition, at the time Carl was only the third person to join the SBS from the Army.

The journey saw him experience action everywhere from the Balkans through to Sierra Leone to Afghanistan and Iraq. It was a time of his life that he now looks back on with fond memories.

“Ultimately I joined the military because I wanted to soldier. I wanted that adventure and to see the world. So, I guess I was almost lucky in terms of when I joined up. There was so much going on in terms of active service, it was perfect timing for me. I travelled all over the world and in a very expeditionary sort of way.

“I initially joined the Royal Engineers but once I became part of a Commando Brigade there was always an amphibious aspect, much of the training and some operations were connected to water. Then I joined the SBS and that involved a lot of diving and boat action. That suited me as I have always loved being in water. As a kid I can remember I would be stripped off to my pants and in any puddle if it was deep enough. Every river, stream, ocean or lake I would always jump in come rain or shine.”

After serving in the military for 13 years Carl left and fell into the private security sector, with a focus on superyachts. His roles included everything from training staff onboard superyachts to putting together teams onboard to tackle the piracy problem in Somalia. It was at this time that he received an offer to join INEOS TEAM UK.

“It came about through the SBS Association. The Team were looking for someone with a diving background that was used to high-risk situations and with Poole being just down the road from Portsmouth it was a logical place to look. They put the feelers out to see who had recently left and might be interested and I got the phone call out of the blue. It was all new to me, I didn’t know that much about sailing at the time, but it sounded like a very exciting role”.

Carl was offered the role of Rescue Swimmer and he quickly set about researching what exactly that might entail.

“When I was offered the role the first thing I looked at was to see how many accidents there had been in professional sailing and how many deaths had occurred. It may sound a bit macabre, but I wanted to see how high the risk to the sailors was. As soon as I started looking at the big races in sailing I saw there have been lots of accidents and unfortunately lots of fatalities over the years. Straight away I knew that this would be a challenge and a role that was needed. That was what drew me in”.

AC75 Britannia in action training at winter base camp in Cagliari, Italy.
© Lloyd Images / Mark Lloyd

With experience as both a Combat Swimmer and a PADI Rescue Diver it was clear that he was very well qualified for the job. For Carl, however, it was not just a case of taking the role and idly standing by until something happened. He saw an opportunity, a role he could improve.

“Alongside being a role that was clearly needed, it also seemed to me to be a role which I could make a real difference in. In terms of what actually happens when something goes wrong I believe I have a different approach than a lot of other people do, and dare I say, I believe some people have the wrong focus.

“There is a big emphasis on simply having a highly qualified diver. For me, however, diving is only a part of it. To be able to rescue and man-handle an athlete who potentially weighs 115KG and is panicking takes a lot more than just being a skilled diver. Of course, you need to be good at diving and ensuring your kit works perfectly but you’re not talking about great depths or super technical diving, instead it’s all about the speed of getting into the water, having the strength and skill to man-handle someone of that size, being able to swim and fin in currents or drift and the manoeuvrability of being able to get in and out of small awkward spaces. It is a very different role”.

To keep fit for a role of that nature requires a lot of hard work and ensuring he maintains a level of fitness to be able to fulfil his task is a major part of the role of a rescue swimmer.

“Fitness is key. There are lots of things I do to make sure I am ready for the role. I train Jiu-Jitsu, for example, which is great for understanding different body locks and holds for getting a grip on someone and for fending off someone panicking. Practicing free-diving allows me to better control my breathing underwater. Cardiovascular fitness is obviously very important so since joining the team I do a couple of swims a week and as of recently make sure I get out and put the miles in on the bike too.

“I can take a lot from what the sailors do training wise. There’s an amazing performance team with a huge amount of sports science going into it so I get to pick their brains all the time to assist with my training. Yoga is another big thing for me. We sit down for hours kitted up and bouncing around at high speed on a chase boat which can easily result in you getting stiff or having a bad back, so we need to keep supple and moving. Then finally some of the guys are really big lads so I need to keep up some strength training too.”

Being the Rescue Swimmer for an America’s Cup team is not simply a reactive job either. It is not just about diving into the water when things go wrong. In fact, much of Carl’s role with the team is focussed on preparation and training to ensure the team is ready and prepared as best as possible in the circumstance that there is a major incident.

“First there is the safety training which I now run. Anyone that goes on our race boat has to have a PFD (Personal Flotation Device), knife, helmet and an air bottle so that they have an emergency air supply if they get stuck underneath the boat. So, we have to train them how to use these. We run everyone through different scenarios where we put a bit of pressure on them, get their heart-rate up and make sure they can locate their regulator, put it in their mouth and breath and move around even though they may not be able to see. When we’re in Portsmouth we do it at a local HUET (Helicopter Underwater Escape Training) Centre. That’s great as it provides really good realistic training where you are enclosed, under water, spun upside down and disorientated. When we’re abroad, as we were in Cagliari, we improvise. We can use chase boats and pontoons and whatever else we have and do it in the ocean.

The sailing squad completed high level safety training ahead of sailing Britannia
© Harry KH

“Then alongside that on the planning side we draw up an incident manual for each location we are in. That manual outlines everyone’s roles during an incident, both on the water and back in mission control and documents how we are going to co-ordinate a variety of different incidents. It ensures we are always thinking ahead and putting the measures in place to minimise any harm that can come about from the incidents. Every time we go to a new location we update it with the new hospitals, new drop off locations, new evacuation plans and every time we have an incident, mostly very minor ones, we update the manual and discuss how we could have avoided it so we can improve it for next time.

“Then when we’re on the water it’s all about keeping a close eye on the boat. The boats in this Cup are brand new, virtually everything about them is different, and they are constantly changing and being improved, so you can never know everything that’s going to happen. The boat reacts differently every day. You can usually tell within the first 30 minutes of sailing if the boat is locked in or if it’s looking a bit sketchy.”

All of Carl’s and the team’s preparation was put to the test recently in an incident in Cagliari when ‘Britannia’ experienced a heavy crashdown in the Italian waters. The video was subsequently published on INEOS TEAM UK’s social media channels, but what was not shown was the work behind-the-scenes right away that ensured the team was all safe onboard.

“We always have the comms on to the sailors onboard and as soon as anything happens, like with that incident, the first thing that will happen is we get the sailors to all number off to make sure they are all still onboard and all OK. As soon as the incident happened I started final checks prior to getting into the water as we approached, but once we hear that everyone is OK, as was the case then, there is no need for me to get in. My secondary role on the team is as a medic so once we have confirmed everyone is onboard it’s then about checking in to see what minor injuries people may have, any cuts or bruises for example, and then seeing what treatment people need from there.”

After spending several months in Cagliari, Sardinia, Carl has now returned to the UK where preparations continue for getting ‘Britannia’ back sailing. Whilst Carl may not have known much about sailing seven months ago, he now can’t wait until the America’s Cup and the opportunity to bring the Cup home.

“I knew very little about the America’s Cup and I was so shocked to hear that Britain had never won it, it seems so wrong that that should be the case. Obviously any former military person is going to tell you that they are very patriotic, so I absolutely want to see that rectified in this Cup. Hopefully we can change history!”.

Rescue Swimmer Carl Fereday