Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Painting, NYC and heli-ops!

Blimey,what a week, sorry it's taken so long to get this installment up, I keep getting behind on it as things have been so busy, but here it is...

18th August
We had an extra hour in bed this morning as the clocks went back an hour, wonderful! The only downside is when we come back we’ll be loosing an hour’s sleep each night.
So, feeling pretty fresh and awake, we went to find out what the boatswain had in store for us. The first job was helping pass down the new mooring lines from deck 4 to the mooring deck (3) through the hatch. The hatch lid is lifted by a wire on a crank handle and posts and chains are put up around the non-working sides. The lines had been put on board using the derricks on the foredeck, coiled around a cardboard drum and wrapped with paper and high strength sheeting. We cut the wrapping off and then it took 4 of us to push the huge coil nearer to the hatch, the line was then unwound from the drum and passed below where it was either coiled into one of the baskets or threaded around a set of bits and through a shackle to go directly onto a drum. The lines are all 12 strand multiplait and are extremely heavy. Once all 4 lines had been put in place we eye spliced a length of three strand rope around the eye of each line, which is used by the linesmen to pick them up. After that we cleared up the rubbish and went for smoko. When we got back we had a lesson on multiplait splicing, it’s not nearly as difficult as I’d thought it would be, once the rope is unlaid you take 6 strands on each side and work with two at a time, weaving them up in a straight line along the original lay. It gets very tight by the end and you need to use a setting fid to open it up each time.
After lunch I was on the f’wd mooring deck again, this time cleaning. First of all two guys went around with a bucket of metalbright and a paintbrush on a long stick, finding all the rust spots, then another deckhand started jetting the deck down, meanwhile we also started scrubbing down with soogie and brooms.
After an hour I had to chip off to meet the Safety Officer- we’d arranged to meet him to go over fire fighting equipment for our training books. When we’d done that I got back to the deck to find they were currently vaccuming up water from the floor. I got hold of a vaccum and cracked on. Once the floor was no longer puddley, we set to with mops to get it dry.
After a very active day, where both of us had sweated a fair bit, S and I decided to visit the spa again before cocktails, I had a Finnish Sauna to start with, before relaxing in the pool and then trying out the reflexology basin. Once cocktails was done with we had some dinner and then went to the bar where we had fun playing with flash cards- J, one of the 3rd Officers, was spelling out rude words for S with the code flags and then he set up some buoy channels for us to navigate through. Geeky, but fun!

August 19th
We started the morning off on the aft mooring deck, S was scraping old varnish off handrails and I was and oiling handrails that had been scraped and sanded.
At 1000 there was a Helicopter Fire drill, the ship uses the sundeck on deck 13 as a winching area. We mustered with the deck fire party on deck 11 and went up the stairs to deck 13 when instructed. It was blowing about 25kts out on deck, which made running out hoses slightly difficult as they kept flapping about. S and I ran around fetching extra hoses and connected them up with a nozzle, we were then instructed to help hold the hose as number 2 and number 3. The engine room fire team were also up on deck and went aft to the sundeck where there was a dummy casualty. Each fire party consists of two three man teams, in this case 4 people were holding 2 hoses, and two people were sheltered between them, ready to retrieve the casualty. The whole team edged forward, using the hoses to create water walls until they had reached the casualty and then edged back in the same manner. The second time they did this the hose I was on was used as another water wall, we edged forward to the wind screens that separate the deck areas with the water wall and number 1 turned it off briefly to put the nozzle through one of the gaps in the screen and then turned it back on, this gave the fire team additional protection as they moved forward, it was turned off to let them through and then put back on. Likewise when they came back with the casualty, the water wall was turned off to let them through.
Once the drill had been completed we all went below for a high expansion foam demonstration on the aft mooring deck. The fire teams took their kit off first to Sarah and I were there to see the first quick test, which produced a huge amount of foan in about 60 seconds. So when everyone else got down, we were at the ready with squeegees, to try and keep the foam from getting too far. Easier said than done as the squeegee blade just passed under the bubbles and only moved the water underneath. Once the demonstration was over we got the hoses onto it and eventually got the deck clean again.
In the afternoon we carried on with scraping varnish off hand rails, the rails are first painted with some blue gunk that corrodes the varnish, the first scrape down still leaves a fair amount of varnish on the wood and so the process is repeated. The blue gunk is evil and really hurts if you accidentally get even a tiny bit on your skin, I was wearing the right PPE (gloves and boiler suit) but still managed to get a little blob on my wrist. I washed it off immediately though and it was fine. Once all the varnish has been removed the rails have to be sanded with two grades of sandpaper until they are immaculate and ready for oiling with D1.
We went to the Queens Grill cocktail party in the evening where I met Commodore William …… who is the current maritime lecturer on board and a Trinity House Younger Brethren.

August 20th
Started off this morning painting the bits and roller fairleads on the aft mooring deck, we then had an early smoko to enable us to maximise on the time available to paint balconies. Passengers tend to spend the mornings out of their cabins, which is when the deck crew teams scuttle in and paint. In order to get the job done in time about 5 of us crammed onto the one (single size) balcony, so with two stepladders, the balcony furniture and the paint buckets, space was at a premium! Naturally I got paint in my hair as I was kneeling down to paint under a ledge at which point I was given a plastic shoe cover, which doubles nicely as a hat. Wearing that, plus the mask to protect me from the paint fumes, I looked delightful!
After lunch is was back down to the aft mooring deck, where S carried on with the painting and I got stuck in to some varnish scraping. I discovered the disposable boiler suits they have too, which are a bright red/pink colour and have a hood too, so I looked like a slightly deranged Teletubby wielding a paint scraper! Photo evidence of this exists, but it’s on my phone, which I don’t have the wire to my laptop for.
This evening I have been productive, taking advantage of the lack of cocktail party to do laundry, tidy the cabin and write up notes about anchoring procedures for when N grills us on Saturday. Once all that was done I went to the wardroom for a drink, to find most of the men wearing bibs with a large set of boobs in a corset printed on them, in honour of the German Tapas night. I always thought tapas was Spanish, but what would I know?

August 21st
The morning started off again scraping varnish on aft mooring deck until 0900, then it was early smoko and balcony painting. This time I was with S, working on the outside rails of the deck 8 balconies, which are easily accessed from the lifeboat platforms. All was going well until we got showered on from above, where one of the stewards decided to start washing down the outside of the glass balconies on one of the upper decks!
After lunch it was back to scraping varnish, broken up by smoko and a refresher talk on lifeboat hooks and engines. The statistics on lifeboats in general are a little bit worrying, so Cunard put all lifeboat crew through a refresher every 3 months.
After the World Cruise club cocktail party S and I joined SECO and ENVO to go and see the show, Viva Italia. The costumes were fabulous and I lost count of how many changes there’d been in the first 20 minutes! I had been expecting to maybe hear some songs I knew but they’d all been written for the show, the lack of plot also had me rather bemused for a while, and to be honest, it wasn’t really my cup of tea, but the performers put so much energy into it and it had some very funny moments.
We’d missed dinner in the mess by the time it finished so we all went up to the Lotus restaurant for some Chinese food, which was delicious. A quick change into casuals led to a couple of drinks in the wardroom and then a foray into the White Star party, which is held monthly for all crew in the luggage handling area. When we got there no one was dancing and I was reminded of school discos where everyone stood around the edge looking awkward. That didn’t stop us lot though and we hit the dance floor straight away. It didn’t take long for others to get the same idea and by the time I left an hour later the place was bouncing!

August 22nd
Study day, which has been lovely. Not having to get changed for meals, sitting down and getting all the bits of paper I’m accumulating organised. We had our grilling from N, which went really well in fact- seeing as we’d actually done the work he was very nice to usJ
The big excitement of the day has been hurricane Bill, which is perfect for my WBL, so I’ve been busy gathering as much info on the situation as possible and have even asked the Commodore if I could interview him about it all later.

August 23rd
Need I say more?
Oh, I suppose people will require a little more detail than that…
It was an early start, we were breakfasted and at immigration by 0630, immigration began at 0640 but we wanted to be first in line, had to be in fact as we were escorting a tour into Manhattan. We had been instructed on our itinerary “Day off- Book tour- Buy shoes and handbags” and so we decided to follow instructions to the letter. Conveniently for us the tour we were escorting was the shopping drop off tour, which meant we had the whole day to ourselves to, er, well, go shopping!
We were dropped on 7th Avenue, opposite the back entrance to Macy’s, which wasn’t yet open, it being about 0830. So we wandered toward Times Square, picking up a coffee in Starbucks and then hopping into tourist shops for the essentials, which as far as I was concerned was a giant pencil, which I didn’t find, and an umbrella, which were in plentiful supply. It was hot and muggy at that time of day, which had quickly become gentle, but annoying, rain. Over the day the rain ceased but the oppressive humidity remained, even when blue skies appeared in the afternoon, we were gasping in relief when we walked into a store and it’s air con hit us.
From Times Square we meandered on to Central Park and then to 5th Avenue where I felt glad that none of the shops were yet open as I would have felt disgustingly underdressed wandering around any of Tiffany’s, Gucci, Prada, Armarni etc. By the time we got as far down as the Rockerfella building though, the shops had opened and we went into Banana Republic, where I casually picked up a hat and tried it on.
It was love at first sight, I tried to say I shouldn’t really buy it, but S told me I had to… Ok, so I’m weak when it comes to hats. It is beautiful though, a 20’s style blue felt cloche (apologies to any men who are reading this, if I were you, I wouldn’t worry too much about this entry, it’s all about shops, shoes and handbags from here…)
We admired the Rockerfella’s architecture for a while, and then headed back toward 7th Avenue and Broadway where we stopped for an early lunch at Ruby Tuesdays, I had a crab burger which was very good, but I was most intrigued by the bun, which I think was brioche….Anyway, I digress. From lunch we stopped off at Mid Town Comics, which T has been sent to by G (G being one of the 3rd engineers and T his girlfriend) I got hugely tempted by several things but decided that buying all three volumes of Sandman (at $99 each) was a little excessive, especially as I’d have to carry them for the rest of the day. Likewise 6 volumes of SIP pocketbooks…
From there we embarked on my major mission of the day, which was camera shopping, my darling dad had found two stores which did cameras at sensible prices, one of which wasn’t too far from where we were so we cut across to 9th Avenue, through some slightly less classy streets, complete with guys yelling it each other about “Doin’ it the Nu Yoike way” or some such classic street banter. On the way we saw a shoe shop, and as I was after something cheap to wear with my whites uniform we popped in, where eventually I found a pair that would do, S also found some shoes, which made sense really as it was buy one get a second ½ price. From there it wasn’t too much further to the camera shop, and oh by gum what a camera shop, Dad would have been in heaven! There were different departments for film photography, digital, point and shoot, lighting, movies… You had to queue to see an advisor in the department you were shopping in (99% chance he’d be Jewish) They then looked up what kind of thing you wanted and got various models to show you, when you’d decided they give you a receipt for it and sent it to the collection point in a box on a roller conveyor system. You then had to go to the payment point, pay and then go to collect it further on, bit of a palaver! However I now have myself a neat little Fugi A150, which does everything I need and more, and only cost me $124.01 after tax.
We had less than two hours left by then so we headed back to Macy’s, where we perused the shoes and handbags at length. I am now the proud owner of a beautiful green leather handbag which has pockets galore and it’s own umbrella and purse! Happy then that we had fulfilled the C/O’s orders (“Book tour, buy shoes and handbags”) we went to the pick up point where a bus was conveniently waiting.
The ship wasn’t due to sail for an hour and a half when we got back so I decided to wander up to deck 13 for a spot of sunbathing on the phone. After half an hour of swearing at said phone and nearly throwing it overboard I gave up, it wouldn’t change to USA roaming, nor would it find any kind of network, turned out that the whole ship’s satellite system was down, so that might have had something to do with it. The sailaway was fantastic to be on deck for though, got some wonderful views of the city from there, especially when we went under the bridge only clearing it by about 4 meters!

August 24th
Today balanced yesterday rather nicely… I spent the day first following two of the guys, who were sanding, with grey primer and then re-tracing my steps (or to be more honest, bottom shuffles) with yellow paint. We were on Burma road, which is a crew area, but also the main thoroughfare for the working ship. Apparently, painting is a spectator sport!
Another cocktail party this evening, after which we caught the first bit of the Music of Sting show and then went for Chinese with Seco and Envo.

August 25th
Another day that started with painting, but not for too long, I phoned the C/O at 0930 to ask where we should be for the fire drill at 1000. Once again we joined the deck fire team at the muster station and were then directed to the fw’d mooring deck. The scenario was that two crew members had been last seen painting on stairway 1 which had filled with smoke, probably due to painting materials catching alight. From the mooring deck (deck 3) the fire teams had to search and rescue below first and then move up the stairway, which with a charged hose is pretty difficult, but when you have the added bonus of the stairway actually being filled with smoke and the weather being so hot and humid that you break a sweat without doing anything, then the scenario starts to feel pretty real! The C/O put us in the stair way to observe what was going on, the fake smoke made me choke so I used my hat as a mask as I didn’t want to start people worrying about me collapsing, but it was great to be able to see first hand what was going on as they found the two dummies and got them back down the companionways.
There was a full crew muster, which meant I had to get back up to deck 11 by the stairs to grab my lifejacket and then get back to my raft station, this job really is getting me fit!! After that we had touch drills on the bridge, where the officers have to talk though the procedures for different emergencies, ie steering gear failure, MOB, collision, grounding etc.
After lunch I was back on painting until after smoko when we went to the deck fire team’s debrief on the mooring deck. The guys had found it much more difficult with smoke taking vis down to 1/2mtr, and they learnt that their comms need to be better, gauge checks got missed, as did ladder and handrail cooling, also that casualties should be lowered down ladders/steep companionways not carried.
While we were getting ready for cocktails A gave us a heads up that there was a medevac happening later and there was a briefing at 1930. We showed our faces at the party for half an hour and then scooted back to our cabin to change and get some dinner before things started to happen. The ship had already started heading north in order to get closer to Canada where the helicopter was coming from, as we were pretty far out and they only have a range of 300 miles maximum. After the briefing we went to collect the high expansion foam kit with th SO and get it all up to deck 13 before we had a bit of time to relax. The fire team had been instructed to start getting ready at 2045, so they got there 10 minutes before and were all dressed and ready by the time I arrived! Up on deck we helped run out hoses, both deck and engine fire teams were there, with water hoses, foam hoses and high expansion foam so there was a lot to get ready for the rendezvous at 1045. The passengers had been removed from the cabins directly below the deck, and all had been instructed that the open decks were all closed and they must keep off the balconies too, so I felt rather privileged to be allowed to stand on the deck and watch (from as far back as possible). I videoed the whole operation with my new camera and we all breathed a sigh of relief when the helicopter left, the last thing anyone wants is to have to use any of the fire kit that’s standing by. People started clearing up and S and I helped put hoses away, which gained us brownie points for not just disappearing and we got told to turn to at 1000 next day as we’d not run off like most people. Bonus!

August 26th
Lie in- Oh what bliss it was to wake up at 0700 and turn over and snuggle back down for another two hours! And when we got to the paint store at 1000, all ready to go, the boatswain said, “Coffee time now!” Ah well…
The main part of my day was taken up by painting, although after afternoon smoko we joined the SO and the deck fire team for a walkthrough of one of the galley areas on deck 7. They’re going over a different part of the ship each day at the moment, and as S and I will be put into the fire team at some point it makes a lot of sense to learn as much as we can!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Off to NYC!!!!!

Aug 14th
Today I sanded a deck chair. It took all day and it’s still not finished. The brass fittings are all covered with verdigris and each screw head has to be sanded back to shiny brightness.
I got to my cabin after work to find the hit squad (yes they’re actually called that) there sanitizing everything, they told me S had been taken ill earlier in the afternoon, which was the first I heard about it. Poor girl had been sick after lunch and got quarantined for 24 hours as a precaution.

August 15th
Stations was after breakfast, which was very civilised for a change. After that I went to the boatswains daily briefing, where he hands out the day’s work to the deck crew, once again I was on the rails, painting this time.
After lunch we had shore leave scheduled, S had only just been let out of the medical centre and therefore had to go to work for the afternoon, so I trundled off into Hamburg on my own. I walked along the riverfront, through seething crowds of tourists all out for Queen Mary 2 Day. Hamburg goes nuts for the QM2, I saw so many postcards and pictures of her for sale and there were countless boats, barges and steamers offering rides up and down the river to see her. I found a bar with it’s own beach to sit in and had a coffee before wandering slowly back. I resisted the german sausages and pickled fish in a bun stalls and got back onboard in time for a lie down before supper and then stations, followed by a fabulous sailaway. Once again the city was out en-mass to see us off, the pontoons and banks of the river all crammed with people taking photos and waving. There were fires one the beaches further along and fireworks going off as we passed, one hotel even had a person in every room window, flapping sheets at us. The party carried on downstairs in the bar when the music on the passenger deck finished, and I was sad to have to go to bed before midnight.

August 16th
Study day, which meant being on the bridge for 0800 in whites to be grilled by N, (Chief Officer) I was doing alright until I made a stupid mistake, saying I’d make one short blast before altering course to port… Doh!
We had safety induction no 3 at 1000, and then had to attend the interdenominational church service at 1100. I had trouble not laughing during the second hymn; an elderly lady had come in late and sat behind us, she managed to get about two beats behind the piano and quavered everything, all at top volume, I couldn’t look at S…
After lunch we went back up to the bridge to get information and signatures for our training books, and Staff came and chatted to us about how to learn the rules, there’s a method, which makes a lot of sense and makes it all seem a little less scary.
After we were done for the day we decided to check out the spa, as officers (albeit trainee ones) we’re allowed to use it between 1800 and 2000 if there’s not too many guests, so we asked very nicely at the reception and were allowed in… to heavan! Started in the whirlpool spa Jacuzzi, then into the bubble pool, which has different areas, including a high pressure jet that looks a bit like a kitchen sink tap- perfect angle for pummelling out those knots in the shoulders and back… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! There’s also a finnish sauna, a steam room, a herbal steam room, reflexology tubs for feet and a monsoon shower… and I get it for free! Will be going there fairly regularly methinks!!

August 17th
We didn’t have to do stations in the morning, or at least it wasn’t on our itinerary so we presumed we didn’t have to go. Back in jolly old Southampton, we had the MCA surveyors coming on for zone surveying- every ship has to be surveyed every year but as this grand lady is so big and only spends one day in port each time, they break it down so each time she comes in they do one zone (there are 9 zones in total). We were doing zone 8 this morning, my job was to follow the inspector and Safety Officer, carrying a smoke detector tester (a long pole with a cup arrangement on the end that encloses the smoke detector and squirts fake smoke at it. A little light then goes on and the bridge calls up saying “We have a smoke detector going off at ….. location” and we reply “ Yes that’s us”) What was much more interesting was watching the inspector and asking him questions about what he was looking for. He was very nice and explained lots to me as we went around.
This afternoon I had a visitor booked in, my boyfriend P, I showed him around the ship, learning a few things about where things were as we went round! His comment on the bridge was “Mmm it’s a bit bigger than ones I’ve been on before!” He was later than expected (due to my shopping requests- how was I to know that white socks would be so hard to find?) but it was wonderful to see him for a couple of hours. After that I went up to the bridge to find out what I was supposed to be doing, they were doing all the pre-departure checks so I stayed up there learning about what goes on and then S and I went down to stations for unmooring. We are now heading for New York, and the best thing is, 4 days with no stations!!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Just cruising.....

11th August
Up at 0630 for stations this morning, but different stations this time, we’d asked if we could observe/help with the gangway side of things, partly for a change and partly to get a better understanding of the whole mooring process. It was rather cool to be standing at the open shell door as the ship came alongside, QM2 has no fenders so relies solely upon the protection shoreside to prevent damage, which in this case was just tyres along the quay, we squashed them to death as we came into position, but they did their job. What was more worrying to SECO (Chief Security Officer) was the barrier arrangements. There is supposed to be 50 meters between the fence and the ship, and the fence is supposed to be difficult to get over at least. What we got was some single wooden rails held up by little wooden cradles, the height of which as about a foot and a half off the ground, oh and they were painted red with retro-reflective yellow strips on, which, of course, makes all the difference...

The gangways were prepared to be lifted out by hand, using a triple purchase block and tackle to lift it, but the port provided a HIAB lorry instead. Once the gangway was down, rails and nets were rigged and the security team already had their ID and luggage checking equipment in place so the passengers were free to go and explore Bergen. As anyone leaves or joins the ship their ID card barcode is scanned, visitors are issued a temporary card and have their photo taken with a webcam. Luggage checks only happen when people return or join the ship, security have a scanner like at airports for bags and a walk through archway too.

After breakfast we went up to deck 5 f’wd to find out what our jobs for the day were, we met the boatswain on the way and he took us up to deck 7 where the deck gang had already begun chipping and sanding the next section of railings. I got going with that and S continued with the boatswain to find out what she was doing for the morning. The guys I was working with finished at 1100, so they could have their lunch before starting a bridge watch at 1200 and I carried on. I was quite happy there but soon the boatswain came and told me to stop and take my tools back down below, I was a little confused as to why, but as a gadget I don’t ask, (plus I find it very difficult to understand the boatswain sometimes!). I waited down there for a bit, thinking he’d be down to give me another job, but when I figured he wasn’t going to I asked the store keeper where S was working and took myself off to help her sand porthole covers in the crew mess until lunch.
After lunch we had a free afternoon, and took great pleasure in climbing on the shuttle bus into Bergen. On our arrival in town we managed to go the wrong way, but after a short while came to a place I recognised from being here a year ago with the Tall Ships, so I was able to navigate us to the fish market without any problem after that. I love the fish market, the smell of the sea and beautifully fresh fish, mixed with all the smoked fish smells makes your mouth water as you look at the huge slabs of salmon, the mountains of prawns and the piles of bright red foot long spider crab legs. There was a live shellfish tank too, in which were lobsters, crabs and the most enormous langoustine I have ever seen, they were the size of lobsters and had to be seen to be believed. After that we wandered down the Bryggen, the oldest part of the city along the harbour front. It’s a charming row of wooden built painted houses and is flanked each end with some rather more ornate stone buildings, most of the houses now are shops and bars, which made us consider the possibility of coffee. We found a place at the top of the street with a wide courtyard to sit out in, S and I share a fondness of sitting with coffee and watching the world go by, which is rather handy! Inside there were all sorts of alcoves and niches, and the walls and shelves were filled with oddments and eccentric antiquities, it reminded me very much of the Black Boy back in Winchester, until I got to the loos, where I discovered, with the assistance of a nice lady, that you had to have a code to get into the cubicle, which was odd.

Refreshed, we wandered up the street to the funicular railway, we had to scrape together our last kroner, but as it was our last shore leave in Norway it made sense to spend it. It was well worth it too, at the top we discovered a view that took in the whole city, and the hill and mountains beyond. The QM2 dominated the scene, even from such a distance amongst everything else. All the other ships around looked tiny compared to her, even the cruise ships, and I finally got an idea of just how big she is. There’s only one quay in the port big enough to fit her, the cruise liner terminals are far too small!

When we got back to ship, we got some extra work trousers as two pairs just isn’t enough, especially when you need one pair to stay smart enough to be allowed in the mess in (we change in and out of uniforms several times a day, especially when doing messy jobs!) and then headed to stations to watch the reverse of the morning’s procedure. We stayed with SECO after that for a briefing on a security operation and the subsequent execution of 6 simultaneous cabin searches – there’s been some thefts and the aim was to firstly try and find the stolen items and second to give a very clear message to all crew that the security team are out to get the perpetrators.
In the bar, after dinner S and I got given the fullest glass of wine in the world, which made us laugh so much we couldn’t drink it.

12th Aug
We were up at 0615 to get breakfast before being on station for tendering at 0700. The tenders had already been lowered to the embarkation point on deck 7 and I climbed aboard where I was greeted by SECO asking me where my camera was, as he was hoping I’d take lots of photos for him for his security dossier. At every port they go to, the SECO for a ship will take photos and write notes on it for subsequent visits so that any problems can be planned for in advance. As mine is quite bulky I didn’t have it with me so he gave me his to take photos with for him instead. The boat was lowered to the water where the pontoons were just being opened out and I helped rig the hand rails before hopping back on the tender and heading ashore with SECO, the boat’s first job is to get the shore team away so that security can set up and the sailors can set the mooring ropes up to the right lengths. Once that was done I returned in the boat to pick up the first load of passengers, getting Sarah, who was on the pontoon, to grab me my jacket (as I was freezing) and my camera (as SECO’s had run out of battery) while we loaded the passengers.

400 passengers went ashore at Hellesylt, I continued to crew in the boat, helping with mooring lines and asking passengers to please sit down for their own safety. When disembarking the passengers at the shore SECO would come into the boat and tell them firmly to remain seated while he disembarked them in an orderly fashion, to prevent a stampede and people getting hurt. Once the tendering was done the boats were lifted to the rail and the ship sailed slowly to Geiranger, accompanied by some classical music on deck. We had about an hour’s break while we sailed and then the ship anchored, sending stern lines to a small island near the shore to keep her in was time to go and stand on a pontoon and say to every passenger “Good morning, watch your step and mind your head.” I also helped with mooring lines, throwing the light rope that controls the painter and passing the stern rope. After a brief lunch I returned for half an hour when one of the 3rd officers asked if I’d had a break, I told him I’d half an hour and he told me to go and have a cup of tea and a sit down as there were plenty of hands around.

I got back to find A had taken over. As he couldn’t leave the station, he asked me to pop up to the bridge to get a new battery for his radio. While I was up there I saw Staff, who was watching the whole operation from the bridge wing, and asked him if it would be alright to go on a boat that was going to the bunkering point. He said that it was fine so I hopped on the next boat that was heading there. I found S onboard already, she’d hopped off her pontoon to have a go crewing for a bit. After bunkering the boat was ordered to go to shore so I asked if I could hop off there and see the shore side of the operation. I started by just standing by the security officer who was checking passes at the gate, each guest has an identity card which shows the dates between which they are on board, so at the gate you have to check that each one has a disembarkation date after the day’s date today. When they get onto the ship they also have to show their card, where it gets barcode scanned. As the afternoon drew to a close it started to get busier so SECO gave me a clicker counter and I was stood by the entrance to the pontoon counting passengers on to the tender, they are built to take 120 people but as that would be very tightly packed and would take quite a long time to embark and disembark them all we were instructed to only put 60 on each. When everyone was back on board I watched the boats being lifted and went onto platform to see how they’re secured with skates and gripes.

We somehow managed to muster enough energy to go and have dinner and then chilled before popping to the bar for a quiet drink in our own clothes at 2100, where there was a quiz being held by the medical team, which meant it wasn’t nearly so quiet as I’d hoped!

August 13th
Another 0630 start for stations coming into Alesund, I went aft, helping flake out the lines and then watching closely how they rig the heaving lines, it’s quite complicated as lines have to be passed around parts of the ship on the outside, all done with accurate throwing of monkeys fists and long poles with hooks.
After an 0830 breakfast we visited the boatswain to see what we had in store, he took us to the laundry where he got the linen keeper to issue us with coats, I’d been wearing my Trinity House coat yesterday as after three days of asking we’d still not been given a Cunard one, the linen keeper is extremely protective of his stock! By then there wasn’t much point in starting any work as we had a fire drill at 1000 so the boatswain told us to wait for that. I caught up with the Chief Officer in the alleyway and asked what we should do for the drill, he told us we’d be with the fire team and to find the Safety Officer for more instructions. We paged the SO, who told us to meet the BA team at the deck fire locker when the alarms sounded.

The BA team comprised of 6 people, in two teams, they all kitted out in fire suits with BA helmets that have comms radios built in. From deck 11 we went down to deck B (two below deck 1). The scenario was that the settling tanks on the double bottom deck had caught fire, so the team we were following were doing boundary cooling on the other side of the bulkhead of that section. The engine room fire locker was too close to the fire and so couldn’t be reached. One team went down with the hose first and when they were running low on air the second team followed the hose down to relieve them. The “fire “ was put out with the high fog system but the drill continued as a full crew muster to lifeboat stations and exercising the starboard lifeboats. We followed the Chief Officer as he strode up and down the ship making checks for the first part of the drill and then he sent us to watch the liferaft inflation demonstration. After that we were involved in lifting the lifeboats and securing bits of equipment. As we were starting to help the boatswains mate secure the FRC there was a call for all officers, and the cadets, to go to the bridge for a debrief. When that was done there was one other matter to deal with- W’s birthday! An extremely decadent cake, covered in strawberries and cream, was brought out, along with smoked salmon sandwiches and we all tucked in.

After all that the afternoon was a bit of a let down, we were back to chipping rails on deck 7! We finished at 4 as the deckie we were working with had a watch at midnight (and so needed some rest) and the boatswain had no other work for us so we had a much needed little snooze before went down for mooring stations at 1730. We were due to sail at 1800, but there was some kind of problem with the steering, so we waited, and waited… eventually we got off at about 1900 and cleared down the deck. I got back to my cabin ready to just chill out and then get some dinner, until W knocked on the door and asked if we were ready to go to the cocktail party. Technically I don’t have to go to these things, but it’s recommended….
Anyone who says women can’t get ready in less than 2 hours is wrong, we showered, dressed, dried hair, did make-up and were out of the door in 20 minutes! I was very proud of myself this time, randomly starting up conversations with people I passed, and managing to keep my footing as we started to feel the ship move for the first time. Never felt the ship move before so it was quite a novelty to experience it for the first time in high heels!

I’m now sitting in the wardroom in my own clothes, having spilled gravy down my mess shirt at a late dinner, am not sure if I’m knackered or not anymore, I think yesterday may have been the worst and now I’m getting used to it all a bit more, still I’m looking forward to my bunk in a minute!

Monday, 10 August 2009

Oslo and Stavanger

9th August
I woke up this morning purely by my internal body clock, it was around 6am and I was worried because we’d not been called for mooring stations yet. I lay there wondering what to do until about 0620 when S said “Are you awake?”. We debated briefly about the best course of action, my comment being “Well, I’m not going to worry about it” and rolled over to enjoy the last 40 minutes of sleep until we had to get up anyway. Naturally, at that point, the phone rang. Still, mooring stations at 0700 isn’t nearly so bad as last time!
I got to the aft mooring deck to find the deck crew had already been fantastically efficient and flaked out most of the mooring ropes so there wasn’t much to do until we arrived. So I had a few minutes to watch the world go by through the observation ports and ask D, the Safety Officer, random questions about the lights and marks we were seeing.
The cruise terminal quay was a bit short, to say the least and the stern (that’s the blunt end for those of you who aren’t sailors) was several meters clear of it. The rest of the quay was close enough to get ropes to though (seeing as the mooring ropes are about 200 meters long) but we did need the linesmen to pick up the ropes with a boat.
Once mooring was done I went for breakfast, and after that we headed for the Boatswains store to find out what we were doing for the day. Once again it was painting bulkheads, and this time S was coming too. We continued where we’d left off the day before, although by the time all the deck lads had got the gear together and we’d got there and had sanded the bits we needed to pain it was smoko. After that though we cracked on with the painting and got on well. Unfortunately, I managed to get some paint on the bottom of my shoe, and the tarps weren’t so good at protecting the deck either, so before lunch I had to go on a mission with some thinner and a rag to make the deck nice again.
We had the afternoon off but as Norway is incredibly expensive we ate lunch onboard, where we saw the Chief Officer who told us at the end of the meal that we had 33 minutes to get off the ship.. or else!! Oslo is lovely, lots of impressive buildings and after a look at the Place we found a coffee place to sit and watch the world go by in. After days of safety shoes and lots of walking, all we really wanted to do was sit down!
We returned to the ship in plenty of time to go to the crew shop and chill for a bit before mooring stations. I was hoping to get to watch us go out from Oslo, but as soon as we’d unmoored the deck crew started the task of changing some of the old ropes for new. This first entails taking the old rope off the drum and coiling it neatly in a basket. It’s a big rope, and a big basket, the kind that is welded to the floor. It’s hot hard work, and I was glad to see the AB’s and seamen sweating as much as me! Once the rope is detached from the drum and the new one attached, it has to be wound back on again, which involves passing it around a couple of bollards or a set of bits to tension it:- if the rope wasn’t pulled taught as it winds on it won’t all fit on the drum.
I helped with a couple of ropes and then the Boatswain called me over to the control panel, and I got to play with the buttons and levers, which was brilliant!
We were done by about 1800, at which point I had to leg it back to my cabin and get in to mess uniform for cocktails at 1830… it sounds like a real hardship, I know, but when your feet hurt from days of safety shoes and lots of walking, high heels are EVIL!! Ah well, free drinks cushion the pain!!

10th August
Another day, another port, this time Stavanger. Stations was at a very reasonable hour today, after breakfast in fact! I went forward in the morning and aft this afternoon, S and I work it so that we each get to see the port from the forward end once as the view from the officers’ platform is great.
After that we were set to on the port side railings on deck 7 covering the splodges of red primer with white. We had several guests come up and ask us questions, one couple called us “lady painters” saying they’d not seen any other lady painters around and were we the only ones? We explained that we were cadets and that we did get to do more than just paint, well hopefully one day we will! After we were done on that job the boatswain told us to have a rest before stations, and we didn’t need to be told twice!

Life on board in general is starting to feel pretty normal, it certainly feels like we’ve been on here for much longer than 6 days! The food is great, it’s like eating in a restaurant every day, The serving staff are all very friendly and we get a menu of starters, mains and puddings to choose from and a salad buffet too. Thankfully, the starter sizes are minute and the mains come in pretty small portions too so I don’t feel too guilty if I also have a pudding sometimes, most of the time I can resist the pudding, unless it’s chocolate, in which case it’s a lost cause! We also get a steward who comes round and cleans and tidies every other day for us, who we tip on a weekly basis, he’s called Christain and has been really good to us so far. Uniform gets laundered free as well, coming back freshly ironed and all! I tell you, it’s a tough life on the QM2!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

First few days on the QM2

Installment one, I didn't mean to write quite so much, but there's been a lot to take in!

5th August
Getting up at 0545 is never fun, and while I’m sure I’m supposed to say I was excited, I wasn’t. Nervous maybe, but mostly just tired and feeling a little fraught. Thankfully the drive down was uneventful and after a (potentially last) smoke outside I presented myself at the crew pass office at 0845am. I got my knife and spike taken away at the x-ray machine; they saw the spike on the scanner and asked what the heck it was, when I explained it was a marlin spike for opening shackles they looked at me blankly and when they found I had a knife too, well, being a sailor counts for nothing! At this moment I met one of the 3rd officers, W, who was checking in too, he told me not to worry and I’d get it back as soon as the security officer had picked it up.
On the ship we were shown to a holding room where we handed in certificates, passports and discharge books and waited to be shown where to go next. The captain’s secretary showed me where my cabin was and then took me up to the bridge where I met the captain and staff captain and was given my name badge. I was then taken back down below by a cadet, A, who’s been on the ship for a while He took me and my cabin mate, S, who’s also a phase 2 cadet, to the laundry to get uniform. I’ll have to visit them again to get more, mainly whites and formal mess uniform, but have managed to get enough to get by at the moment, borrowing some bits from S meanwhile. We had some lunch in the officer’s mess and then A showed us around the boat deck (deck 7).
We then attended a safety briefing for new joiners, a video on how to put on a life jacket, what the emergency signals are etc, we were also shown the fire screen doors and water tight doors. Also issued with “Blue cards” which tell you what your responsibilities, muster stations and life boats/rafts are in an emergency. The Safety officer showed us our muster points and then we had a little free time to get safety shoes from the laundry and hastily hem our work trousers before meeting on the bridge at 1600 for a brief chat with the chief officer and then heading down to mooring stations to observe. I went aft, the mooring deck is quite far down, and it was rather odd to me to have a deck head over us. There’s 5 huge winches aft and the AB’s made it all look very slick, Time then for a quick throw about with the basketball down there before I was shown deck 13 by W, A and one of the 2nd officers. Deck 13 is the crew area on deck, looking down aft on the stern and all the passengers, lovely view as we went down the Solent. Dinner (in whites) after that, followed by a couple of beers in the Wardroom.

6th August
Met the Chief Officer on the bridge first thing, he threw some questions at us to find out, we’ve been given a few days to find these things out, and managed most of it that day.
After that we had a talk from both the Staff Chief and the C/O about the rules and standards on Cunard ships, as the QM2 is the flagship of the fleet it’s especially important not to say anything or behave in a way that would reflect badly on the company.
We then went down to the Safety Officers office to be briefed on our first task- each accommodation section of the ship has in it’s fire locker a number of “CLEAR” door handle hangers which are used in the event of an emergency. When a muster is called, rather than ticking everyone off on a list, designated crewmembers check each section and once they have made sure each room is empty they put a hanger on the door. Therefore each fire locker is supposed to have the correct number of door hangers for each section, and we were counting them and amending numbers as necessary. Boring, but a good way of starting to find our way around the ship.
After lunch we started a task can only be described as “Let’s chuck this at them and see how they react”- cleaning all the glow in the dark strips along the bottom of the walls in the crew areas. The almost everyone who came past and laughed their heads off, one person even asked if they’d really given us that job… No, we just decided it would be fun. Really.

7th August
Woken at 0430 by a call from the bridge for mooring stations (and oh that feels like such a long time ago) I went forward this time, and helped flake out the lines from the 4 winches. I then stood on the officers platform admiring the view as we came into Hamburg. The sun was still below the horizon, and the cranes and spires of Hamburg were silhouetted against a glow of beautiful dusky pink, all framed on one side by the elegant flare of the bow as it rose high above me. One of those beautiful moments when you are reminded of exactly why you went to sea.
After breakfast we reported to the boatswain, S got chipping and painting duty on the port side rails and I started off deck scrubbing on deck 6 aft and then moved on to scupper wiping… mmm fun! After smoko I went with one of the deck crew to hoover up some water that wasn’t draining through the scupper on one of the outside stairways aft. Sounds so simple, but so much time seems to be taken up by the act of getting the equipment to the place you’re working, as the boatswain’s store is right f’wd on deck 5, it was a bit of a trek to get the hoover there and back!
After lunch I was with the deck crew on deck 7 starboard side, sanding and painting the bulkheads white. They were white already, but now the f’wd section is even whiter! Painting the ship is a non-stop job, and while it looks immaculate, it wouldn’t stay like that for long if the chipping, sanding and painting stopped.
We stopped at 1615 to be ready for mooring stations, I went f’wd again, this time with my camera. Once we’d let go I stood on the officers platform again to watch the spectacle of us leaving. There were a lot of small boats full of passengers who accompanied us down the river which means a careful watch needs to be kept in case any of them decide to cross in front where the bridge can’t see. As well as that there were crowds of people lining the riverbank, waving, whistling and taking pictures. After we were stood down I went up to deck 13 to see the view from the other end, which was just as impressive. It takes several hours to navigate the river, so after dinner S and I joined A and W for a couple for a couple of drinks up there to admire the German countryside and relax. As the sun set the sky turned an amazing hue of delicate sea green, dark clouds were heading towards us and the sky became a sinister mass of witches potion fumes, with the orange funnel, lit from below in a yellow hue which also illuminated the smoke rising from it in front, I was once again reminded of why I’m here, sore feet and all.

8th August
Another day of painting bulkheads for me, S got to sand a deck chair and fit a balcony rail so I’m slightly jealous at the moment! Although I did luck out as we were painting on the Queens Grill aft deck and while it was grey and not very warm, by late afternoon there were a few guests out, giving us slightly dirty looks for making the place look untidy and smell of paint, so we scuttled off. I asked the boatswain what he wanted me to do next and he said “Go and have a little rest?” I nearly hugged the man! This evening we attended a cocktail party, I managed to get the appropriate uniform this afternoon at smoko so we tottered up and tried to look interesting. We eventually managed to get talking to a guest, which is what one is supposed to do, and the Staff Captain saw us looking smart, which gets us brownie points when it comes to reports later! I realise there will be a general baying and demanding of pictures of me in my various uniforms, and I will try to oblige at some point, but right now I need to go to the wardroom, (in my own clothes for the first time!) and have a nice cold pint!