Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Work hard, play hard.


I last posted from St Barts on the 16th, before I went on the 4-8 watch in the afternoon.  And blimey time has flown, in 8 days my first month will be done! I’m afraid the first few days of this entry are a bit repetitive – day work and watches don’t provide much in the way of excitement, but life at sea isn’t always exciting, despite the best efforts of a 4 strong team of gadgets!

So, once again I went forward on my own for weighing anchor, there was quite a strong wind and the first two shackles up lead under the bow. As I told the bridge how it was leading they moved the ship so that the cable was clear. 2/O Sails gave me the responsibility for keeping the rough and official log book, and plotting positions. I also got some more of the familiarisation priority tasks signed off in my workbook. There was not much traffic, just one vessel that we did not need to alter course for.

17th Dec – Iles des Saintes
Day work in the morning, consulting ships plans and such fun, I am really looking forward to getting these projects boxed off!
4-8 watch in the evening, I did the CPP tests by myself and kept the logbook and chart. We had two anchors out as it had been quite windy in the morning when we arrived, so 2/O Sails and I both went down to the mooring deck to radio information to the bridge. I was on the starboard anchor and he was on the port anchor, we heaved on the stbd anchor while paying out on the port and then once the stbd anchor was home we heaved in on the port anchor. Once we were clear of the islands we put the sails up. I learnt how to set them, using three controls to furl out the sail, sheet in and move the traveller aft all at the same time. The traveller moves the sheet line forward and aft so that it is at the optimum angle to the sail, this prevents undue stress being put on the sail. We turned off the PMs (propulsion motors) and DGs (diesel generators) and sailed for a while, once the sun had set and all the passengers had gone we then put the DGs and PMs back on and motor-sailed for the rest of the watch.

18th Dec – St Lucia
Day work in the morning, I chipped and primed the two vents on the aft mooring deck. After lunch us 4 cadets went to the beach bbq, Al had made a pinky promise that he’d get in the water this time and I held him to it. He did me proud and even dunked his head, next time I’ll get him to take his feet off the bottom :)
4-8 watch in the afternoon. The ship was sailing at 4 so all the checks had been done and the cable was being heaved in as I arrived on the bridge and we were full away on passage (FAOP) at 1600. We put the sails out and cruised south along the coastline, down to the Pitons. We were about a mile off so I was using the radar to get range and bearings to fix our position every 6 minutes. We went back to Stand By Below, slowed down and engaged hand steering to go in to the bay between the Pitons, spent about half an hour manoeuvring in the bay and then went back to FAOP once out of the bay. From there we motorsailed toward Barbados. The wind picked up as we left the lee of the land and the sails were brought in to 50%, 40 minutes before the watch ended the wind was gusting 35 kts apparent and we furled the sails fully.

19th Dec – Bridgetown
Day work in the morning. I put a second coat of primer on the vents on the aft mooring deck. After smoko we helped with the weekly test of remote watertight door closing. Each of us took a different section and radioed into the bridge to tell them that they were working correctly. S and I then went with the carpenter as he took soundings of the ballast tanks and void spaces.
4-8 watch. Harbour watch. I have had my safety number changed to 505, which is passenger muster assistant for muster station 2. When the announcement for crew to go to their passenger muster drill stations was made I went down with my lifejacket. G is the muster leader and demonstrated how to don a lifejacket and step off the side of the ship. I helped a couple of people with their lifejackets and ticked off late arrivals. In an emergency my duty is to keep passengers and crew informed and calm. It’s not a very demanding role, although in a real emergency I can imagine it would be, but it’s also really useful to see how things work from the other end.

20th Dec – St Lucia
Day work in the morning, put a third coat of primer on the vent fittings and a first layer of top coat on the vents themselves, which had been put up on the aft mooring deck by the bosun the night before. I then went and got on with the PPE locker project, putting the updated lists in the lockers, shortly after I started that S found me after her breakfast and we got called to the bridge. The C/O wanted us to go and sound all the tanks again, so that they could do a lightship calculation for the vessel. We sounded the tanks and I then showed her how to work out the volumes in the tanks, using the ship’s hydrostatic tables.
After 12 I went ashore to the bbq, the food was lovely but the weather wasn’t very good so instead of sunbathing I took one of the kayaks out for a spin, I think I might try and do that quite often as I could feel the burn in my arm muscles after a while. As it wasn’t a Saturday the boys weren’t with us, so I pootled back to the ship early.
4-8 watch. Did all the pre-departure checks, including extra steering gear tests via the talkback system with the surveyor, went forward for weighing anchor on my own again, kept the log book and charts and discussed the bridge equipment with 2/O Sails.

21st Dec – Iles Des Saintes
Day work in the morning, the Bosun had finished painting the vents for me the afternoon before so we put them back together and fitted them. The C/O has asked us to sort out some lines to make a pathway on the fwd mooring deck as the passengers are going to be allowed to go up to the bowsprit on sea days, under the supervision of the Sports dept. We are using halyard lines, which are multiplat so we seized an eye into the end of each one and then took the reels up to the mooring deck to measure them out. I started splicing a small 3 strand rope to make points to attach the guide ropes to and we then went for lunch. I believe the bosun finished the job after lunch, probably taking a lot less time over it than I could have!
I went ashore for a few hours, had lunch in the caf√© I ate in nearly three years ago and sat there happily reminiscing. I also had a chance to practice my GCSE French, as the waiter didn’t speak English, and I wanted to know why all the shops were shut. Continental siesta time of course, and they didn’t open until 1500 and as I was on watch at 1600 I failed to buy anything for my secret santa present. I say secret, but we all know who’s getting who’s present, when we picked names, someone always got their own name until we got bored and just swapped them over!
4-8 watch. Did CPP and steering checks, went forward for weighing anchor with 2/O Sails, as both cables were out. As we went FAOP I set the sails and throughout the watch I kept the log and chart.

22nd Dec – St Barts
Day work in the morning, started distributing PPE to PPE Lockers. Fire drill at 1015. When the two tone alarm sounded, as I am Pax Muster Assist I went to Reception and collected the muster list for boat 2, I also passed G, who is the muster leader, he told me he was on tour and was exempt from the drill. So, I went to the muster point and checked off everyone by their safety number. Two other crewmembers had already collected the GMDSS emergency radio and reported in that our station was all present save two who were exempt. (G, who was on tour, and a sailor who was on tender duty).
At the General Emergency alarm the embarkation assistants go to their stairwell points to guide passengers to the muster points and search cabins, so when the boats signal is given (a continuous tone), the crew are re-checked in on the muster list. I reported in that they were all present, save the two exemptions. The boats were lowered and meanwhile I quizzed the crewmembers mustered on what actions to take on discovery of a fire, what extinguishers are to be used on what types of fire, where the fire was for this drill (incinerator room) and how many people can go in each boat.
Watch 4-8 pm. We were due to leave at 1900, so for the first couple of hours I worked on getting my nav workbook up to date. We gave the engine room 1 hrs notice at 1800 and I was then busy with pre-departure checks, completing the whole list on my own. Went forward for weighing anchor with 2/O Sails as it was dark by then, (two torches are better than one!). Once we were FAOP, I set the sails and then caught up with the log book.

23rd Dec – St Maartin
Day work until smoko and then I went and got cleaned up to go on tour, the C/O told me the day before that I was going on the Americas Cup excursion. I was bouncing with excitement when he told me, S will have the same chance in a couple of weeks time, but when she was told she pulled a face and said she didn’t want to do it. (She’s not a sailor like I am, so fair play to her, but I think she’d enjoy it if she tried it). I met up with the Guest Services Manager just before 1100 and she gave me the list of people going on the tour and we checked off people as they arrived, handing out packed lunches at the same time. Getting into the tender was quite interesting as there was a big swell (we had been due to go to Marigot Bay, which is on the north west of the island but due to the swell the Captain had decided to go to Phillipsburgh instead). On the Quay we were met by a guy from the Americas Cup crew who told us some of the history of the race. He split the group into two teams and we then got onto one of their tenders (basically a barge with patio chairs nailed down on it), which took us out to the boats. The other team (Canada 2) got off first and then we went over to True North. While we headed for the boat everyone was asked whether they’d like to do a low activity, medium activity or high activity job, and was assigned a role accordingly (bar tender = low activity, primary grinder = high activity). The tender ties up alongside the boat and then they call out for people by job so that the boat is filled up from the back. Once on board the crew put our bags below so that our stuff wouldn’t get wet, went through some basic safety things and taught us how to do our jobs. I was a reserve primary grinder, which meant that, along with 3 others, I was driving the winch that controlled the jib sheet, but on each leg we swapped around so everyone got a rest. After a little bit of practice we headed for the start line, and then had to mill around a bit because Canada 2 was taking it’s time. There were three boats racing that afternoon, Stars and Stripes being the third, which I think was being crewed by folks from the QM2, who was also in port that day. The crews encourage rivalry between the boats, so shouting and international sign language was the order of the day when they finally rolled up, and then the 6 minute start was called. You can’t cross the start line before the 6 minutes is up, or if you do there’s a penalty, so it takes skill and timing to be there just at the right time to cross as soon as the race begins. The first leg is tacking up against the wind, and then on the downwind leg the bartender is called into action, as the leg is also known as the first beer leg. On the upwind legs it’s also important for everyone to keep an eye out for the marker that you’re heading for, and where the other boats are. Sailing rules dictate that a boat on the starboard tack (wind on the starboard side) has right of way over a boat on the port tack, and there were some dirty tricks being played by the other teams, but despite that, at the end of the third leg and for the whole of the second beer leg, we were in first place. However, things can change in a heartbeat in a sailing race and I’m sorry to say we were pipped to the post by the other two. It was great fun nevertheless, with the boats passing ahead of each other a hair’s breadth apart as they tacked and beat up-wind. We were taken to the yacht club after for a celebratory rum punch and the obligatory opportunity to buy t-shirts and photos. I had a nice surprise there, as crew members get a free t-shirt as a promo, so I have another crew shirt to add to my growing collection!
I had asked to C/O if he wanted me back for watch that afternoon, to which the answer was a swift No, so I took the chance to go shopping for my secret santa. I hadn’t a clue what to get Al, until I had the genius idea of going to the music shop! I got him a harmonica and some guitar strings and then a little rattly drum thing from a stall. I’m sure T won’t thank me if he decides to play them at 3 in the morning, but it’d be an impressive feat of multitasking if he managed to play all three at the same time! I found a bunch of crew at a bar on Front St, including my fellow cadets and joined them for a drink. I ordered a rum punch, and the bartender assured me that his was the best in the Caribbean… most potent certainly. I watched in horror as he poured in about half a glass of white rum, followed by some gold rum, followed by a smidge of fruit juice and then grenadine and then, topped it off with some dark rum! I didn’t finish it, I gave about half to someone else, it would have killed me, especially considering the swell was still up, making getting in and out of the tenders a fairly hairy experience! Despite not drinking all of it I felt fuzzy headed enough to crash out for a few hours when we got back to the ship at 1900. I got back up at 2300 to go down to the crew bar for the final of “Wind Surf’s got Talent”, taking with me a bottle of water, for which several people gave me funny looks, but I had just woken up and didn’t feel like drinking any more. Al performed first and did really well, despite some technical difficulties with sound, but the competition was stiff, everyone had taken the judges previous comments on board and had come out fighting. In the end the judges decided that they needed more time to confer about who should win so they announced that the winner would be announced at the Christmas party the next day.

24th Dec – St Kitts
Day work in the morning, we are reaching the end of the PPE saga, just a few more spares to put out and then make a list of stuff that needs ordering again. Then we can hand it back to Security and hope they keep it going.
4-8 watch in the afternoon. 2/O Sails has gone now but his relief hasn’t been able to get out here because of the weather back in the UK so the C/O is doing the 4-8 for a few days. As we departed from St Kitts the Captain decided that he wanted us to do some scenic cruising along St Kitts and Nevis. This wasn’t what the passage plan said, so I had to quickly draw up the chart with new courses and PIs (Parallel Indexes), meanwhile the C/O told me that I was driving and I should  take the handover from the Captain. Talk about a chucked in at the deep end poo your pants moment! He didn’t leave me to it alone though, and there wasn’t much traffic about, so once I’d got myself sorted out I did alright. We skirted around the 12 mile limit so that we could discharge food waste and I felt semi confident by the end of the watch. It’s the best way to learn really, and I knew at the end of the day if I had made a blunder he would have been right there asking me if I reeeeally wanted to do that!
After watch I chilled out for a while and then we got our glad rags on to go up for the crew show, and when I say glad rags, for once I don’t mean our formal uniform, I got to wear a frock! The crew show is usually a bit of a variety show but for Christmas a choir had been put together. We had made it to a total of two rehearsals, so had the general idea of what we were doing. I sang with a big smile on my face, having had a couple of glasses of wine for dutch courage beforehand in the cabin, and the passengers all loved it. I’m sure I even saw one cry. We left to a standing ovation and I went back to my cabin to grab my smokes and then it suddenly hit me that it was Christmas and how much I miss my family. Most of the time I’m so blas√© about being away from home and my family because I’ve done it for so long now, but I’ve always made it home for Christmas. I pulled myself together and went down to the crew bar, but had a little moment later as well (for which I have subsequently received a bollocking for, crying in front of the crew cos I miss my family makes the deck department look bad). For the most part though I had a ball, dancing in my 50’s frock always makes me feel good, and the bar was free, which also helps! I was one of the last to leave, at about 4 am there were 4 or 5 of us having a sing song with Al and his guitar.

25th Dec – Sea Day
Oh the joy of a lie in! I didn’t feel brilliant after the night before, but at least I’d made it back to my own cabin, and remembered getting there, unlike someone else.  We surfaced at about 11 and lazed, S disappeared for ages so we waited for her to get back to exchange our ‘secret’ santa presents. I got a teddy bear that plays jingle bells when you press it’s paw, which only got annoying by the 4th time of playing. His mouth is supposed to move, but he only manages one movement each time, If he stays silent though he’s rather cute, and brings a little festive cheer to our otherwise undecorated cabin. Al liked his presents, though whether he’ll actually learn how to play the harmonica remains to be seen, for the time being he’s a one man noise making machine!! We snoozed some more in the afternoon, and then got ready for dinner, I’d presumed that it was in the mess, but in fact we ate in the Veranda, which is where the passengers eat their breakfast. The Captain had said that crew could wear either uniform, or smart casual, so we took the chance to dress up nice again. Dinner was nice, a really good side of beef and some (slightly dry) turkey, along with mash, roasties and cranberry sauce. I couldn’t bring myself to try the sprouts, but had some very nice courgette salad instead. After that we all crashed out, a combination of the last vestiges of hangovers and being rather full from dinner.

26th Dec – Barbados
We had been given Boxing day off, but were then told that we were needed for the arrival in Barbados at 4am, so there was no lie in for us! We were needed because the ship was berthing alongside the sugar loading towers, which stick out a bit too far and there is a danger of damaging the lifeboats if we didn’t moor in the right place. I was sent aft with a radio to give distances and clearances for the boats and make sure we were far enough forward of the towers. We hung around while everything was made fast then had some breakfast in the Compass Rose before heading back to bed. 3/O then called us at 1000, telling us we were wanted at the Bridge Resource Meeting at 1100.  It was turning out to be not much of a day off at all, especially as I had to be there for the passenger drill at 1730.
The 4 of us decided to get off and go to the Boatyard for a couple of drinks and some pizza, but when we got there at about half 7, the kitchen had already closed, so we had one drink and then went to Chefette, which is a fast food joint near the port. My pizza was delicious, not because it was actually that good, though by no means was it bad, but it was much needed comfort food; having had our day off messed up by the arrival and the bridge meeting and the bollocking I got for crying on Xmas eve, I needed it!

27th Dec - Sea Day
I got an early surprise at 0420, when S woke me up, telling me that I was wanted on the bridge as well as her. She had tried calling me but I hadn’t heard the phone over the engine noise, so she had come down to the cabin. During the night there had been a medical emergency and the ship was heading back toward Bridgetown to get the patient and their family off the ship and to a hospital. I wasn’t actually needed per se, but the Captain and C/O thought it would be good for me to be there as they don’t do a medical evac very often and it’s good experience. The ship anchored off the port, as there were a lot of cruise ships getting in that morning, and berthing takes quite a while anyway. The patient, who had been in the medical centre, was brought up to the bridge deck on a stretcher and carefully put in tender 5, the doctor, nurse, C/O and a family member went too, and the boat was lowered to the water. The boat took them to the quay where an ambulance was waiting and the boat returned to collect luggage and the other family members. They tried lifting the boat on the falls but it was swinging too much because of the swell so the decision was made to put it down again and rig the tender platform and gangway. The rest of the family and their luggage was disembarked from the platform and once the tender had been recovered the anchor was weighed and we set off from Bridgetown again. The decision to turn back had been made in the early hours of the morning, so 2/0 Navs had had time on his watch to work out a new passage plan. Instead of going to Mayreau, it had been decided that we would spend the day at sea and the go to Mayreau on the day that had originally been scheduled to be a sea day, otherwise the schedule is unaltered. The Captain made an announcement to the ship at about 0900, when most people would be awake by then.
Day work for the rest of the morning, boxing off the PPE locker project. It felt so good to be able to hand it to 3/O and tell him we were done! Slept most of the afternoon.

28th Dec – Grenada
C/O told us to go see the tours manager first thing this morning, which was really nice of him, so I’m off on a sightseeing tour of Bequia tomorrow, and S is doing the Rainforest Canopy tour on St Lucia on Sat. My job this morning was making an inventory of the Pest Control locker, while S sorted out the new Pest Control manual. All thrilling stuff!
4-8 watch in the afternoon. We were due to leave at 1800, so I took my laptop and workbook up in case there was nothing else to do in the first hour of watch and I could do some catching up on my log. I got as much of the departure checklist done as I could do before 1 hrs notice to the ECR and then did a little work on my laptop. After 1hrs notice I did the rest of the checks and tests and then on departure I stood on the port bridge wing giving the Captain and C/O, who were on the Stbd bridge wing, information on any vessels behind us. After FAOP I went down for some dinner, when I came back up the sails had been set and 2/O Sails (Who had finally arrived in Barbados) handed the con over to me. It wasn’t nearly as scary as the last time I’d been given the con, as there was no traffic and nothing happened.
I get a wee lie in tomorrow, I asked the C/O if he wanted me to work for half an hour before I went off on tour at 0900 and he said no, so I’m a happy little bunny tonight! Might just visit the bar... ;)

Thursday, 16 December 2010

One minute you're eating lobster on a beach, next you're scrubbing decks..

I wrote last as we sailed from Mayreau (and yes Mum, I sent your love to Mayreau!) The next day was a sea day, 2/O sails took us round the ship showing us the various workshops, lockers and stores that the ship has. It’s not a very big ship compared to my last one so it didn’t take too long. In the afternoon we cracked on with identifying mystery vents with the aid of the engineers down in the ECR and were going to get the stencils and box the job off that afternoon. As I walked along the bridge deck I passed a couple of deck guys painting the scuppers, a little further along we passed a vent and I thought, “Ah yes, that’s cofferdam 3… No, hang on, that’s further back… didn’t I already do this one!?” The deck mafia had painted over our lovely stencils! I nearly cried, but at least they’d only done two before we noticed, and they’ve promised not to do it again. We couldn’t paint on wet paint so left it for the next day, and the C/O had another fun little job for us – sorting out certificate files. The job is proving to be more of a pain than it sounds, we’re having to hunt things down and it seems to get more complicated every time we look at it! It does mean that we’re getting to poke around on the ships maintenance computer system, which is huge and complicated, but not as scary as I thought it would be.

From now on I’m going to break this down into days, it’s easier for me as I use my daily log as a basis for this, which will be going into my workbook, so isn’t very exciting as it is, but I’ll add in the fun stuff for you!

10th Dec- Dominica
We were anchored off Portsmouth already when I got up to the bridge, but the Captain decided to move the ship closer to the tender berth. I went fwd to the anchor station with the 3/O. There was a strong wind and when re-anchoring after moving the anchor dragged. We put an extra cable out and it held. Our new anchorage was right next to the berth I was on on Pelican 3 years ago. Seeing it brought back so many memories and I can’t wait to go ashore there again. We do the same two cruises again and again so there’ll be chances for me to see all of the islands at some point over the next 4 months, but for the time being, all I could do was look longingly over at the island as I worked. We had a fire drill and boat muster in the morning and the afternoon was taken up by the jobs the C/O has given us. The Captain invited all 4 of us cadets to dinner in the restaurant that evening which was really cool, we were joined by the Hotel Trainee and the Windstar Publicity Director, who was on the ship for the week. I had caviar for starter and then mahi-mahi, followed by a chocolate terrine. Needless to say it was all extremely good! Straight after that we went to watch the crew show, which is put on by crew members for the guests; dancing, magic tricks; bands and at the end, line dancing, which S and I had been rehearing for earlier. I stayed at the back, cos I’m still not very good at it, but it was good fun. We stuck around for a drink upstairs and then went down to the crew bar for the first round of “Windsurf’s got Talent”. Al had entered, playing his guitar, he’s really good, so I wasn’t surprised when he was one of the 4 (out of 6) that got through to the final. I couldn’t really hear what the judges were saying to the contestants, but 2/O Sails, who was playing it like Simon Cowell certainly got some boos! After the contest various crew bands played and we danced like crazy fools for the rest of the night. (I had a stiff neck the next day from when I was moshing!!)

Dec 11th – St Lucia.
We carried on with the projects from the C/O in the morning, S went ashore to try and find some safety boots (still no luck) so I carried on with the wires project and we checked some more PPE lockers when she got back  (another of the fun little jobs we’re doing for the C/O). At lunch time the C/O told us to take the afternoon off, so we went to the beach bbq on Pigeon Island. Oh it’s a tough life I tell you, crew are allowed to use the loungers as long as they keep away from passengers and don’t prevent them from using them, and after 1330, when all the passengers have eaten, the crew get to eat too. There’s a huge selection of salads and meats, at the end of the meat options there was one dish with it’s lid down, further investigation showed it contained lobster tails, and next to it was a steak station, with lovely juicy steaks being carved off a hunk of meat. So steak and lobster for lunch it was, and very delicious it was too. All 4 of us cadets swam and enjoyed the sun and generally pondered on our extreme good fortune to be on this ship!

Dec 12th – Barbados
We watched 2/O Sails go up the mast first thing, he inspects one mast a month and is hoisted aloft on the capstan next to the mast, which is specifically for that purpose. He has two lines, one hoist and a safety line which is kept just a little bit slack. We didn’t watch him do the whole inspection though as we were needed by J2/O (LSA) and 3/O to help with the manual remote watertight door testing. Initially I went to the doors that were closing to visually check that they were closing properly and S stayed up in the safety room to help with the pumping. She found it very hard though and was sent to join me and we checked each section as it was closed together. Once each section had been closed we had to go down to the engine room and manually open the doors down there. It was hot work running about the ship and pumping doors and I was dripping like a tap! In the afternoon we carried on with the C/O’s projects, and then, as the ship wasn’t sailing until 2200 we went to the Boatyard. When 2/O Navs asked if we wanted to go, I wondered why the hell I’d want to go to a boatyard, until he explained that it was a beach bar in Bridgetown. After checking with the C/O if it was ok to chip off a bit early we raced down to our cabin and got ready in minutes. It was a short taxi ride to get there, and worth every cent. The beach is perfect, fine white sand and crystal clear water, the bar serves a mean rum punch and happy hour runs from 11-12 and 3-10!! A few hours later we returned, some more worse for wear than others, I just felt extremely chilled out and sleepy and decided to curl up in my bunk instead of going to the crew bar with everyone else.

Dec 13th – Sea day
First thing we were tasked with scrubbing oily footprints off the deck which had appeared outside the safety room, the shoe prints weren’t actually ours (different sole), but that’s a cadets life, you get blamed for most things that go wrong and you gotta roll with the punches. We scrubbed all the places where there were mucky footprints, which was outside most of the technical spaces so it took us all morning. It’s not all beaches and cocktails you know!! The afternoon was a fairly dull affair, the projects that the C/O has given us keep getting more and more complex and I can see exactly why he’s delegated them to us- they’re a complete pain!

Dec 14th – St Martin
We were both up at 4 for the 4-8 watch, we were coming alongside, so S went fwd with 2/O Sails for mooring stations and I stayed up on the bridge keeping the rough log and plotting positions. We did day work til 12 working on the PPE locker project, visiting security to find out what spares they have and then updating the list on the computer. So by 12, we’d done our days work and had the rest of the day free. I had a little snooze as I’ve found it hard to sleep for a couple of nights due to the noise of the engine. It’s alright when they’re only using the port propulsion motor or sailing, but when the stbd propulsion motor is going it’s so noisy in our cabin and I can’t sleep properly. My snooze plan didn’t really work very well and I only dozed, but it was better that nothing. S had run ashore as soon as possible, the lure of shopping had her all excited! I bimbled ashore at about 3, and got a water taxi across the bay, I went to the supermarket first and got some dhobi dust (that’s washing power to you landlubbers) and hunted for filter tips, to no avail. As I was walking along Front St I spotted Al and one of the 2/E’s sitting in a bar, and figured it would be rude not to join them. The 2/E had to go back for watch but I hung out with Al for the rest of the day, we went on another shopping mission and then went back to the bar for some food. I had Caribbean conch and dumplings, delicious, but extremely filling! (Al, being Scottish, had a pizza). More crew turned up a bit later as the ship was sailing at midnight, so we had a great night out, with much silliness and then when we returned to the ship we went to the crew bar and played pool and danced some more.

Dec 15th – St Kitts
S did the 4-8 watch and we both did day work until 12. The vent signs we painted are going to need a more permanent solution than painting signs in the scuppers as they get painted every month. We were going to cut paper stencils out and paint the labels on the gooseneck, but then one of the AB’s suggested to us that we use the sign router instead.  He showed us how to use it and we cracked on, although didn’t get very far as we got called to go and see housekeeping about formal uniform; they’re going to order some female jackets for us, which will be nice! I did the 4-8 watch this evening. I went forward on my own for weighing the anchor, the carpenter does the heaving and I gave the bridge information on the lead and weight on the cable. When I came back up the Captain complimented me on my radio procedure and clarity of information, a very nice little confidence boost! Once we were out and moving along the coast of St Kitts there was a bit of traffic and I started to get to grips with the radar equipment. I tried getting the sextant out to practice taking sights with it, but it was too dark and I gave up quite quickly, will try again next watch.

16th Dec- St Barts
Well I doubt I’ll have much luck with a sextant tonight as it’s been cloudy and raining on and off all day. We had another fire drill this morning, and S and I have just been cracking on with our little jobs, hopefully we’ll manage to finally box some of them off soon! I’m on the 4-8 watch again this eve so am just going to post this up and then get some kip for a couple of hours.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

From Snow to Surf

It feels weird to think that 5 days ago I was in the snow and wearing as many layers as possible. Now I’m wearing as few as possible! I know everyone in England reading this will think I’m being a cow and rubbing it in, but it’s quite a major theme I’m afraid! I have heat rash, as per usual, which is a pain, but I’m being good and trying not to scratch it. My face is bright red, not from sunburn, but because I’m a true brit and am also sweating like a pig, it’s running off me in rivers during the day at the moment, but I’m hoping that I will soon acclimatise and start to look a bit more human!

So, what’s been happening? A hell of a lot actually! The last few days have been surprisingly action packed, but I’ll start at the beginning….

I met S in the airport, who I sailed with on my first trip on the Patricia, and we got through all the usual airport gubbins without any fuss, although we were fairly late in checking in so didn’t get seats next to each other. Then in the baggage drop off que I saw a face I sort of recognised and he asked if we were joining the Wind Surf, it turned out he was a guy from college who had qualified in August and was joining the ship for his first contract as 3/O. On the plane I found my seat and once sitting down, the guy on my left asked if I was joining the Wind Surf. Out of all the people I could have ended up next to I was next to an ETO cadet who was also joining the ship! The flight was long and uneventful, although we were about an hour late for take off, not because of the weather I think, but because of luggage loading issues. It was very warm as I stepped off the plane, but it was cloudy so I didn’t get that smack in the face feeling of a really hot day! We were all being put up in the same hotel in Barbados for a night, so once we had dumped our bags in our rooms and freshened up we all went out for some food and a drink. It wasn’t a late one by any means though, we were all shattered, the taxis were coming to get us at 0800 the next morning and although the clocks said 2130, our bodies said 0130!

Arriving at the ship, I lugged my cases along the quay wondering why they felt so much heavier when I actually had to carry them somewhere. I thought I’d packed fairly light, albeit in two bags! On the ship we signed on the articles, handed in certificates, saw the doctor (who stuck two needles in me, one for flu, and one to see if I have TB) and then went up to the bridge to meet the Captain and officers. Nothing very exciting happened that day, it was all the usual inductions and getting uniform and wandering about the place trying to work out where we were. There is another cadet on board, A, he’s an engineering cadet so we won’t see him that much during the day. He showed me where the crew bar was that evening, and it was quite late when I hit my bunk. Speaking of my cabin, I’d better tell you a little about it, as I will probably be mentioning certain aspects of it quite often. Sizewise, it’s fine, with two wardrobes and plenty of storage space although the bathroom is a little small,(While the shower is a good size, I run serious risk of bashing my nose on the door every time I go to the loo!) I have a fore and aft bunk which has 4 tiny little steps up to it and I have a porthole too, which is wonderful. There’s only one problem really: we are right down in the bottom of the ship, right next to the steering gear and next to the propellers too. It’s not a quiet cabin!!

The ship sailed to Bequia overnight and I was up on the bridge in time for anchoring, we then tagged along to a safety meeting with the C/O and then went in search of formal uniform for the Introductions cocktail party. To be fair, the C/O actually described it to us as ritual humiliation. He and all the other senior staff and officers have to line up and get introduced by the Captain. But it’s only once a week, and there’s free drinks, so it can’t be all that bad. Life got even better after that too, as the C/O told us to go and have a swim in the afternoon. The ship has a platform aft that lowers down whenever the ship is at anchor, from there you can swim, sunbathe on the rafts, go waterskiing, kayaking or windsurfing. I couldn’t believe my luck, second day at work and I get this!
The only negative so far is that the storekeeper doesn’t have any ladies formal uniform so S and I have the mens uniform instead. I feel a bit of an idiot in it, but having it does mean we can go upstairs in the evenings. Having sailed on the QM I figured that the drinks would be limited to the cheaper stuff for us, and that we would have to be accompanied by a senior officer if drinking in the public bars at any other time. This is not so… At the cocktail party I’m allowed any drink I like for free, and as long as I’m in uniform I can go to the public bars at any time, where, as a cadet, I get $15 a week for free (higher ranks get more), and then all other drinks are 50% off!!  This ship is extremely good to it’s crew, and I am already of the opinion that I had better work damn hard and make a good impression, because I want a job here when I’m qualified!

The ship was already alongside the quay at Greneda when we got to the bridge at 0800, and the last lines were being made fast. The berth isn’t sheltered by a harbour and although there was only a small swell the wind was pushing the ship off the berth and she was surging quite a lot. As they have to use the anchor windlass for all mooring lines it is difficult to make them all even so some lines were taking more strain than others. While the sailors were still on the deck one of the lines parted, and actually hit the 2/O, grazing his elbow and scraping his arm as well as hitting him in the chest. He was incredibly lucky though, and aside from the graze he was unharmed. The C/O sent him to the doctor anyway and meanwhile photos were taken of the rope and the area for the report.
After another set of inductions we got our boiler suits on and started on a task the C/O has set us, as we walked down the bridge deck 2/O Navs called us back and gave us a master key, asking us to go down to the pool machinery room right aft on deck three as a flood alarm had gone off in there. Alarms often fault, and while you always go and check it out, you never actually expect to find something, however…. We got down there at the same time as A (Engine cadet) and opened the door to find that there was indeed a flood, with water spraying out of some part of the equipment. We called the Bridge immediately and told them that the flood was very real. A tried to find the valve to shut off the water but is unfamiliar with that machinery and couldn’t find the right bit. We went down to deck two and found that water was coming through the deckhead, as we were next to the marina (which was closed) we grabbed the dirty towel bins and used them to catch the majority of the water coming through, as well as getting towels and laying them over the wet carpet to minimise the damage as much as possible. The 2/E arrived soon after and was able to shut off the water. There wasn’t anything else we could do so we went back to the bridge to give them an update on the situation and then went back to the original task we had started on.
The ship has a loadline survey coming up so we’ve been asked to check that all vents are correctly labelled. This isn’t quite as easy as it sounds as the plans we are working from are from when the ship was built in France, and none of us can speak French to a level where technical terms can be translated. Online translators it turns out, are almost as useless!
While S was using the computer to try and translate, I heard a bang from outside. I went out and looked down from the bridge wing, and saw a line had parted. I told the bridge immediately and then went down with 2/O LSA and the new 3/O to the mooring deck. The line that had parted had been stopped off on the windlass so we removed the broken rope first and then looked for a spare line, the only one left was the extra large one (known as the Anaconda) so, with the sailors who had by then arrived, we pulled it out and led it to the windlass, it weighs a ton and took all of us. The 2/O threw a heaving line to shore, and we fed the huge rope down to the sailors on the quay. Once it was over the bollard he tried to start the windlass to heave it in, but nothing happened. Because the line was on the windlass when it snapped, it must have tripped something. He called an electrician, who was unable to fix the problem immediately, so we heaved in the slack by hand, not an easy task! We weren’t able to get it very tight at all, so once it was made off, the line on the other side of the windlass (which still worked) was stoppered off and put on the bits and we then put the large line on the windlass to heave it in. I hope we don’t get many days with problems like that, but on the other hand, it’s good to be around when the bad stuff happens as one day I may well have to deal with stuff like that on my own.

Today was much quieter, we spent the morning stencilling labels, and were going to go see an engineer this afternoon to see if he could help us identify the ones we couldn’t translate. But the C/O decided instead that we would be much more useful on the sports platform. I kid you not, our job this afternoon was to go and drive a boat around. It’s had a new engine put in and apparently needs to be driven for 50 hours before it can be used. I went down a little early so I could have a swim first, (well, who wouldn’t?) We got some practice berthing it and generally pootled about in it until the platform started getting busier and the sports guys were needed.

I can’t believe my luck really, this ship is brilliant. I may feel a bit less enthusiastic after 4 months, but I think this is going to be the best trip so far out of my cadetship. It’s bigger than the Pat and smaller than the QM2, so there’s lots of people to hang out with, but not so many that you stand no chance of getting to know everyone. She has sails, and they use them! Last night was wonderful as the engines were turned off and we sailed to Mayrau, meaning I got a lovely quiet night’s sleep :)

Friday, 3 December 2010

I sit here with a glass of rum....

I'm sorry, this is another update that is mostly out of date, but it's the last one, I promise, and there is some new news too....

We were due to be going back to college in January of this year, but as our group is so small, the college decided to amalgamate us with the FD group that had started in May '09 and bring us back in February. I found out about this in mid December and, as much as I love my parents dearly, the thought of sitting around on my backside at home for that long didn't appeal. I was struggling with the Work Based Learning (the project work we have to do for college while we're at sea) so I asked if I could be put back onto the Patricia for a few weeks. My company were very obliging and I joined the ship on the 30th December. I did 6 weeks this time and I am unbelievably grateful for that time, as I was able to get all my loose ends tied up and produce a body of work that made my tutors faces fall as I plonked the huge folder on their desks! This was mainly due to the fact that, on several occasions, when I went to see the Chief Officer in the morning to find out what I'd be doing that day, they asked if I had any project work to be doing, and told me go and crack on with that. This then is the abridged version of the log I kept over those weeks, with as much of the fun stuff as I can remember thrown in. Days that are missing I was either doing work in my cabin. Or greasing. There was a lot of greasing.....

30th Dec 2009
Falmouth
I joined the ship in the afternoon, having once again stayed with my friend who lives down there, and once again feeling slightly jaded from the night before. This time I was not sent below to the cabin I had been in before, but was sent up to the lower bridge deck, where the Captain and Chief Engineer also reside! This was not because I had been promoted though, it was far more practical; the berths below were needed for the maintenance crews who we would soon be taking out to various lighthouses and I was simply being put somewhere out of the way, for the moment anyway. I wasn't complaining though, I had lots of space, a lovely big desk, two windows, (one on each side, which gives the cabin it's nickname "The fishbowl") and oh joy of joys, a bath! I never actually had a bath, but knowing that one has that option is always comforting.

31st Dec
Falmouth
The ship didn't sail that day, so I had the day to re-familiarise myself with the ships layout, and then in the evening I went out to celebrate New Years with some of the crew. As I'd sailed with them before I didn't feel like the 'new girl' and we saw the new year in with the help of quite a lot of drink!

1st Jan 2010
Falmouth - Bridport
We had a lifeboat muster in the morning and then sailed for Eddystone Lighthouse to drop off some maintenance workers before heading to Bridport to anchor overnight.

4th Jan
Penzance.
Am. I  learnt how to drive the stores crane, moving gear around the heli-deck in preparation for heli-ops tomorrow. I knew where to move the crane by following hand signals given by one of the ABs who was watching the heli-deck below. It's fairly easy, once you have worked out which direction to move the levers on the control unit - it wasn't as obvious as it sounds!
The work boat was lowered to go ashore but when it came to hoisting it to take off the tricing pendants it was found that there was no power to the winch. The engineers found that several things were without power due to the main breaker malfunctioning, and set to to repair it. Meanwhile we lowered the searider on the stores crane to get people ashore.
Pm. Finished the stores crane checks with Boatswains mate then went to the Heli-deck to help with the last bits of preparation. The engineers had managed to fix the problem with the power, but when we’d lowered the port boat it wouldn’t engage it’s gears, so we lifted it back up and put the starboard one down instead. I was on the davit brake, which controls the lowering of the boat. I found it quite difficult to lower it slowly as you have to lift the brake enough to get going, but once it’s going it goes quite fast, so you have to slow it down by lowering the brake again, this meant the guys in the boat had a bit of a jerky ride unfortunately. Second go I started to get the hang of it, but I still need a lot more practice.

6th Jan
St Peter Port.
Anchor aweigh at 1120, standing by.
The ship was due to meet the helicopter in order to receive back the remaining water bags sent to the lighthouses, but due to the weather we were unable to do so. (Helicopters cannot fly in snow as it restricts the visibility). The crew were on standby for heli-ops and were called up and stood down several times before it was finally decided to call it a day.

9th Jan
Looe – Whitsand Bay - Penzance
Am. The searider was lowered to go ashore for newspapers and I went too, climbing down the buoy jumping ladder to get in, which felt pretty hairy as I had to make a bit of a drop to actually get in the boat. It was nice to get a little leg stretch ashore, and Looe harbour is quite pretty. The icicles on the cliffs we passed on the way in would make me think twice about getting out on the water in a row boat, but the local gig team were out. (All gig rowers I have ever met are mad...) I drove the searider back to the ship, and took it alongside to let one man out before we raised it.  I then attempted to get the boat into position for lifting on the stores crane but struggled with the choppy water and stiff wheel, more practice required!

17th Jan
English and Welsh Grounds
Am. I spent the morning in the engine room as they had opened up the port fuel service tank for survey, it had been ventilating for three days and was ready to be inspected. It was smaller than I had thought it would be, and the hatch access was so tiny they had to do a sort of limbo to get out!

20th Jan
In port, Swansea
Crew change day.
Am. Bomb search drill:  it's not nearly so exciting as it sounds, the C/O hides a couple of blocks of wood with the word BOMB on them and everyone hunts round a given area, I found one in an electrical locker. I think if it was a real one we would have maybe done a little more than pick it up and take it to the bridge, but I don't think bomb deactivation is on the OOW syllabus so I'm not going to worry about it! We also did a paint store fire drill, which I 'discovered'. It was very straightforward: use the talkback system to talk to the bridge and then pretend to put it out with the conveniently placed CO2 extinguisher! It sounds silly really, but if you catch a small fire it's better to just get on and put it out, rather than waiting for a full fire team to kit up, in which time a small fire might well have got a lot bigger.
Pm. I helped load the new food stores, filling the cage on the quay, and then went and helped on the fore deck stowing the new chains. The chains come in big bundles which have to be untangled (they're not meant to be tangled but, sh*t happens!). This is done using the crane to lift them up, and then flake them out. The crane driver can't do it all though and crew are required to heft sections about using long hooks.

23rd Jan
Barry – Swansea Bay
Am. The workboat was put down to inspect a buoy that had been reported as a casualty, which brings wonderful images to my mind of a buoy needing bandages and a drip, but in fact it was just that the light wasn't working. The crew then lifted and replaced two buoys, I was on deck for this and helped where I could, which admittedly, isn't much, but I was allowed to drive the capstans a few times, and there's always the crud that gets washed off the buoy to sweep up!

25th Jan
Milford Haven – Skokholm – The Smalls – Milford Haven
Am. I spent the morning on the bridge helping the 2nd mate and doing a compass error (one small part of the process in celestial navigation), the ship steamed to Skokholm to transfer supplies and personnel to the lighthouse by helicopter and then moved on to The Smalls.
Pm. The heli-ops continued at The Smalls and I had the opportunity to go for a ride in the helicopter over to the lighthouse.This involved putting on a full flight suit, (slightly too big but close enough) and watching the videos, (again) and then, clutching my camera, I was strapped into the back seat, excited as a five year old. It didn't feel nearly as weird as I thought it would, there was no sudden stomach lurch or anything, just an elegant glide. At the lighthouse I got out to get a couple of shots, it's a very small platform, and I didn't feel like taking a stroll to the edge (not that I'd have been allowed to). The lighthouse is literally perched on top of some rocks that the sea constantly washes over, no island or anything, quite how they built it I'd love to know!
At around 1600 the helicopter had just landed on for re-fueling when a warning light came on in the cockpit, there was a problem with the engine and they couldn't fly any more. The ship returned to Milford Haven and anchored for the night, ready to steam to Swansea at 0630 am. The problem wasn't as major as it sounds and the pilots reckoned they could have kept flying, and they would have had they not landed, but once on the ground they can't take off again with a warning light on. Dems de rules.

26th Jan
Milford Haven – Swansea
Am. Did the arrival stability with the Chief Officer. The ship arrived in Swansea at about 1215 and I went forward for mooring stations.
Pm. I watched the helicopter being lifted off by crane.This involved taking off the propellers first and then lifting it onto a flatbed lorry, very, very carefully! I did the departure stability for the Chief Officer and went down to confirm the draughts just before we sailed at 1545, I then went forward for mooring stations.
Anchored overnight in Barafundle Bay (Stackpole Head)

28th Jan
Standing off Bardsea Island and St Tudwells Islands
I spent the day on the heli-deck as an extra member of the fire team, there's a lot of stand up sit down involved in as the helicopter makes lots of short trips. The team have to be ready with hoses each time it comes in and out, but while it's off flying and at the lighthouse there's time to take off the massive Darth Vader helmets and sit down.

31st Jan
Walney Wind Farm – Lancaster Sound
Am. On deck helping with the buoy work, we laid four new Cardinal buoys around Walney Island Wind Farm. The ship then steamed to Lancaster Sound
Pm. This watch do all their maintenance jobs (greasing) as a team so everyone got on with their bit, getting the whole lot done in a day, whereas on the previous watch it had been just me and the Boatswains Mate, which took much longer! I was given the job of exchanging all the fresh water in the lifeboats. Some had developed algae in them so I left them to soak in a with a chlorine tablet in them. At anchor we had a boat muster drill and then a stowaway drill. This was basically a game of hide and seek, something I was very good at as a child! While counting life jackets a few days earlier I had noticed that the small locker on the port aft side was only half full, leaving just enough space for a me sized person. So after the muster drill, I hung about, waiting 'til the coast was clear and then hopped in. It wasn't as comfortable as I had hoped but I wasn't expecting to be in there for long.... I waited. People came past. I waited some more. More people past me. By now I was bored and wondering what was for lunch. I heard voices again, and this time the lid was opened. The guy who found me was rather surprised to find me there though, he'd noticed that the catch wasn't fastened on the locker and had, apparently, been about to just snap it closed without checking inside, assuming of course that the locker was full of life jackets! I was very glad he did check though, although had that happened I would have phoned the bridge (I'd taken my phone, just in case!)
2nd Feb
At Anchor, Llandudno (weatherbound)
Am. Rinsed out and refilled the lifeboat water bottles that had been chlorine soaked. It's not a dry job, by any means!
Pm. The Chief Officer asked me to write the scenario for the fire drill and then take charge of the incident party under his supervision. The brief was a deep fat fryer fire in the galley..

We began the drill with the Junior Catering Rating raising the alarm using the manual call point in the aft alleyway (using the test key), this set off the Yodalarm. He then closed the shutters to the mess, closed the doors from outside and isolated the electrics using the emergency buttons outside the galley. He then telephoned the bridge to inform them of the situation and the actions he had taken. Meanwhile the fire teams were mustering and the incident party arrived at the scene, we established comms with the bridge via radio and requested the fire fighting team and first aid team to muster in the alleyway.
The no 1 BA team arrived and I briefed them on the situation, suggesting the use of the fire blanket on the fryer and the AFFF extinguisher on any overspill. They went on air and entered the space, the fire was extinguished and they were able to evacuate the casualty, using the EEBA to provide him with immediate oxygen. I informed the bridge when they entered the space and when they came out.
On the stretcher the casualty was given first aid for burns, copious amounts of cold water was put over his burns and they were then wrapped in cling film. The Chief Steward administered  pain relief and asked me to get the bridge to call for a Medivac, ask for radio advice and for permission to administer morphine. I relayed this to the bridge and the medical team prepared to stretcher the casualty to the heli-deck.

In the debrief I ran through the scenario and what had happened. Everyone had mustered quickly and correctly and no issues were raised. No boundary cooling had been required because the fire was contained in the fryer and had been extinguished quickly.

8th Feb
St Brides Bay – Swansea
Am. Study while the ship steamed to Swansea.
Pm. Went aft for mooring stations, controlling mooring lines on the towing winch drum and then making them off on the bits once they had been stoppered.
I then went to the foredeck and helped get the new buoy stores on deck. I was also allowed to drive the speed crane (that's the really big one!) under the Boatswain’s Mate’s supervision. I slung a chain which involves laying it out in fleets on the deck over a loop in the end, the end is then passed over the laid out chain, passed through the loop and pulled tight so the chain can be picked up and moved in one bundle.

Pics from this trip can be seen here

So, that's the end of my first sea phase, I'm sorry it's taken quite so long to get up to date, but, as you may have gathered from earlier entries made over the last 9 months, college has been keeping me busy! Anyway, there's not much I can blog about while at college, not much happens in Fleetwood and I have no desire to bore you silly with details of lectures, and I can never remember enough of the nights out to make a good story! But it's over now, and I'm feeling a little bit smug (OK, very smug but I'm trying not to!) ..... I came top of my class, with an overall mark so far of 95%. It's not over yet though, I have some more of the old WBL to do, and this time it counts for something like 40% of the overall mark, so no pressure then!

I am off in the morning, catching the National Express to Gatwick (damn snow's buggered up the trains) and from there I fly to sunny Bridgetown, Barbados to join the Wind Surf, a cruise ship with sails. (I realise you all hate me now). And, now that I am up to date, I intend to keep up to date, although as we all know, the road to hell is paved with such good intentions... Anyway, if you enjoy this, would you let me know? I sometimes feel a little lonely on here, with post after post bereft of comments... I am also on twitter, @size4riggers should you wish to hear random snippets of ships life and/or my general musings, and I have been proudly cultivating my flickr photos, (I was 2 years behind a few months ago, there has been some serious work going on!). They go back through the whole of my first Caribbean experience on the TS Pelican, and I will be interested to see if some of the places I visited then have changed. It's all neatly organised, if you have a peek at the collections and sets...

I'll stop the shameless self promotion now, and go get another glass of rum. I would have cider, but I'm at my sister's, and one has to make do!