Monday, 26 November 2012


Hello folks! Back from the South Atlantic for 3 months, it's lovely to be home :) I hope to have a proper blog about life on the bottom of the world soon for you. Meanwhile, I'm now about 2 years behind on photos... *hangs head in shame* but I have started getting them sorted and uploaded again. For some reason the flickr app that I used to have in the sidebar has stopped working, and I can't post this nifty littl badge into the sidebar either, so for the moment I'm just going to pop it here :)
This is a Flickr badge showing public photos and videos from size4riggerboots. Make your own badge here.

Friday, 13 July 2012

How to get a job, S4 style. (Cadets, take note!!)

Muse thoughtfully about looking for a new job next time you are on leave.....

Imagine where you would like to go and what sector you would like to work in.....

Have a cup of tea, and voila! Your inbox will ping and an exciting job offer will have materialized.

With a chunky pay rise.

I kid you not, this is exactly what happened to me about 2 weeks ago. I am, I know, the jammiest little swine in the world, and actually feel slightly very embarrassed at my good fortune, when many people I know are desperately seeking their first job as a qualified officer. However, I have a point to make here, mainly directed at cadets:


As a cadet, you may feel tempted to cruise by, doing the minimum necessary to complete your TRB, workbooks and the dreaded Work Based Learning. Telling yourself that at the end of the day the grades don't matter as long as you pass, it's only the ticket that matters. In a way, this is true. But consider this: once you have your ticket, you are plunged into a depressing search for that first trip job. You are up against all the other people who have also recently qualified and you need an edge.

You may be lucky and be sponsored by a company who say they will take you on once you're qualified. However, this seems to be more and more infrequent. (How many cadets does your company sponsor and how many positions do they need to fill?) Several people I know were told that they would be taken on, only to have this offer retracted when the time came. They may be able to offer some cadets a place, but who do you think they will pick? The guy who cruised by doing the minimum, or the guy who was involved, interested and always willing to help.

It's not just about doing the work, it's how you go about it. Do it on ship, rather than try and write stuff up later when you are home, ask the officers for help (at an appropriate time), and offer your help when it comes to cruddy tasks they need done. Go to your training officer and ask for a time to sit down and discuss how you can cover aspects of the TRB that don't come up all that often. And above all, go about your work with a positive attitude. No matter how narked you may feel inside that you've been sent to chip and paint/count shackles/inspect fire extinguishers/take inventory of a lifeboat when you've already got that task signed off in your book. Get on with it, and when someone comes past and asks how you're getting on, be positive. This is all stuff that has to be done anyway, and it might as well be you. You only need 6 months bridge watchkeeping experience, so don't moan, especially if you are on your first trip. In fact, never moan, if you have a concern, go to your training officer and ask when you can sit down together to discuss your training.

Hopefully, if you do these things, by the time you leave the ship, you will have given the officers on board the impression that you are a hard-working, diligent and pleasant person to have around. Now here's the really important bit: Get their personal email addresses, and give them yours.

People think that the industry is huge, but actually it's quite small, everyone knows each other, and memories are long. When a job becomes available, people will not necessarily put an ad up for it. A lot of the time, they will think to themselves "I wonder if so-and-so is available, I'll just drop them a line, see what they're up to" If someone who's been working for a while decides to change jobs, they first of all contact people the people they used to work with on other ships and find out what's available. So, if you have made a good impression on someone, they might recommend you to a friend; or have a word with the recruitment agency you've just had an interview with, who are saying that such and such company couldn't possibly employ you because you don't have the necessary experience yet; or they might just email you out of the blue with an awesome job offer. Trust me, it works.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Ship life Vs Real Life Part 2: Real Life

I write this on a train; this in itself is quite a novelty for me, as until recently my laptop was incapable of working unless plugged into the mains. Now I have a shiny new little beast that weighs half of what the old one did and has hours of battery life. I love it.

Being on a train however, is not a novelty. It is how I spend a good proportion of my leave. This is real life. And I do not love it.

I am, I know, incredibly lucky to have the friends I have. I have collected an incredible set of people who never cease to amaze and inspire me. They are creative, intelligent, adventurous and crazy and I love them dearly. Unfortunately, many of them don’t really know each other, having only met through me on odd occasions. There are the friends I met when I was young and living at home, there are the friends I met when I lived in Winchester, then there are those I met while indulging in wonderfully silly LRP weekend events across the country, and now there are those I have met at sea too. And none of them live in the same place. 

As soon as I announce that I am coming home, I am beset by the question:  “So when are you going to come and see me?” I hate that question, but then again, it’s nice to be wanted. Inevitably I will, of course, end up travelling halfway across the country to see them, spending hours, if not days, of my precious leave on the train, squishing my belongings into a rucksack and myself in between commuters and cider fuelled tramps. And it’s wonderful to see them, but there is also within me a tinge of resentment, the sullen teenager that resides within me still, muttering, “Why do I always have to come to you, why can’t you come to see me for once?” 

I get 4 months leave a year, in two blocks. And yes that probably sounds like an age to most of you. However, do the maths: 52 weeks in a year, so that’s 104 days of weekends, then add the 28 days  of statutory leave you get in your average job, then add in at least 8 days of bank holidays and you will find that you get 140 days off work every year. 4 months, if they average at 30 days per month, works out at 120 days off in a year.

So my time off is precious. And I try to spend it wisely, but when one has just spent 4 months working solidly, 10 or more hours a day, 7 days a week, then what I really want to do, initially a least, is cocoon myself away and just not do anything. I want 4 months’ worth of weekends: I want my lazy lie ins with my lover, I want my late nights getting drunk on good wine in front of the tv, I want to go to the supermarket and buy the food I have spent months thinking about, in short, actually,  I want to revel in domesticity. 

I long for a place of my own, but as yet there are insufficient funds in my account. And while I officially reside at my parent’s house, I probably spend more time at my boyfriend’s house. He also lives with his mother, and I find myself amused regularly at the exchanges between them; he, at 34, sounding like a petulant teenager, and she the put-upon mother. Sometimes I think they sound more like a bickering old married couple. But when I return home to my parents, I find myself hearing the petulant teenager in my own voice, and feel the very physical sense of annoyance that wriggles under my shoulder blades when I am told to do something. For example, when I had my own place, I always did the washing up in the morning – why end a lovely relaxed evening with work? And I always found that having done one task, I was spurred on to do more. But at home my mother insists it is done that night, so I am dragged from my comfortable seat on the sofa to come and help with the drying up. Likewise with other household and garden tasks, I have no issue with doing them, in fact, I quite enjoy them, but I would like to be allowed do them when I decide, not be given instruction. I realise run the risk here of sounding exactly like the petulant teenager I gently mock my boyfriend for sounding like. I do try and help as much as I can, I do my laundry when I get home from sea (although my skills in this department pale into insignificance next to my mother, who insists upon soaking almost everything first, and irons when I would simply hang up to dry and be done with it). I sometimes cook, but my mother usually has menus planned out for the whole weekend, which narrows my contribution down to chief chopper of vegetables and stirrer of saucepans, and that is a poor substitute for actually cooking. 

My main contribution, as I see it, is in the garden. We have a large garden, which is a struggle for my parents to keep up with as they get older. Over the last 32 years that my family has lived in our house, my mother has slowly, painstakingly, and with the aid of a lot of compost, sand, manure and sheer bloody determination, taken a wasteland of weeds and overgrown shrubs growing on 500 ft of blue clay, and turned it into a garden. It is a work in progress, and when she makes a concerted effort to attack one area, inevitably, another area runs amok and the docks and nettles and grasses move in. I am their nemesis. I leave the planting and nurturing to her, but there is a huge amount of satisfaction to be gained from ripping up weeds and depositing huge heaps of them onto the bonfire. And while it is satisfying, it is also useful and helpful and lets me live happy in the knowledge that I’ve done the donkey work and they won’t break their backs trying to do it. 

As I said, though, I spend more of my time at my boyfriend’s house, and have to admit I probably do more there than I do at home, but I get to do it on my own terms: I wash up, I cook, I buy groceries, including all the fancy things I feel eating in the shopping basket. I even do his laundry sometimes, when I’m doing my own. I tidy his room, put his clothes away and make the bed. Sometimes. 

So I get my longed for domesticity, I get time with the family, and I get time with the man I love. But this gets broken up into little segments of a few days at a time, because there are all these other people demanding my time too, people who live in Devon, or Winchester, or Bristol. All of these places are too far to pop over for a pint, and as I may only get to see them once a year, they want to see me for a day or more, not a few hours. And I go, I spend hours on the train (the learning to drive new year’s resolution has not yet come to fruition) and I am glad to see them, in the hopes that at some point they will reciprocate.

Now, I threw a party earlier this leave. I decided a long time ago that as I turned 30 in March and I had never had a proper party I would have it in the summer. A full weekend if people wanted to stay, plenty of space in the garden of all to camp. Lots of food, lots of booze. I sent out messages in February asking what dates suited people the best. I had a few responses. I set a date and sent out invites. To about 70 people. I had to send invites via facebook because I was on the other side of the world (which is a pretty good excuse for not sending paper invites I reckon). I subsequently sent out about 5 messages to the invitees asking them to please RSVP. In the end, about 30 people said they could come. Not bad I guess. And then they started dropping out. The injuries, illness and sudden discovery of being newly pregnant I can forgive. Shit happens. But it still felt like a kick in the teeth when only 18 people actually turned up. This included my parents, sister and boyfriend. And the neighbours. The number of friends who made the effort to drag themselves across the country was depressingly low (injuries, illness and sudden discovery of being newly pregnant notwithstanding). I love my friends, and I know they love me, but after 3 and a half years of being in this job, there’s some things they still just don’t get.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Day of the Seafarer

Today is International Day of the Seafarer.

Ok, you say.. so what?

If you are a regular reader of this blog then you should by now, have a pretty good idea of what it is I do for a living. I drive ships. At the moment I drive cruise ships. But with the ticket I have, I could quite as easily drive tankers (oil, gas, chemicals), or container ships (er... pretty much all the shiny stuff you buy in shops), or bulk carriers, (grain, ores, scrap metal, coal, cotton... anything solid in BIG quantities) or ferries (cheap way to pop to any number of places on this continent, and you can take your car), or cable/pipe laying ships (how oil gets from the north sea to here, and you like your communications don't you!), or car carriers, (I don't need to tell you what they transport do I?) or any number of small support type vessels (buoy tenders, tugs, standby vessels for oil rigs, etc).

All these vessels, basically, make your life possible. 90% of the world's trade is done by sea. Real trade, not hedge funds and mythical money that moves about mysteriously without anyone ever seeing anything tangible, but real trade. Stuff you can pick up and hold and use and enjoy, your clothes, your gadgets, even a lot of your food, all comes to you by sea.

We used to have a proud seafaring tradition here in Britain, everyone knew who we were and how important our jobs were to the country. Sadly, these days, I tell people I am in the Merchant Navy and they leap to the conclusion that I am in the Royal Navy. These are not the same thing. No. The Royal Navy, gods bless them, are a fine and wonderful lot of people who are part of our nations defences, and work alongside the Army and Royal Air Force. The Merchant Navy is difficult to define in some respects, if you're going to get finickity about things, but, when it boils down to it, all ships, unless they are part of a county's military defence, are part of the Merchant Navy.

As you can imagine, there are thousands and thousands of ships, and each of those is crewed by people: people of all nationalities, people of all religions, races and creeds, people like me, and like you. And you never see us. That is what today is about. To remind you that we are here, and how much you rely on us to make your life happen. Seafaring is, statistically, the most dangerous profession in the world (out of this, fishing is the most dangerous). At any given time there will be some of us out there facing terrifying storms and high seas: or piracy; or simply the loneliness and heartbreak of being far, far away from those we love, for months on end.

So spare a thought for those at sea today, take a moment to appreciate how that shiny computer you are reading this on got to you (Made in China?), how the food you ate tonight reached your table (look at the label, New Zealand Lamb? Danish pork? Veg grown in Spain? Bananas from Dominica?), the toy your child adores (made in Taiwan?)..... It's a career we chose, but without us, your life would be much emptier, so please take a second to say thank you for seafarers.

A couple of videos for you to peruse...

Follow @IMOHQ  and @SeafarerDay on twitter to find out more. And me of course @size4riggers

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Real life vs Ship life: Part 1. Ship life.

Life has been happening, at an alarming rate it seems, I'm over halfway through my leave already and am only just starting to feel like I'm catching up with real life. Guess I won't be learning to drive this leave then...

Generally, for me, life stops when I am at sea and then kicks in when I am on land. Well it doesn't stop, it just comes under a completely different heading. At sea it's all about whether the lifeboat is going to work (or at least not fill with water), or when the life-jacket lights last got changed, or which life-buoys are in desperate need of replacement, or why the immersion suit got mouldy, or trying to get something that is out of date or knackered or  degraded replaced. It's a never-ending fight: to stay on top of things, to stay sane, to get enough sleep, and to do all that while looking presentable. We have an open bridge policy, so watches aren't just about driving the ship, (that does come first though, and if it's busy I'll happily kick people off the bridge so I can concentrate). I also end up playing the role of tour guide and star expert, I end up repeating my life story ad-infinitum, (the Quartermaster could just as easily tell it by now), explaining the bridge equipment over and over again, and being given verbal pats on the head by a good 70% of those who visit the bridge just because I'm a girl.

To be honest, that's the only bit that really gets me. I'm proud of my job, and what I've achieved so far in my life, I'm only too happy to educate people about what we who drive ships actually do and how we do it, I love stars and learning about the constellations and sharing that with people: one of the best bits of the job is standing on the bridge wing on a clear quiet night being utterly overawed by the night sky. If you've never seen it from the deck of a ship away from land, you've been missing out.

But, to be told "Well, good for yoooou" over and over again, is something that really gets my goat. None of the other (male) junior officers get that, you certainly wouldn't hear the Captain being told that, (and believe me, my last Captain slogged his backside off to get where he is), no it's because of one thing and one thing only that I am singled out as the plucky little soldier who deserves a patronizing comment congratulating me for doing what thousands of other seafarers do every day, many of whom, I'm sure, have had to fight bigger battles that I have. My gender. And that pisses me off.

It's not just on ship though, for example, my mother related a conversation she had with an acquaintance recently, while not exactly verbatum, it went something like this:

Aquaintance: And what do your daughters do?

Mother: Well, my eldest lives in Reading with her husband, she works in *some sort of IT related place* and they just bought their first house.

Aquaintance: Mmm lovely.... And your youngest?

Mother: Well she's away at the moment, she works at sea.

Aquaintance: Oh really, how adventurous, what does she do?

Mother: Oh she's working on a cruise ship a the moment.

Aquaintance: Oh wow, that must be lovely, what does she do? Stewardess? Croupier?

Mother: No, no, she drives she ship, she's the 3rd Officer.

Aquaintance: GOOD GOD!! 

The shock and incredulity that I, a 30 year old woman, could be left in charge of not crashing a whole ship for 4 hours at a time makes me sad. Are we still so steeped in inherent sexism that it's that crazy an idea? Yes, the Merchant Navy is still a male dominated industry, but haven't we as a society finally reached the conclusion that ability is not based on gender? Apparently not.


The rest of my trip can be summed up fairly succinctly: Wet dock. This was not a refit period while tied up alongside in some out of the way dockyard. This was a complete rip out and replace of the entire hotel side of the ship, while en-route from Panama to Barcelona, stopping for about 3 days in St Maarten and Algeciras. It was... interesting. It's not something that I wish to repeat. Ever.

There were up sides, such as being able to go for a drink in the Pool Bar after watch at midnight. (No passengers on ship, just 50 odd British contractors) and there were downsides, such as working 14+ hour days and getting massively behind on my planned maintenance because other things had to take priority. I spent most of my watches crossing the Atlantic navigating around rain clouds - rain + holes in deck and/or wet paint does not mix well. Somehow, it pulled together, the night before we arrived in Barcelona, the spa girls were polishing railings, the VP of hotel operations was wielding a paintbrush, we had Quartermasters scrubbing decks at midnight and floors being waxed. The next morning the new 2nd officer was varnishing the pool surround and the pool bar still looked like a bombsite. However, by 1300, when I took the new crew around on their familiarization tour, the place was spotless.

The last month of the trip was spent catching up on my planned maintenance, catching up on sleep and wondering who, if anyone, was going to relieve me.

Overall, despite all the whinging I have just done, I had a ball this trip. I had fantastic people to work with, in particular, the last Captain and C/O I had, who ripped the piss out of me almost constantly, and ensured that I almost cried with laughter at least once a day. And the first C/O I had too, who took me under her wing and mentored me through my first few weeks as a new officer. (Mostly by standing about chatting shit while smoking too much and occasionally giving me a kick up the backside if I screwed up). She also threw me the first proper birthday party I've ever had. (And, more importantly, gave me the watch off the morning after!).

Other highlights of the trip were:

Swimming off Coiba beach on several occasions, where I also met a crocodile, got stung by tiny jelly fish, saw a ray, saw a shark, chased vultures and ate a lot of delicious bbq food.

Going for a post work swim off the stern platform.

Eating fresh out of the oven warm mini chocolate cakes.

Getting her up to 8kts with no engines.

Turning 30: this is because it involved a party, dancing so hard I ached the next day, a lie in, cake and presents.

A free hot stones massage.

Zip lining in Nicaragua.

Free Nicaraguan rum.

Being able to afford Raybans and a pair of swanky binoculars.

Seeing humpback whales, leaping, breaching, fin slapping and tail slapping as we left St Maartin. (New binoculars were very useful at this point.)

Portoferraio, where I climbed a hill and admired the view, then sat in a cafe with a small glass of white, overlooking a picturesque little harbour. On the way home I bought the biggest ice cream I could find: Waffle cone, 4 scoops - blackcurrant, mango, tiramisu and ricotta with burnt caramel. (The Italians really do make the best ice-cream in the world.)

Amalfi, where I visited the Cathedral and bought chocolate and pizza.

Santorini, where I took the cable car to the top and had lunch while admiring the view.

Myknonos, where I simply wandered through the back streets.

And Kusadasi, where I went on tour to see the ruined city of Ephesus.

There are photos, and I will get around to editing them and posting them on flickr, once I have edited and posted up the years worth of pictures that are also waiting to be done.

I was going to rant about all sorts of real life things today, but it seemed necessary to put some kind of chronological order to things. So I will write about real life next time.

Meanwhile, I'm always on twitter.

Friday, 6 April 2012

I wrote this a month ago, I just haven't had the time to post it....

I’ve been here a month now, and things are settling down into a routine. I have a LOT of work to do, but so does everyone else, I thank whatever gods there may be for AMOS, despite it being the bane of my life at times it does help me keep track of what I need to do next! (AMOS is our planned maintenance system and tells me what jobs I need to do each week) I haven’t yet quite been through a full month’s worth of jobs, but February is a short month, so things have been crammed in even more. The inspections and checks I have to do on a weekly or monthly basis lead me to making notes on what maintenance I need to do, most of which is more cosmetic than anything else, but by keeping on top of things I can make sure that a small cosmetic issue does not become a more serious damage issue. There are only 4 members of the bridge team on here, and so all the maintenance is split between three of us. The Captain, obviously, does not have to do such things – he has plenty of paperwork to keep him busy, does every arrival and departure and is on-call 24/7 should anything happen.

So as 3/O, I do the following: 8-12 watchkeeping; Inspections and maintenance on all LSA (Life Saving Appliances); safety familiarisation training for new joiners (which we get weekly) and inputting all crew certification into the on-board database; I do a weekly SOLAS training session on LSA; I am Fire Team 3 leader, and therefore need to do training for my team whenever someone in the team changes, or when we need to pull our game up; I am the bridge administrator (daily stability calcs, PASIS (Port Authority Ship Information Sheets), checking the night guard’s rounds, general filing, organising the Captain’s training sessions, etc etc) and I am also responsible for maintaining and distributing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), and the SOPEP (Ship Oil Pollution Emergency Plan) gear.

The 2/O does 12-4 watchkeeping; Navigation (Passage planning and chart and publication corrections); FFA (Fire Fighting Appliances) inspections and maintenance, and FFA SOLAS training, and the official log book, sails hours and Watertight Door testing.

The C/O does 4-8 watchkeeping; she is the deck crew boss (I/C of not only me and the 2/O, but the sailors as well, so has to organise all the daily maintenance jobs such as sails maintenance, chipping and painting, deck cleaning, tender drivers and probably a million other little jobs); she is SSO (Ship Security Officer), Garbage Officer, Safety Officer and Training Officer, and has overall responsibility for Stability and tanks (so does a lot of clambering into dark smelly tanks!). She also has to go to a heck of a lot of meetings about planning, generally for the upcoming voyages, but we also have a 4 week wet dock coming up, so there’s even more planning going on!!

Each of those lists is a heck of a lot for one person (and I’ve probably missed a few things), and while we are all contracted to work 10 hours a day, we only technically have 2 hours a day to do most of that in, as when on watch we are navigating. Thankfully though as we go to anchor almost every day we are able at least to get through some of the reams of paperwork that accompany each and every one of the above jobs. The C/O definitely gets the biggest work load, and while the 2/O’s list may sound like the shortest, the Nav aspect of it is huge, chart corrections come out weekly and we have a large on-board portfolio! He spends a lot of time on watch doing charts, and his 2 hours of day work is mostly spent going round checking fire detectors, fire screen doors, extinguishers, hoses etc. (The downside for me is that he does this while I am on watch, so if he’s doing alarms or doors, I have to stand by the appropriate panel and press buttons instead of getting on with my own work). When we are at anchor or berthed though it’s not simply a case of getting on with the paperwork, at anchor we constantly monitor our position, watch what’s going on on the gangway (we do a lot of tendering operations), or in when berthed in port, monitor the moorings and keep an eye on any loading that going on (stores, water, fuel..) and there’s constant calls to the bridge both by phone and radio asking questions and telling us what’s going on too. If you get 10 minutes peace to get on with what you’re doing it’s a miracle!!

In short, I think it’s simply not possible to do everything that needs to be done within the hours we’re contracted to, but I keep getting told to watch my hours. I don’t get paid for overtime, but if I don’t do it I’m going to end up behind. The ILO (International Labour Organisation) rules that we MUST get 77 hours of rest per week (this has recently gone up from 70 hours rest a week). So I could do 13 hours a day and stay within the legal limits, but, I’d be working for an hourly rate that most people would scoff at, especially considering the responsibility for other people’s lives that my and my fellow officers job entails. And, especially in this heat (it gets up to 40 degrees regularly here in Costa Rica) I’d be a wreck. Plus, don’t forget that one has to eat when one is not working, and to be on time for duty you need to get up and sort yourself out in order to be there 5-10 mins before you start watch (You have to be there 10 mins before you take over watch at night so that your eyes can adjust to the dark), handing over the watch takes a few minutes too, so you generally end up leaving the bridge at 10 past the hour. Then you get to go to your cabin, wind down, shower etc. So if you can actually get to sleep within 30 minutes of officially finishing work (on the hour) you’re doing blooming well!  So actual rest time is shorter than it sounds, at the very most, I get 8 hours between watches. Take off time the time spent getting up and ready, handing over etc and I’m realistically getting 7 hours rest, max. The legal minimum is 6 hours continuous rest in a 24 hour period and the remaining 4 or 5 hours rest period cannot be split into more than 2 periods.
....... I would kill for a solid 8 hours kip these days!!

I realise it could well sound like I’m having a moan here, but I don’t mean to, I truly and honestly love my job, and hope sincerely that that never changes. But I do find myself wondering at the high level Industry Management’s, (i.e. the IMO and related bodies) perception of what “Minimum Safe Manning” is (how many jobs can you realistically expect one person to do?), and whether they realise that we have to spend so much time on the paperwork that we have so much less time to do the jobs themselves. I understand the need to provide evidence that things have been done properly, but it’s a vicious circle – if we (as an industry) fail to do the job properly, more checklists and paperwork is brought in, ostensibly to help us not miss anything and do things right. But, there’s so much emphasis put on the paper trail that it risks ending up as a mindless box ticking exercise and the important part, the whole point of it all, (i.e. contentiousness about safety and the environment) gets lost in the process. I fear that people reach a point that they have done the job so many times and just go through a checklist ticking and ticking without paying attention to what they are ticking and signing off - I will never forget the time as a cadet (on a vessel that shall remain nameless) when I had been told to fill out a permit to work for a job that needed doing immediately. I was going round carefully checking each item on the list, when an officer snapped at me, “It’s not a list of what has been done, it’s a list of what will be done, just tick it all and get it signed!” This guy was newly qualified too, so I was doubly horrified at this attitude, but I guess he must have learnt it from somewhere.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Fishing Vessels...... Grrrrrr!

The last couple of nights have been made fun by tiny little fishing vessels: in short, I hate them. They do not show up on radar easily, nor do they show the lights I have been taught to recognise. I had been told that the flashing lights (LED strobe types) were just fishing buoys and not to worry too much about them. However, last night I had what I thought was a fishing buoy coming down my stbd side, as it began to pass, it suddenly turned on it's main light, we put the search light on it, and there was a tiny little boat, only a few meters long (if that), about 100m from me. The gits. Thankfully, this was just as I had handed over the watch to the 2/O, so he had the fun of playing dodgems with the other lights that were coming up! Still, it scared the cr@p out of me, and from now on I will be treating every flashing light as a boat!

This evening, more fishing vessels, we left Porta Caldera at 2000hrs and there were a bunch of them hanging about, thankfully the Captain was still on the bridge and gently coached me on how to dodge between them, rather than make a massive deviation around them all. Later though, after he'd gone to bed I had 4 more, all of whom appeared to be charging toward my planned course, so I ended up going 4 miles to stbd off track, away from the land, to skirt them.Once they were clear, I made a course toward the next waypoint, but then there were more, but on my port side, so I headed back to track, which took me clear again. Of course, another one popped up (on Radar first this time) right on my head... By the time I had cleared the closer ones I would be able to alter again to onto more or less our planned course and avoid the next lot, but it was handover time too, so I left it in the very capable hands of the 2/O. He'll probably let them come closer than I would, but at the moment, I'd much rather give them all a very wide berth, especially as they keep altering their course and speed, it's like avoiding a swarm of flies!!

In other news, life has mostly been taken up by paperwork, training and inspections. Despite the glamourous picture I may paint by posting photos like the one in my last blog entry, that is actually not the norm. I've been off the vessel once, twice if you count the half hour I got at San Blas with the Security Supervisor on my first morning. I decided not to do my lifeboat inventory in the heat of the midday sun (so far, the thermometer has registered as high as 44 degrees Celsius in full sunlight... I don't want heatstroke!) So when I have outside jobs I've decided to chill after watch until 3 or 4 in the afternoon and then do a couple of hours work before watch at 8pm. Most of my free time is spent sleeping or just chilling (literally) in my cabin, it has TV and wifi access and is deliciously air-conditioned, after being outside it feels like walking into a fridge!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

What I did this afternoon :p

What I did this afternoon.
I officially love my job. :D
And yes, that's my boat there, 134m of sexyness!

I know you hate me now, but I really don't care!!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Has it really only been 5 days?!

Well things haven't slowed down yet!

On Saturday it was turnaround day in Colon, this is always the busiest day of the week as all the passengers get off, and then a couple of hours later a hwole new lot come on board. We also get crew signing off and new crew joining. My job is to sign them on and then give them safety and familiarisation training. This time I only had one new new guy, as the musician has sailed on the Star several times and didn't need a tour. So it was easier giving training to one person, rather than a whole bunch. I'm sure I'll get the tour into a better order once I'm more familiar with the layout, but I knew where to find everything I needed to show him. The other side to this part of my job is mainaning the records of what certification everyone has on the computer system, it's a pretty boring job but if it's kept on top of I shouldn't have to spend too much time on it. I also am responsible for updating and printing out the muster lists, which have to then be posted in various locations around the ship, this has to be done twice on turnaround day, once before the passenger muster drill and then again after. I went to the passenger muster drill, but I have no active role in it specifically, and the 2/O has said he's happy to do it as it cuts right into my rest period, we'll take it in turns perhaps.

Then in the evening, it was my first full watch on my own. I was less scared than I thought I would be, probably because I'd been chucked in at the deep end the night before. I did call the Captain once, because I got confused about which track we were taking - there's a long and a short both on the chart, and the waypoint we were headed to next had a very similar name as the one on the chart that we weren't headed to... I felt like a muppet when he explained but he was still pleased that I called him rather then trog on and do the wrong course. We would have got to the same place, but at the wrong time, but still, better to call him and it be nothing, then not call him and screw up!
On Sunday we were back at the islands of San Blas and I spent my anchor watch doing admin and keeping a close eye on the tender service. From there we went back to Colon, as we needed to pick up a container's worth of stores that had gotten a little bit lost. This meant that I did an arrival and a departure, in quick succession, which made me extremely glad that I had spent so long on the 4-8 watch last year on the Surf (which is pretty much always the watch that does arrivals and departures), the checklists are exactly the same as they were on there and things all went very smoothly. As we left the Captain concentrated on getting through the channel and the very narrow harbour entrance so my role was to keep watch for any traffic that might cause a problem. There was one ship making her way to the harbour entrance so we ended up having to wiggle through some ships at anchor to avoid her (not a technical term). If I'd been conning I think I would have had some serious fear going on at that point, but the Captain took it all easily in his stride and made it look like a very simple thing. That's why he's Captain really!

Monday started early, with a wake up call at 0540 for an 0600 start down aft, I was doing locks comms- as ships go through the locks they don't tie up in a conventional manner, there are mules on each side that the vessel ties up to on both sides via wires, and they then move along with the vessel as she enters the lock, and hold her in position. They are called mules because it really did use to be a team of mules, but now they are large heavy engines on a track. All the work is done by a team of foremen that come on board, so all that needs to be done is telling the bridge when the mules are connected and what number mule it is, port or stbd, when the lock gates are closing or opening and when they are disconnected. I got half an hour for breakfast at 0730, and then did my watch (Pilot conning, I just did radio, log book and speed control) and then I was straight back down aft for the last two locks. I finally knocked off at 1420, absolutely knackered! 

After some sleep I got up to the bridge at 1955 for watch and was told to bugger off for another half hour by the C/O, bless her. Watch this eve was fun- I finally got to play with traffic! I called the Captain once as I had an overtaking vessel had a CPA of 1.4, and he wants me to stay 2 miles from everything but he was happy that I was doing fine on my own and didn't bother coming up. I'd waited until this guy was 4.5 miles behind me and then, as I had hin on AIS, I called him up and asked what his intentions were (his origional CPA was 0.1) from what he said to me I got the feeling that he'd only just noticed me. I get the impression that there are some muppets out there...
It was made more interesting by another vessel on a nearly reciprocal course to mine that I had expected to take some action, which they didn't, (again with the muppetry) so by the time the overtaking vessel had cleared enough for me to be able to turn to starboard I did have to make a fairly big alteration (50 degrees) but I had enough time to do so without getting too close and by the time the 2/O came up on watch at 0000 I had us back on a course that would take us well clear of the other bits of traffic that could have become a problem.

Today was a sea day, but this morning's watch was mostly taken up by training (Security, Environmental and Crowd management) so the C/O covered me while I did that (being trained, not training others). We were under sail only for most of it but by 1200 the wind had died completely and we had to put the engines on, first time I've properly seen her with sails out at 100% though, and Oh My does she look gorgeous! This evening's watch was quieter, didn't have to call the Captain, but he came up at 2200 anyway to see how we were doing - we were bimbling south, basically to kill some time and he decided that we would be best off turning 180 degrees and heading north again. I'd boomed out the sails to make best use of the wind (what little there was at that time) and so got to play with them again, and then as the watch went on the wind increased slightly so I took sail in, first to 50% then 30%. I love having sails, it makes life so much more interesting on watch :) The nicest thing though is what the C/O said to me this evening - it's only been 5 days, but I've settled in really well, and it feels like a long time since I joined. And it's true, while on one hand I'm still very aware of my noobie status and I am super-keen to get things right, I already feel like this is home-from-home and that I have a place here that fits perfectly :)

Friday, 10 February 2012

Busy busy!

Well, it’s been a busy couple of days! Having been told to call the agent in the morning to find out what time the ship was arriving, I imagined I would get a good 8 hours sleep in the hotel. So I was fairly unimpressed to get a phone call at 0435 saying my taxi was waiting. I made coffee, threw my clothes on and my things back into my bags while gulping it down, got locked out of the room as I attempted to manoeuvre two large cases out of the door and eventually made it downstairs. The taxi ride was much longer than I had been led to think it would be the night before, and involved stopping off twice, each time the taxi driver got out with some pieces of paper, went off to do something with them and came back, all without a word, apart from asking me for my passport at the second stop. I began to feel more like a parcel than a person, I had no idea where I was going or what was going on around me, but at that point I simply had to trust that these people would get me to my destination! The last stop was at a rather small jetty, even in the dark I could see that there was no way that the vessel would fit alongside it, and sat, waiting for the next move, feeling confused. As dawn brightened the sky a man arrived, and I could over hear him talking to the Wind Star on the phone, I had no idea who he was, but at least I appeared to be in the right vicinity! Shortly after I was told, “Ok, we go now” and my bags and I were led down the jetty to a small boat. The realisation dawned then, I was joining the ship on the move, and I was wearing flip flops!

Luckily my trainers were at the top of my bag and while we chuntered out to the ship I changed footwear. It took about 25 minutes to reach her, as the boat approached the pilot ladder there was a bit of a swell, so it was a case of choosing one’s moment carefully. I asked if there were any lifejackets and the agent (as the man on the phone had turned out to be) smiled and simply said “No, not here I don't think!” My bags went first and I was relieved to see them safely on board, and then it was my turn to find a moment when the movement between the two vessels was at a minimum. I scrambled up easily, but it was still a relief to be on board. I was met by the Purser, and there were forms to fill in and then I was taken to the bridge, where I was greeted by the Captain and C/O. We waved goodbye to the Senior 2nd officer as he left on another boat. He’d been waiting for a relief for a couple of weeks I am told, which explained the huge smile he had greeted me with as we passed at the pilot station. He has been relieved by the previous 3/O, who is now promoted to 2/O and I am taking over as 3/O. I must say it is comforting to know I have the guy who was doing my job around for a while, as there’s a hell of a lot to take in! Most handovers for new officers are done over a week, and while I am in one sense taking over immediately, he is going to be there for me to pick his brain for much longer.J

After going through the basics, the C/O’s first concern was how much sleep I’d had, and on hearing that I’d not slept for 24 hours and then only had about 5 hours kip in the hotel, she told me to go and rest up, sort myself out and be ready to start work at 8 that evening. I could have hugged her! My cabin is one deck below the bridge, on the same deck as the mess. I have three mirrors in the cabin, plus one in the bathroom, (why there are so many is baffling, I guess they want us to be aware of how we look so that we don’t look like scruffy baggages in front of the guests). I have a tv and dvd player, a fridge, lots of storage space, a double bunk and a porthole. Oh and wifi access too! (I am going to get through a lot of internet cards I think!) I unpacked and went and found uniform, saw the Doc (she stuck needles in me) and then meandered up to the bridge again, never having been through the Panama Canal before I wanted to see what was going on. We were in one lock, and about to go through the second, for which the C/O suggested I go down to the aft mooring deck to see how things worked. I will save lengthy descriptions of the process until I know a bit more about it all, but in fact, my job will simply involve talking to the bridge on the radio. After that, we went under a bridge and I then decided it would be a good idea to take the C/O’s hints (she started asking if I had actually slept yet) and go to bed.

I dozed for a few hours, but solid sleep evaded me, but I did feel refreshed when I got up for dinner. I had a wander around the ship just to see what was what, and then it was time to go to the bridge. I had the C/O with me for the first hour (she takes the 4-8 watch) and then the Captain for the next three. It turns out that he and I have several friends in common from the Tall Ships, he sailed as Captain with people that have in turn been my Captain, only he sailed with them when they were still bosuns mates and 2nd Officers and Mates. I have promised to bore him silly with pictures of Pelican! Both he and the C/O are absolutely lovely and while I have no doubt that they would not take kindly to stupid behaviour (which I have No intention of starting!) they are very approachable and supportive and easy to talk to.

This morning I got up to the bridge for my anchor watch and was told to go straight down to the tender and go with the security officer to have a quick look around the island we would be tendering to. There are several islands, all tiny and all crammed with more wooden, palm thatched huts than you would think possible. The locals were all busily setting up displays of their wares, and I imagine that by the time our guests arrived on the island, the streets (if you can call them that) would be a riot of colour. Sadly I couldn’t linger and we returned to the Star. Anchor watch was quiet enough, and I managed to get a fair bit of reading done, there are many, many documents I must be familiarised with! After lunch and a wee lie down I went back up to do my two hours day work – more reading, indispersed with asking the 2/O many questions about how this and that was done and where to find the right forms on the computer system. I was still there when the C/O came up for her watch and was firmly told to go and get some rest!

This evening, I imagined things would go as they had done last night. The C/O asked how I was getting on with the familiarisation check lists, and I showed her what I’d got ticked off so far, she then asked me if I knew where various alarm panels were, what I’d do if this happened or that happened, how I’d call the Captain if he wasn’t in his cabin, and then ticked off a load more things and signed it off. At 2100 she went off saying she was going to call the Captain, who turned up about 15 minutes later, he hung about for about half an hour, we discussed the traffic situation (one cruise ship on my port side, passing about a mile and a half astern) he asked if I knew all the various ways I could get hold of him, told me to keep 2 miles away from any danger and to call him if in any doubt and then shook my hand and told me he was going to bed! I really hadn’t expected to be left to it that quickly, but I’m positive that they wouldn’t leave me if they had any worries. I told him that I am absolutely determined not to let him down and thanked him, several times I think! There was no traffic, and nothing going on, but of course, that couldn’t last! In the next 2 and ½ hours I had a fire alarm; (not an actual fire, just a lot of people smoking in the crew mess, but Dear God, when it went off I nearly had a heart attack! Sent the quartermaster to check it and reset it…) disposal of food waste, the incinerator, greys and blacks (lots of logging of times and positions of start and stop times); and then a vessel, on my port side, crossing 1.4 miles ahead. Which, frankly, seemed rude, like someone brushing past you when you’re in a wide open space. I spotted him from about 15 miles away, and watched and waited to see if he was going to give way, but when he got to 4 miles, and still hadn’t done any thing, I called the Captain. He came up, and we watched as this ship passed ahead of us, and then he thanked me for calling him and went back to his cabin.

All in all, I think this is going pretty well so far!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Greetings from Panama!

Well that's resolution number 1 sorted :-) And it's not just any job, it's the job I'd been really hoping might show up. (Without seriously thinking that I'd be THAT lucky as to actually get it!) But here I am, in a hotel room on the 11th floor of the Crown Plaza in Panama City, contemplating the fact that I'm joining the Wind Star tomorrow morning as 3/O. That's one of the sister ships to the Wind Surf, which, if you are a regular reader, you will know I spent 4 and 1/2 months on last year as a cadet.

I have, basically, landed my dream job (dream starter job anyway, I intend to progress up the ladder!) first time. I was very half hearted about job hunting for most of January, mainly because I had to wait 2 weeks to get my CoC back and I needed my CoC number to put on job aoolications. Once I had it though, I was able to finish filling out a couple of on-line applications, I then called my sponsor to ask about something banal and also got a contact name and number for one of the companies I'd just done the online application for. A few minutes later I had an interview with a recruitment agency lined up! They told me it that there was practically zero chance of anyone taking me on as a 3/O and the best I could hope for was a 4/O position to start with. (Everyone wants experience, but you seem to have to have experience in order to get experience...) And that once they'd interviewed me, if I passed muster, then I'd still have to wait around for an unknown preiod of time waiting for a position to actually open up.

The interview certainly seemed to go well, and they told me they'd let me know the final outcome in a couple of days. I did tell them, several times, that I had really enjoyed my time on the Surf and that I'd love to go back, and when I got home I dropped a line to a contact from the ship, asking if they might be able to put in a good word for me. Next morning I got the call asking me when I could start! They wanted me to join at the weekend, but that would have given me two days to sort everything out, and I'd got plans too, so I asked if I could possibly join mid-week instead, and here I am!

The journey here has been long and arduous, starting on Tues morning with a trip to the Docs for a company medical, then a stay in a hotel miles from the airport, two flights, the second of which was 10 and 3/4 hrs, but that's not including the delay due to technical faults and refueling etc. Think I spent about 12 hrs sat on that one! But i'm here now, and I can hardly keep my eyes open any more (Well I have been up for 24 hours!)

The fun starts tomorrow; I'll keep you posted :-)

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Regarding Concordia

We should not leap to conclusions about what happened, and I await the report, as should the media. However, I fear there is a catalogue of failures that led to this sad and terrible situation, and more than that I fear the majority of those failures came from poor leadership on the part of the Captain and his officers. However the rest of the crew should not be penalised in the media for a few people's shortcomings, and it should be bourne in mind that the majority of passengers were evacuated, in extremely difficult circumstances, well beyond any situation you would expect to simulate in a drill. I hope that as a (newly qualified) bridge officer I will never have to be in such a situation, but if I am I will remember my position and responsibility and behave in a manner that reflects that. Moreover, I will do my level best throughout my career to ensure that every member of crew understands how best to react in an emergency, that they are confident with that understanding, and that they know I will always be there beside them.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

New Year, New Life!

I'm sitting here with a glass of hot spiced cider, and realising that, as Dorothy said to Toto, I'm not in Kansas anymore. It's strange, I feel rather lost at the moment, for the first time in three years I have no schedule, no deadline and, most importantly of all, no idea where my next wage is going to come from. (This has not stopped me from purchasing far too many pairs of boots on ebay mind!) So my New Years resolutions are quite simple-

1. Get a job - this will provide me with the money to do the next resolution.

2. Learn to drive - this will enable me to get to jobs and see friends without having to deal with trains all the time. It will also give me something to do when on leave.

3. Go to the on-board gym more than once in a blue moon - this will balance out the fact that driving means I no longer have to lug cases through stations, which is one of my primary sources of exercise. That and cycling to and from college, which I also no longer have to do.

I haven't started looking for a job until now because a) I wanted Christmas and New Year with my loved ones and b) I felt that I deserved a break. I had a wonderful family Christmas at home, with not only Ma, Pa, Sister and her new husband, but also the Beast and his mother. I had a completely tech free day, (although we had to watch the Queen's Speech) full of exquisite food, fancy drinks (including a 1927 port and a 1906 brandy), a roaring log fire and scrabble to round it all off (which of course I lost!). New Years was seen in with friends and also included an gluttony of food and drink. My waistline has somewhat expanded over the last few weeks!

Now however, with January looming cold and bleak I am finding my feet are starting to itch a little and I am resolved to get my paperwork in order and begin the process of applications and interviews. If anyone knows of any jobs going out there, please do let me know!!

Meanwhile I wish you and yours all the very best for 2012, and hope to see you on the high seas soon.

S4 xx