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 :-)