Elle’s Adventure One Year On

Hello! Hope you all had a great Christmas, I certainly am having a gorgeous time at home with my family and friends! I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since I started my cadet ship with Maritime London, at Warsash Maritime Academy . I thought I’ll let you know what the past twelve months has given me, on the biggest adventure of my life! For those of you who’ve read my blogs as I’ve gone through have probably heard a lot of this before, and I apologies for any repetitiveness.

As you should all know I’ve wanted to be a Merchant Navy Deck Officer from a young age, and had put a lot of research in to various different companies, despite all this research I still didn’t know what type of ship I wanted to work on – some days I had no clue, some day it was defiantly a cruise, another a tanker and so on. This is why I was drawn to a cadetship through Chiltern Martitime, I couldn’t think of anything better then while training getting to experience various areas of the shipping industry, and what’s more, as I’m sponsored by Maritime London, I get an insight into aspects of the shipping industry that many cadets may not even know about, when it comes to shore based involvement.

Our first couple of weeks at WMA was very much ‘death by powerpoint’, this ranged from safety and security, to overviews of what it’s like to be a Merchant Navy Officer, and what subjects we’d be studying. However, it was broken up a wee bit by ice breakers , team building, and recreational activities. My favourite being sailing, followed by paintballing!

Having read back in my previous blogs, I’ve realised that a lot of the specific memories I have of having fun with other cadets, were actually in my first week, and not throughout the term, which I remember them being as. This isn’t saying that once the first week was over I didn’t talk to anyone, just that despite having only know each other a few days, a lot of us – especially those on the same floor – gelled really well, and instantly made strong friendships. Also in our first week or so disease struck campus, most universities it’s common for a case of ‘fresher’s flu’ to break out, however we are not a normal university, for us it wasn’t just a bit of a cold that went round, no, we had a bit of a mumps epidemic, which at one point did leave me as one the only members of our friendship group that hadn’t gone home ill.

Of course college is not all about fun, we do do learning here, and lots of it! In my first phase I had nine different subjects, these being;

  • Ship Stability
  • Dry Cargo Operations
  • Wet Cargo Operations
  • Chartwork
  • Navigational Aids
  • Celestial Navigation
  • Tides
  • Terrestrial Navigation, and
  • Maritime  Analytical Methods (Maths).

Each subject is interesting in their own way, but I did have my favourites, both in subject themselves, and the lectures taking the subjects. I think my favourite on both accounts was Stability, I especially enjoyed the fact that it was so captivating, every lesson we would be solving problems, doing maths calculations, and always building on knowledge from prior lectures. Our lecturer for the subject was also very good at his job, and would always make time to help, or go through something that anyone didn’t quite understand, whether that being in the lecture or outside of it.

Chartwork, Terrestrial, Tides and Celestial were also hand on in the sense of work wise. I have an interest in Astronomically, and did Astrophysics during my A-Levels, however that did not prepare me for how confusing celestial was to start of with. It wasn’t till probably a couple of weeks before our exam that everything seemed to fit into place and make sense.

Chartwork and Terrestrial to me, felt right, it was what I wanted to do, learning about getting from A to B, and the basic principles needed to do this.

My geography background both helped, and hindered me when it came to tides. Because I had spend at least four years studying coastal land forms, and the reasons for their existence, I already knew a lot of the theory needed for the subject. However, I am a human geography girl, and not a physical, which meant I came to despise coastal studies.

Cargo Operations was interesting, but the lectures weren’t, a lot of them were just reading and looking at powerpoints. Despite this it did give me some ideas of what ships I would like to experience, the top of my list being a reefer, and I was actually quite surprised at how much I had learnt. This became apparent while on board my second ship.

In March I took part in the 24 Hour Life Raft Challenge. This was such a fantastic experience,  though I wouldn’t like to have to do it in real circumstances! There is a pretty much hour by hour blog post here, if you didn’t read it, which I was later asked to format into a article to appear in Warsash Association’s All Hands!

Those of you who don’t know what this was, it’s pretty what is says on the tine. A team of us spent 24 hours in a liferaft, in aid of Sail4Cancer, a charity which provided respite care for families who’s lives have been affected by cancer.

In the short amount of space I have here I can’t go in to details about the experience, I do urge you to read the full blog, cause it’s so more insightful. But I am so glad I was able to be part of this team, and do my part for such and amazing cause.

At the end of Phase 1, I took part in various short course, unfortunately I didn’t really take many photos from these (some below I took, some are what a friend took, some are from the WMA website, couple are just google). These short courses included, but were not limited to;

  • Fire fighting,
  • First Aid,
  • Sea Survival,
  • Knot Tying , and,
  • Lifeboat Handling.

Now a lot of you that know me, know that I am rather pryophobic (fear of fire). My first morning of fire fighting, I was terrified putting a small chip pan fire out, the next day I was in a 260 degree room, fighting an actual fire. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in all my life! It wasn’t till later that week that I sat down, and thought about what I had actually done, and realised how proud I was at myself.

The rest of that week was made up of first aid, I don’t think I really have to tell you what that involves, I’m sure everyone has at least some understanding, and Sea Survival. The morning of Sea Survival started in the classroom learning about what we have on board to a) help us survive, b) help us signal for assistance. This included immersion suits, which you can see being expertly modeled above.

The afternoon was spent in the pool, putting into practice what we had learnt earlier in the day. This involved climbing into a liferaft from the water, jumping off a 3m platform, swimming as a group, and turning a life raft the right way up. Our final exercise of the day was putting all these skills into action. This was done in the form of an emergency drill, with normal lights off, and flashing lights on, along with sirens and spray. We started by jumping off the platform again, mustering as a group in the water, and swimming together to a raft. Once we were all inside, we had to follow the procedures that would be done in the situation, such as (pretending to) light flares, bail out water, and check everyone’s status.

On July 8th I joined my first ship, the THV Galatea, in Swansea. At first the wanderlustic girl in me found it difficult to warm to the idea of staying around the UK, but now I find it difficult to believe there would be a better first ship! I spent 3 months on board, and sailed nearly all the way around the UK. (The larger photo does not belong to me).

In my first few day we had heliops (Helicopter Operations) off Lundy South Light, myself and the other deck cadet shadowed the 2/O on watch, and was shown and explained things on the bridge. We also made a passage plan from Breaksea Buoy to Morte Bay, which was approximately 40 miles, we first did this on the paper charts, and was then shown the ECDIS and transferred it to electronic chart. As we steamed I spent the afternoon taking fixes to mark our position on the chart, done by visual bearings, along with radar bearings and ranges. A few days later we also had heliops of the Eddystone Lighthouse.

During my first week Captain Wayne showed me the anti-healing system, and the online weather and tide forecasters, the latter factors determined where we were going that day, and where we would anchor overnight. Many times I watched as buoys was picked out the water, cleaned, serviced and returned, while this was going on the Captain showed me how to do a work log. One night we decided to go to Penzance and stay overnight, so I got the charts out the correct folio, and laid them out for the second officer who I watched plan the route was copied on to the paper charts from the electronic. I also learnt how to use the AIS, log the weather at the end of a watch and the mast lights. As we got closer to the ETA returned to the bridge to watch what the Captain did when we went to anchor, where I was put in charge of the radio to the chippy controlling anchor, I got so tongue tied! That night I saw the most amazing sunset, this photo (as pretty as it is) doesn’t even do it justice!

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Most of the trip (each trip was 3 weeks – crew change on every third Wednesday) continued like this. Eight till five shadowing the 2/O’s on watch, though I did watch on deck sometimes when buoys were being serviced. There were also times where I completed things on my own, or with the 2/O maintenance on board, this included checking the right things were in the right cupboards, and that all the boats (we have 4 on board, a P28, a Workboat, a rescue boat, and a ‘rubber duck’ aka a RIB) were in working order, and being shown and taught more about entering enclosed spaces, and the procedures done prior to that.  I had a few days of getting very wet, this was due to checking fire fighting equipment, or cause I went out on the work boat to check a lighthouse.

We ended the trip with an MCA audit looking at SMC, ISSC, ILO and MLC (please don’t ask me what all them letters stand for cause I’ve forgotten, I know MLC is Maritime Labour Convention). The day started with a meeting, and documents review. And followed by Interviews with the Master, Chief, Chief Engineer, and some other members of the crew. During these meetings things that were discussed included, Masters Review, Internal Audits, SMS, Deck Maintenance Emergency Preparedness, Shipboard Operations, Food and Wages, along with checking certification of all members of crew was in order. Before lunch we also had a emergency drill. The scenario of this drill was that a smoke detector had gone off in the paint locker, and I made the announcement over the PA system for the incident party, as named on the muster list, to check it out. They confirmed there was a fire and the Fire Alarm was sounded. During this drill I was on the Bridge (however for exercises purposes they needed a missing person so my name was given to a manikin who got trapped in the paint cupboard). During the drill I shadowed the captain following the set steps, along with keeping communications with other areas of the ship and relaying information back to the other cadet who was record keeping. The drill lasted just over 15 minutes and the auditor was very impressed by the conduct off all the crew. The audit was a fantastic one where we had no deficiencies, which the captain said ‘it’ll be a long time before that would happen again’ and that it’s taken him over 30 years to have an audit that has resulted in no deficiencies.

The day after crew change I started working daily with the crew, this was also the day we set sail to Oban, Scotland’s West Coast. This day I spent doing PMs (Planned Maintenance), which started by climbing up the crane, one the AB’s Ian, showed me how to use the crane and explained all the mechanics inside it then I got climb on top and walk over the top of it. This wasn’t just for the walk we were up there greasing the mechanics and checking that everything was in order. We also carried out maintenance on the P28 and the workboat, along with greasing pulleys.

We Arrived in Oban Saturday morning, we were there until Sunday evening, as we had a lot of cargo to load. Along with the work we did get to have an explore of the area! I don’t think I’ve been to a more beautiful place – plus I got a Irn-Bru ice cream, which was amazing.

On the Wednesday I swapped roles with the other cadet, to do a week of watches, where I was on the 4-8. By this time we had sailed over the top to Scotland and had arrived at the Isle of May, near Edinburgh. Here we were having over 200 lifts with the helicopter, due to this there was little I did navigational wise while on watches, however this time was beneficial in learning  what other tasks the Second Officer carries out on a day to day basis.These tasks included taking gyro errors, manipulating tidal data, and apparently posing for photographs.

On our way to Harwich I took a field trip with 2/O James, the ETO Mike, and the ETO cadet, to Longstone Light Vessel, as everyone was telling me horror stories about how disgusting light vessels are, as they’re usually covered in bird poo, and dead fish and birds, along with how rough it is on them, I was not looking forward to the trip.  Saying this I got on board and it was super clean and didn’t smell at all! Both the officers were also surprised at its condition. While on board myself and James tested/checked things such as the fire extinguishers, first aid kits were in order and that all hatches and doors were sufficiently greased. As light vessels are unmanned for great lengths of time and enclosed, we needed to open all ventilation before we entered the rooms, we also needed to test the atmosphere as we walked around, and most importantly before entering any rooms to make sure that oxygen levels were sufficient. Once this was done we joined the ETO’s who were checking the light, and the fog signal system. As the fog signal system took a while to sort, and the weather was beautiful, James and I may have done a little bit of relaxing in the sun while watching the seals in the water.

My week on deck mainly consisted of stripping paint of the bits in the focstle, then painting them again. Which I’m not going to go into details about, as I don’t want you all to get too excited about 3 days of painting, I know, it really is such a thrilling subject, so I apologise. Between the exciting times of painting I helped on deck as we serviced multiple buoys, including ones in Whitby and many around Holy Island, Northumbria, as we made our way toward Harwich for crew change.

While doing the buoys I mainly spent my times on the lines that kept the buoy from swaying when the crane was picking it up and moving it, but I also helped with many other things such as changing anodes, and testing the lights worked correctly, two of which did not – but that was okay cause I “could just sit on top with a torch for few weeks” as the chief said.

The Monday before crew change day we steamed overnight from Whitby area to Yarmouth area, as I had never taken part in an overnight steam, I asked if I could shadow 2/O Steph on her 12 to 4 watch. This was great because she taught me lot of things that I needed to know, or knew of, that might not be taught in college. It was really interesting to see how steaming at night compared to steaming during the day, obviously everything was the same, but at the same time it was different. It was odd being on the bridge with it all complete darkness and screens as dim as possible, and only being able to see the lights of other vessels.

My afternoon watch consisted of a pilotage in to Harwich which was also interesting to see. Having spent a few day with a pilot in Barrow is was to see how it compared. Both from the side of going on to the ship with the pilot, and being made a drink, to welcoming a pilot on board and making the tea myself, but also the differences in how the pilot worked, and also Harwich is a wee bit bigger then barrow, and just a tiny bit busier, seeing as there’s StenaLine Ferries going in and out all day, and one of the / the biggest container ship terminals in the UK, there’s a fair bit of difference.

The coolest thing I think I’ve seen on the bridge of the Galatea was watching as the survey equipment in use, when a fishing vessel sank in the English Channel/ Dover Straits. As we approached the area where it was last reported we observed much debris in the water, on the broadcast it stated that there was a white dan buoy indicating where it was, however we did not see this. The hydrographic survey equipment on board was able to show us a picture of the seabed.  When an area of lower depth was witnessed, the ship sailed over the area in various directions, this bought up an image on the computer screen of the fishing vessel. Due to the small size of it and the depth of water it had sank it it was deemed unnecessary to be marked with a buoy, so we left it and went on our way.

My second Light Vessel lived up to the horror stories, well not completely, I do think the stories were a bit exaggerated, but the Varne was covered, and smelt so bad, but as the weather was nice, and not too hot it wasn’t all that bad. The problems came after lunch, when the rain and the wind came. I spent doing much the same things I did on the Longstone, but the after lunch I pretended to be an ETO, and as I used cable ties, electrical tape and used the words “turn the breaker on” I think I nailed it… Most of my afternoon did consist of telling the real ETOs when the light was flashing out of character – which was most of the time. Rough weather did start to pick up as we were to get off, with it taking a good 20 minutes between the work boat trying to come alongside, and getting one, a lot of that time was taken up by myself hanging off the side of the vessel waiting for a safe time to be able to get in the boat. The problem with the light on this vessel means that there has now been 3 day where the ETO has been on board, and a separate day where the Galatea sat just off from it observing the light. It’s safe to say that I’m starting to dislike light vessels. Saying this because the location of the Varne Light Vessel, in the middle of the English Channel just off from Dover. It has been very useful, to learn and see traffic separation scheme in action, along with a good bit of ship spotting during the day.

While sat just off from the vessel I’ve partaken in a fire, an enclosed space entery, and an emergency steering drill, along with carrying out tasks in ‘Adam’s Cadet fun pack’, which is various PMs that 2/O Adam needs doing, such as testing the emergency lighting, and torches, and muster lists of 2 of the 3 on board boats, the SOPEP equipment and the boat deck stores.

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My final trip was made up of being around the same areas as the third, and was mostly spent on deck. Again my first week was spent taking part in planned maintenance, mostly greasing equipment and testing it works properly.

The first day of my last trip we I found out that a class one buoy had sunk, and we had to retrieve and replace it ASAP. The retrieving was done by lowering a hook over the side of the ship and grappling it; due to the higher risk of danger with this I observed it from the bridge.

I also learnt how to chip, using a vibrating needle gun, and feather with a grinder. This was needed doing in preparation for the Heli Deck to be repainted.

On September 24th I turned 21, and was surprised by the whole crew singing me happy birthday with presents, cake and prosecco in the mess. Being my first birthday both away from my family and being at sea, I am so grateful that everyone, especially 2/Os Steph and James, put so much effort in and made my birthday special.

I left the ship six days after my birthday, and was sad to leave. Again I would love to thank both crews of the THV Galatea for being so accommodating and giving me such a fantastic experience. As I’ve been told when I’ve thanked people personally ‘it’s their job to teach cadets and make us welcome’, but I feel everyone has gone beyond that to welcome myself and other cadets on board, and make sure we’re learning and happy. I just now fear that no other ship I’m on in my cadetship will live up to the standard provided by Trinity. I said within my third week that I would like to return to Trinity House one day as a qualified officer, and I still stand by that.

On October 15th I joined the Commodore Goodwill in Falmouth Dry Dock. Goodwill, a Ro-Ro freight ferry operating between Portsmouth and the Channel Islands, was a completely different experience to what I was used to.  (This is an old photo of the ship, and does not belong to me).

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Again when I was told what I was going to be on I was bit disappointed that I wasn’t going further afield, but if I learnt anything from the Galatea, it was that where you went didn’t change how good time on board would be, and that our wee island is actually a pretty awesome place. I had also spoken to Cadets who had been on before me, and despite their feedback not being entirely positive, I made sure I went with a blank slate, so I could make up my own mind. I can see why those cadets may have not particularly enjoyed their time here. Though saying that I did not regret being on board, as I chose to apply for my cadetship through Maritime London / Chiltern so I could experience various types of shipping and work with many different people, and from there decide what I like and don’t like. Also despite the negatives, I learnt a lot and gained lots of experience. I particularly enjoyed learning about cargo operations, I just don’t think back and forward to the same places everyday is for me.

I joined ship in Falmouth Dry Dock, and after a 12hour journey all I wanted was to get in

my cabin and go to bed. Instead I spent 20mins wandering round the ship, which at the time, had various holes in the deck and work going on, I felt as if the ship were not expecting a cadet which was a shame.. I was really looking forward to dry dock experience thinking I’d get loads of hands on tasks to do, however most of the work was being done by outside contractors… I cleaned two lifeboats, put up some signs, had a look in some tanks, and spent the rest of the time (over a week) in my cabin or conference room studying. I did like Falmouth itself, would love to go back, was the bonus of getting to see some friends while ashore.

After two weeks in dry dock we finally started floating, and I instantly felt better. My first few day on watch I checked all the Fire Extinguishers, EEBDs, HRUs, Life Jackets, Immersion Suits, Foam Stations, Lifeboats, Fire Fighting Stations, Breathing Apparatus and more. Despite the Chief Mate not being too happy that I had done all the 2/O’s jobs for him, I didn’t really mind as I got a taster of what it would be like to be a Third Officer.

When I’m on deck doing cargo operations I’m mainly lashing trailers to the deck, but often I do get to do some parking. I became a lot happier, both mentally and in comfort wise since I stopped hoping my TO would explain to me what’s going on and what I’m meant to do, and started relying on the OS’s, who have had no problem explaining all aspects of loading and discharging.

The daily agenda on board, was arriving in Guernsey around 0400, discharging any freight that needed to be discharged and taking more on, doing the same in Jersey around 0600, and again in Portsmouth between 1630 and 1930. Our cargo was mostly the backs of lorries, therefore a tug (like a smaller, more maneuverable version of a lorry cab) would connect to the trailer. When the trailers were being loaded they had to be rested on a trestle at the forward end, before the tug could disconnect, once this was done the trailer was chained, or lashed, to the deck, making sure that it would not move,

even with the break on. The amount of chains used (normally 4 or 6) would depend on various conditions, including, but not limited to;

* the weight of the trailer and cargo,

* the center of gravity of the trailer,

* the type of cargo carried,

* the expected weather conditions, and,

* the size of the trailer.

This process is following the guild lines specified in the Code of Safe Working Practices.

Things did improve on board, as I worked with different 2/Os, however due to the watch keeping times, and the heavy weather we experienced I found myself getting more and more worn out, longing for study days to arrive just to get a few hours decent sleep in. Where most ships have six 4hour watches (four hours on, eight off, four on, eight off), or four 6hour (six on, six off, six on, six off) watches in a 24 hour period, the Goodwill worked on ‘5s&7s’, being broken in to 0030-0530, 0530-1230, 1230-1930 and 1930-0030. This really was difficult for my body get used too. These watches were spent between the bridge and cargo ops.

As time went on I found myself much happier (and stronger) working on the upper vehicle deck. I also became more confident especially when I was in charge of the deck and was more like the 2/O was shadowing me other then the other way round. Yes, there were some ABs that plain out refused to listen to what I said, but otherwise, all was better.

During my time on the bridge I completed my steering ticket, which was both very exciting, and rather quiet worrying, know that you’re in control of the ship, and

especially on pilotages into port, or in heavy traffic, making one mistake could be drastic. I had to complete 10 hours of steering, with various criteria to tick off during this. This meant that I steered, both by day and night, in open water and in narrow channels, and in different traffic densities.

At first I found large turns difficult to not over shoot, especially when coming into port with an ever decreasing speed. However as I practiced and watched what the helmsman did, along with realising lot of it came from basic AS Level physics, I managed to, well I wont say perfect the skill, but I think I did pretty well. I found myself setting challenges, both when turning and also keeping a steady heading especially in rougher weather. This started as I wont deviate/overshoot more the 10 degrees, then 7 degrees, and getting progressively lower, until my last time steering in to Portsmouth, the biggest difference I got, was 2 degrees, and that was only on a few occasions!

As thankful as I was for the opportunity to train, and sail on the Commodore Goodwill, I was very relieved when my disembarkation date came as I was looking forward to getting home the next day and spending Christmas with my family.

Like I started with, I don’t regret being on board as I gained some very valuable experiences, not just in the tasks I completed, but also being shown how we should act and treat our colleagues in a working environment. Unfortunately, I encountered some negative experiences with some of my fellow Officers and crew on this vessel however I want to put this behind me and move on. I knew that this was a possibility, as it is in any working environment and my experience has been reported back to my Training Company for follow up.

Just so you know I’ve have been back at WMA for less then a week, for phase three, and already find myself craving more knowledge (especially an meteorology – which the

geography girl in me is very excited about – and voyage planning), making new friend, and enjoying catching up with old ones.

I’d like to take the time to thank you for taking the time to read, sorry it’s been quite a long post, and everyone who’s made it possible for me to be hear now, even a year on I’m still having to pinch myself cause I can’t believe I’m finally getting close to my lifelong dream. Here’s to a great 2016, wherever it may take us (which is hopefully at least one of the many countries on my bucket list!)

 

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2 thoughts on “Elle’s Adventure One Year On”

  1. Hiya

    Good to meet you on Friday. Wanted to contact you to say hello.

    Interesting reading about all your adventures. Makes my office existence look a bit dull!

    Best wishes

    Mark

    Like

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