Elle’s Adventures – Two Years On

Where has time gone? Can you believe it’s been just over 2 years since I started my Deck Officer Cadet Ship, through MLOCS, and Chiltern Maritime, at Warsash Maritime Academy? I definitely can’t.

A lot has happen in the past two years, the first of which you can read here (Elle’s Adventures – One Year On).  Like last year this will mostly be an amalgamation of my previous blog posts, so bear with if you’re re reading parts. I recognise that last year’s post was extremely wordy, so I hope to keep this a little shorter and sweeter.

One year on leaves off where I have not long started lectures, having returned to WMA in the first week of January, and we were thrown straight back in to work, with seven new subjects (well 5 plus cargo and, stability & naval architecture), four of which gave us assignments within the first week!

Also during the Spring Term I took part for the second year running in the annual WMA 24 Hour Life Raft Challenge. I’m sure by now you all know that this is sponsored event in aid of Sail4Cancer, where we spent 24 hours in a Life Raft, in the mouth of the River Hamble.

By 1705 on March 11th we were all in our rafts, and ready for the challenge to begin. Although we did have a small leak in our raft, memories of ‘Titanic Raft from 2015’ came flooding back, all was fine in the rafts, and the first few hours went extremely quickly, and was filled with lots of laughing and even more food, including a Dominoes Delivery.

Night time was extremely crowed, more so then the year previous, however despite this, I managed to snuggle up into my best friend Luke, and we let the hours pass by films on my tablet, and by napping.

When morning came, we decided it was a good idea to sing. It really wasn’t a good idea. What was even more of a ‘not good idea’, I decided that live tweeting and blogging was not good enough this year, and therefore would vlog throughout the 24 hours, which resulted in me awkwardly telling the camera what time it was really.

By the afternoon we had exhausted the objects we could use for I-spy, and granny had been to the supermarket various times so everyone was starting to feel tires, uncomfortable and irritable, however the news that we had reached £8,000 did perk up everyone’s moods.

In the end we raised approximately £13,000 for Sail4Cancer, enabling 13 families to have a holiday, in order to gain respite from their day to day lives. If you would like to read my full hour detail of the challenge, including the above mentioned awkward videos of me telling the time, head over to “We Did It #WMALRC16”.

Before long Easter was upon us, and the summer term began. This started with rounding up the ends of our subjects and exams before starting with new subjects, Orals Prep, Engineering, Transas, Maritime Law, Maritime Business, and Command Management. These were mostly all assignment based, including essays on the fault of the Costa Concordia grounding, and planning a route for a ferry out of Portsmouth (something I became very familiar with having been at the helm for said pilotage many times) on the Electronic Charts, and carrying out the pilotage on the simulators.

Command Movement was split in to various smaller assignments including using the simulator to do some manovering and come along side, and planning a route on the electronic charts. Along with written assignments, we had a group presentation, in which I volunteered as team leader; all were about search and rescue. Our final assignment was our Signals exam, which consisted of recognising Morse code, and flags and meanings, along with a short written test. Our final part of Command management was an hour a week about what engineers do on board.

Towards the end of term I was told that I would be joining Windstar Cruises, on board mys Wind Surf from September through to January, not only meaning that I had my birthday and Christmas at sea, but also I had a month off, in which I spent time with my family, had a wee adventure on my own. As I was missing Christmas with my friends, the awesome people that they are threw me my own special Christmas dinner and party in the middle of August. During my time on board I would spend my first two months around the med, followed by two weeks in Dry Dock in Cadiz, two week crossing/wet dock, and my final month in the Caribbean.

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On September 7th I flew to Lisbon to join the Wind Surf, and set into work on the eight till twelve watch.  Despite being my third ship, the Wind Surf was completely different to one I’d been on before, for one it had an actually steering wheel (which made me more excited then what I would like to admit!), and of course there were sails, but also Wind Star has an open bridge policy, meaning that our guests were allowed to visit the bridge whenever we were at sea.

With a day at sea before our first destination I was very quickly thrown into the idea of having guests asking questions on the bridge. It also gave me a good amount of time to learn my way around the bridge equipment, especially the sail controls. During this time I was working with the third officer, and therefore my ‘overtime work’ was made up of the maintenance of LSA, embarkation training, and muster lists.

During my third cruise, while in Capri, I celebrated my 22nd Birthday with going on tour! In which I got to enter the Blue Grotto, a cave where the water glows bright blue due sunlight traveling through underwater cavities, the entrance of which about a meter high so often cut off, taste food in Anacapri, get a chairlift up nearly 600m high Mount Solaro, and ride the cable car. With celebrations continuing into the evening with being included in the Captain’s Introductions, followed by cake with my new friends.

Other than standard being on watch, learning as I go, looking after Lifeboats, LSA, and such there isn’t much that I can really go into detail with for my first month. Most the on watch things, compass errors, plotting position, assessing traffic I’ve talked about in previous blogs. Don’t get me wrong, I learnt an awful lot working with the Third Officer, but not that’s worth reading about.

After my fifth cruise I changed watch to the 4-8, with the positive note of getting to experience arrivals and departures, getting to work more with the sails and their maintenance, being a larger presence in crew training, (and getting longer/better hours exploring), but with the negative that my nightly midnight visits to my best friend and mama on board MJ, who was the night shift.

At first I was not looking forward to waking up so early, but soon realised I actually preferred getting up at half 3 then I did half 7! On this watch there would be the more or less same routine most days. Getting up as quietly as possible & getting ready in the dark in order to not disturb my cabin mate between 0315 and 0330, stopping by MJ to say good morning, getting on to the bridge for around 0345 and making a coffee, after the watch was handed over, Second Officer Aline, QM Rosid, and I would walk something like 70 laps of the bridge (about a mile) if safe to do so, while discussing mostly travels, adventures and near death experiences, an hour before the pilot we would start our pre-arrival checks, such as calling arrival parties, contacting the port and/or pilots, making sure all is in order for the Captain to take the vessels control. On arrival I was in charge of fixing positions, the arrival checklist and the rough log. Usually by time we were alongside and moored it was about time to hand over the watch, and have an hour or so nap before starting the days out of watch work, be that sails or training, followed by lunch (usually ashore) and an explore/nap before returning to the bridge at 1600.

Sails maintenance included routine checks such a movements and mast inspections, emergency maintenance such as repairs, and general upkeep such as greasing and topping up oil. It became noticeable one day that our fifth main sail had a small vertical tear, which resulted in spending our Halloween morning with a team of sailors, lowering the sail and sewing a patch on either side to cover the hole, my nana would be so proud, she always wanted to me sew! I did get a little worried after proudly exclaiming that I had help sew the patch (learning some Indonesian while doing so), that it would come loose and the rip becoming visible again. Both our QM Rosid and 2/O Aline both went up the top of the masts, which I would have loved to do, but due to insurance I wasn’t allowed. Most sails days we did end up greasy, oily, mucky, sweaty and tired, but it was such a great learning experience and I so much enjoyed the hands on element.

Training was also such a brilliant thing to get involved in, as I was able to see things we’d talked about at college happen on location, and I got the practical side of things. Some trainings included just discussing first response in the crew specific locations, some presentations, some drills, but my favourite were definitely ones that broke down what we would do in an emergency while still carried out the actions, such as the day we inflated a life raft on the quay side and in groups got the whole crew inside so they saw how crowded it was and what you would do, but the best and worse at the same time was fire team training. During this the fire team, and usually myself, would dress up fully in firefighting gear, practice using a fire hose from the aft mooring deck, then practice entering a smoke filled/dark area retrieving a casualty and putting a ‘fire’ out”.

Although I preferred the latter part of my contract in terms of work, I preferred ashore in Europe. I adored soaking up the culture, eating new foods, marvelling over the architecture, and so much more. I have some favourite places definitely Dubrovnik and Portofino being top of my list, I think they are beautiful in topography, architecture and just everything about them. Ibiza surprised me a lot, all I really knew of Ibiza was parties so I wasn’t fussed, but I discovered that there was a historic side and walked the city walls. Monaco is also a high point on my list, though instead of the casino I went to the palace, museum and aquarium. Other highlights include shopping in Sorrento, walking around Kotor’s old town, exploring the backstreets of Venice, and Barcelona’s Food Market.

During my time on board I went into my second dry dock. Having not enjoyed my first, I went in dreading dry dock, and hoped I would have work to do. I found myself regretting hoping for work every single day. Every day I was busy, I was tired, I ended up very sweaty every day, I got stressed, I loved it, maybe not at the time (or at least most of the time), but looking back I know I enjoyed  the work, and I really appreciate the responsibilities that I was given.

The best days in Dry dock were the days that I was allowed to go into the dock itself. The first I tagged along with 2/O Aline within a few days of arriving, second with most of the crew, mid-way through the two weeks, and finally a couple of days before we left, I was tasked on supervising a contractor doing some work.

Every couple of nights we did make sure we had a break from long, loud days and had what became known as ‘family night’, which sometimes meant going for a meal, or to the nearby super store (which sold Irn-Bru), but mostly consisted of getting a take away and watching an animated film, usually Disney or penguin related.

Wet dock was a complete different work schedule, paired with the constant clock changes (retarding an hour every few days), my body clock did feel a wee bit out of whack. During our two weeks crossing I was on watch on the bridge between 0400 and 0800, though I prepped the days permits to work, so often didn’t leave the bridge till 0830ish, then 0845-0900 I would join the sailors in working around the ship, finishing just after 1500 each day. The reason for this was that both the other deck cadet, Alistair, and I could both do a navigational watch in which the sun was rising or setting, in order to practice our celestial navigation, along with completely practical maintenance tasks.

Each morning I would estimate a position for civil twilight (basically when you can see the horizon and stars) that day position using a previous and distance = speed x times. I would then find an estimation of where in the sky recognisable stars would be at that time. When said time comes around I’d use a sextant and azimuth ring to find the bearing and amplitude of the stars, of which I used to plot the ships position on the chart.

My first few days I was completely useless, my 2/O, Aline, had to guide me step by step through the whole procedure, and to begin with even shoot the stars for me. My first position told me we were 90 miles from our actual position, though I was reassure by the fact that there was over 3000nm to our destination, if we were only 90 miles out we’d get to the Caribbean alright. As I became more practiced Aline gave me more and more independence, checking how I was doing between steps, double checking my shots, reminding me of little things I may have forgotten, and there were a few times that I missed a step, did something in the wrong order, or simply read the wrong date and had to start the calculations all again. However, by the end of the crossing I was left to do the whole thing alone, by this time I had also got a lot quicker and accurate at doing.

During the day I partook in tasks such as wash downs of the ship, making sure things were back in shape for arrival in St. Maarten, repairing and pressure testing fire hoses, working with the Carpenters, and continuing the general upkeep and maintenance of LSA, Lifeboats and Tenders, the sail system.  Again during the time it seemed like lot of work, and some days were quite stressful, but looking back it was a fantastic to be fully involved in.

We arrived at Philipsburg, St. Maaten at the start of December, and I returned to being on 4-8 full time, however this time with 2/O Sebastian, however after my first week, Alistair disembarked, leaving me as the only deck cadet on board, so did work with each of the navigating officers, if and when required.

Caribbean days were repetitive as we anchored most days, and our arrival and departures we’re mostly the same time each day, not to mention that we visited the same ports, either weekly or every other week. This meant I did find myself getting more tired then what I was in Europe, and lead a less adventurous life, but that does no way mean I wasn’t finding myself feeling amazing about my training.

During watches my 2/O took a step back and it became more like him shadowing me as to oppose to me shadowing him. He was very reassuring that he was there if I had any uncertainties, to ask away, but soon I’ll be qualified and need to be confident having the con, so good to have some practice with someone there. Throughout watches he’d also ask me question such as what action I think we should take when we sighted other vessels, reinforcing my rules of the road practically. Along with often leaving the pre-arrival/pre-departure checks down to me, though doesn’t seem like much, it worked wonders for me feeling confident about being a future officer.

With work being done on the sails infrastructure during wet and dry dock, and Sebastian’s duo-ticket, the maintenance we did on sails was different to what was done with Aline. My last few weeks on sails were spent concentrating on the workings of the system and trying to restore them to a near original condition.

During the Caribbean season I became more aware of other operations that happened around the vessel, each cruise the chief officer, invited me to host tables with him in the guest dining room, I had time and energy to attend the on Deck BBQs & Line Dancing, beach BBQs, I spent a lot of time at the Marina, and I also managed to watch the crew show. I even sang Christmas carols on Christmas Eve to our guests, and spent my New Year’s Eve interacting with guests in the Compass Rose bar. By this time this had come around I was very used to interacting with guests, giving them tours of the bridge, answering any questions, but hosting tables was something different, every time I felt terrified (normally only for the first 10 minutes or so), I really didn’t want to say the wrong with, or worse spill food on my formal whites! Luckily, I got on very well with my chief officer, so my mind was put at rest, and it was very easy to continue a conversation. I genuinely think working with him helped me grow a lot on board, hearing “Lee, you are the best,” (Lee was his name for me, don’t ask I’m not entirely sure why either) multiple times a day was great, I must say.

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My first holiday season at sea was one that I won’t forget definitely! Christmas Eve consisted of buy Christmas crackers, lots of candy, and somehow Waitrose products in Antigua. Christmas day we spent the day at sea traveling north west, we had the perfect wind for sailing, meaning we turned the engines off around 10am and didn’t turn them on till about 10pm, meaning my cabin was silent, so outside of watch, and bridge secret Santa time I spent the day asleep.

We sailed into the New Year also, but I was not in bed at midnight to make the most of the silent engines. Every New Year people in my village in North West England go for a swim in the sea, this year I decided to uphold this tradition, although I was in Antigua. Though this wasn’t anything out the ordinary as I spent the time at the marina, most days swimming, and using the water trampoline, but I also discovered in Roseau, Dominica that I am ace at Stand Up Paddle Boarding, however not that great at doing flips anymore.

I landed back at Manchester airport mid-morning on the 8th of January, and returned home for my third Christmas. Although nice to be home, I found myself longing to be back on board. I really want to say thank you again to everyone on board, I am very lucky to have sailed with Captain Gerard and his wonderful team. Everybody on board taught me something, and I have made some fantastic friends that I hope I do stay in contact with. I feel completely privileged to work with who I have, if I mention one person I’d have to mention everyone, or at least 95% of the crew. When I said I didn’t want to leave I was completely telling the truth. I’m currently sat at home, feeling homesick (for probably the first time ever) for the ship I called home for the past four months, and the people I’ve called family, though I have to remember what wise woman told me on last night on board, “It’s never goodbye, just see you later.”

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2 thoughts on “Elle’s Adventures – Two Years On”

  1. Hi Elle, I am nearly finished school and considering becoming a merchant navy deck officer, and I was wondering if you could tell me roughly how young the youngest cadets are? Are there many 17 year olds straight from school? Love the blog btw, keep up the good work! 😀

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    1. Hi OJ,
      Sorry I’ve only just caught up with this, I hope it still can help.

      The youngest cadets I have met are 26 when they’ve started. My intake (January) are mostly older cadets who have had previous careers and already gone through uni, especially in the FD group, however there were a few 17-19 year olds in the intake both deck and engine, HND and FD cadets who just left school (myself included). The september intake does however have a larger number of younger cadet.

      I’m glad that you are looking this career, it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of! I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed my blog, and hope that it has encouraged your decision!

      Thank you, and good luck, if there is anything else you’d like to know get in touch, and I’ll try reply much quicker!

      Elle

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