Chief Mates Orals report.

•March 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been very quiet recently, but things have been afoot! Last summer I decided that it was about time I went up for my Chief Mates, so worked out how much money I needed and how long it would take me to pull together and then booked myself on the Warsash Maritime Academy Chief Mates Orals prep course starting in January.

It’s been a hectic few weeks, as well as the Orals prep I had to do Proficiency in Medical Care, Navigation Aids and Equipment Simulator Training and Human Element, Leadership & Management courses. So much to learn and in so little time, I’ve had moments when I thought my brain was going to start dribbling out of my ears, but somehow I made it through and reached the day of reckoning….

Date: 10th March 2016
Time: 1400 start, exam lasted 1hr.
Examiner: S.Akthur – fill in examiner from Norwich

I had to have a chaperone, so once she had turned up he brought me into the room, made sure I was comfortable and went through all of the formalities. He asked me about my previous experience and said that for the purpose of the exam I will be a C/O on a RORO ferry. He didn’t give much away but did prompt for an answer when it was required. It all went really fast, while also feeling like it would never end, and I may have forgotten some things…

– You’ve been employed by a roro company and are joining a new ship as CO, what would you expect to receive before joining a ship? (SEA and information about the company, joining instructions)
– So what’s in your SEA? I talked about payment of wages, the MN Code of Conduct, Drug and alcohol policy and Onboard Complaints Procedure
– So if you have a complaint and it can’t be dealt with onboard, who do you escalate it to? I said the DPA and the company.
– What if the Company can’t deal with it? I said the MCA.
– Which part of the MCA? I didn’t know and he told me there is a MLC department in the MCA.
– What certification do you need under MLC? MLC cert and DMLC part 1 and 2.
– So you’ve joined the ship now, how will you know what your duties are? I said I would expect to get a full set of detailed handover notes and there to be a handover checklist in the SMS.
– Contents of the SMS
– Roll of C/O – Stability, safety, maintenance, PMS, crew hours..
– Passage planning – I mentioned the Bridge Proceedures Guide and APEM, loadline zones, weather/need to ballast, security…
– OK, so the 2nd officer has done the passage plan but doesn’t know how to put on the wheel over points, what advice will you give him? I’d advise him to look at the ships manoeuvring information which would have been put together during sea trials and get the advance, transfer and distance to wheel over point from that.
– Planning a Drill for a totally enclosed LB? Risk assessment, crew briefing, disengage power supply and put plug in, down to embarkation level, check hooks, FPDs, check over the side, lower to the water with no-one in it first…
– Ok so you’ve launched it safely, what about recovery? When the boats away from the ship’s side get the crew to reset and check the hooks.
– Would you launch the boat with crew in it or put the boat down without crew and get them to go down the embarkation ladder? No, if it was a normal drill I’d launch with the crew onboard.
– Put a piece of paper on the table and drew a box, weight 200 tonnes, 3m by 5m. Deck strength is 12t/m. He said that a shoreside crane is going to load this, can you load this weight? 200/(3×5)= 13.3t/m so no you can’t load it unless you spread the weight with dunnage, he asked if I’d done that on my previous ship, yes we did, not only to spread the weight, but to protect the deck surface as well.
– How I would find out about deck strength? Load Density Plan.
– Now you are loading it what do you need to take into consideration? I talked about it as if we were loading it with a ships crane, so angle of list, press up tanks, tend mooring lines, brief crew, risks assessment, secure loose items, inform everyone, take in gangway… Anything else? I drew a blank here
– What do you need to think about when loading your RORO? Security, stability – talked about when I was on a RoRo and when loading constantly checking the stability computer.
– What orders will you leave the 2nd officer when loading overnight? When to call me – if anything unexpected turns up, if anyone unauthorised tries to board, if the plan changes… Anything else? Errr….
– RoRos have their doors quite low down, what if waves started coming in? Ok, yes they should call me if the weather changes – if water gets on to the cars deck its very dangerous because there’s no internal subdivision and therefore lead to FSM.
– How do you know what you can load? IMDG DoC
– What other documentation would you carry ? IMDG Code, cargo manifests for all and for DG…
– How would you ensure everything was secure? I referred to the Cargo Securing Manual being the basis for lashing, but would add extra lashings if the weather was going to be bad.
– What’s the requirement for ships to carry the cargo securing manual? Every ship that carries cargo that may need to be lashed…
– He moved on to stability, asked me to explain an angle of loll with diagrams, so I drew the GZ curve and then a box diagram, talked about G being above M..
– What could cause an angle of loll? I thought we were still talking about loading a RoRo so I said loading the top decks first.
– What about at sea? If you use up too much fuel and water?
– Well all ships use up fuel and water, what else could cause it? Ice accretion.
– How will you deal with it? Remove ice from the high side/ballast on the low side so you make sure you don’t fall over.
– Ok, you’re going to go to anchor now, tell me why you’d do a running moor and show me how you’d do a running moor with this model. You’d do a running moor in a river or channel where the tide/ current is going to change, or if you’re anchoring in an area where your swinging circle is restricted. Stem the tide, drop windward anchor, run on paying out cable, drop leeward anchor, pay out on that and heave in on windward cable until they’re even.
– You’re at anchor and the 2nd officer is on watch, during the night you start to drag anchor, he can’t get the engines up and running in time and you go aground on a reef. The general alarm is sounded. What do you do? Get up to the bridge, make sure the master is up there and has the con and then go down to assess damage, get the fire party going, damage control team is I have enough crew, sound tanks…
– What else? Sound round outside the vessel, try to establish what kind of ground we’re on and consider options for refloating if there’s no damage.
– There is damage down aft, what else are you going to do? Assess the damage to the rudders and props, contact company and class with a view to Salvage with Lloyds open form…
– What else? Well my main priority is the safety of the crew and the ship…
– Ok But what else? Who would you tell? Flag, company, security message to all vessels in the area…
– What else? You’ve got a damaged tank down aft…. I realised he was after pollution reporting and control, so nearest coastal authority by the fastest means possible, within 10 minutes, get booms out etc..

– Finally we moved on, there was a line of buoys on the edge of the desk which I’d clocked right at the start, region A. He got me to stand up and told me the direction of buoyage and the direction of north and asked me to approach each buoy, identify what it was and which side I’d pass it on. He didn’t want the light characteristics. I was going against the direction of buoyage. I turned around a few times to look at it from the direction of buoyage to ensure I passed the lateral marks the right way, saying going with the direction of buoyage I’d leave it on my xxx side, so going against I will leave it on my other side. Isolated danger mark, port and stbd lateral marks, east and west cardianals, a preferred channel marker, (I asked if I could assume I was in the main channel – I was) and a fairway buoy.

– Gave me a radar plotting sheet and put an arrow on to show my heading (190) He then put two magnets on different points of the outer range ring. Asked what I’d do. I said that’s scanty information I’d continue to plot. Gave me two more plots for each and told me they were 6 minute intervals and asked me to put on W, I said I needed my own ship speed, he said 6 kts. That gave me 0.6’ per interval, so 1.2’ for the full plot. I used a pencil to measure off 1.2’ on the range rings and put on W for each. One was crossing from stbd, one was overtaking me on my port quarter so I said, I shall avoid an alteration of port for a vessels fwd of my beam and avoid an alteration of course toward a vessel abeam or abaft the beam so I will make a substantial alteration of course to stbd and put the vessel ahead of me on my port bow. He asked who’s responsibility it is to take action, In restricted vis – everyones!

– On to the smartie board – wanted to know what it was, day signal and fog signal and actions

– VSL engaged in towing tug under 50m tow over 200m on my port side, Diamonds on both vessels, sound signal one long, two short. Said I’d stand on. It then didn’t alter for me so I said, as it’s apparent he’s not taking action I may take action, Sounded 5 short and rapid and then altered to stbd sounding 1 short. Would you go to port? No as he may still alter to stbd.

– RAM vessel engaged in underwater operations seen from astern. Safe to pass on his port side, Balls and diamonds, one long two short. I will sound 2 short and alter to port to pass on his safe side.

– Vessel probably over 50m aground, 2 black balls, 3 strikes on the bells, rapid ringing of the bell for 5 secs, 3 strikes on the bell and if over 100 rapid ringing of the gong in the aft part of the vessel. Stop, call the master, plot position on chart, APEM to safe water.

He then said that the exam was now over and asked how I felt it had gone. I said I felt that my nerves had played a big part and I was disappointed in myself for not thinking of the pollution aspects of grounding sooner, especially as I’d been smashing Marpol when revising. He said I’d done very well and he thought I’d make a very good chief officer. And you have passed by the way!

Many thanks to the Warsash Lecturers and my coursemates, in particular my housemate Sam, having a study buddy at home was a lifesaver! Also thanks to the other Sam for doing my hair that morning🙂

Now if anyone knows of any jobs available I’d be extremely grateful!!

Update, and a debate on pain.

•October 10, 2015 • Leave a Comment

So, I’ve been home for a little over a month, and much is happening! House-wise we are making progress – pictures are going up on walls, a set of stairs is about to be built to replace the terrifyingly rickety and steep stepladder that went up to the loft room and as I write we have rolls of turf waiting outside the back door to replace the majority of the paving that calls itself our garden. In addition to this frenetic rush of Getting Stuff Done While I Am Home, I am trying (and admittedly not doing particularly well at it) to revise all the things I learned at college 4 years ago, because I’m going for my Chief Mates ticket soon. That in itself is a terrifying prospect and I keep kicking myself for trying to do too much stuff at the same time. My main reason for pushing the house stuff is because of a (possibly rash) announcement last summer when I had all my family here, which was that We (OK, I, but the Beast is also down with it) wanted to host Christmas this year. So I need the house to a) feel homely (pictures), b) be able to accommodate at very least my parents and the Mini-Beast (stairs to the loft room), and c) be able to provide my family’s ageing and beloved countryside living dog who WILL NOT pee on anything but grass with somewhere to go that doesn’t mean a 10 minute walk on tarmac (lawn turf). We’ve also had/got 2 weddings to attend, plus the usual need to see friends and family that I’ve not seen for months/years/aeons. It’s hectic, it’s a bit stressful, it’s life as I know it, and I will get it all done. (Fingers crossed).

Now here’s the thing I actually wanted to ramble on about: A couple of weeks ago I got into a heated debate with a very good friend of mine about manflu and who (men or women) feels pain more, it was discussed over too much wine, which eventually and inevitably meant that no useful conclusions were drawn and therefore left unanswered questions in my head. So this evening I decided to use the time while the Beast is playing Elite Dangerous to follow up on the points raised and see who was right. My conclusion, for those who like a TL,DR, is that we were both sort of right and both sort of wrong, and that I shouldn’t be allowed to debate while drunk because I ramble.

The argument started over a stereotype of how men react to being ill. The old “man flu” debacle, if you will. I dislike stereotypes, the “ALL men/women/children/dogs/cats do such and such” trope is hideously flawed, but on the other hand, one surely has to accept that stereotypes exist for a reason, and that is because evidence, mostly anecdotal, but widely documented, shows us that in the majority of cases, (but by no means all!) this is what is observed. My stance was that men who play the “man flu” card are just being a bit wet, particularly when it’s not actually flu. I’ve had flu, once, I was so ill that watching TV made me dizzy and all I could do was shiver and quiver on the sofa and hope I died. When I have a cold though, I get a few sniffles, feel a bit shite, and mostly power on, because there’s shit I have to get done. Somehow, and you’ll have to forgive me for not remembering exactly how this transpired, the argument then moved sideways slightly to my friend telling me that women feel pain more than men because we have twice as many pain receptors. My response was, well if that’s the case, (and it is indeed the case) then women are tougher than men because they still get up and get on with stuff, despite their pain being worse than the pain experienced by men, this is assuming that the physical impact or cause of pain is of the same strength when applied to either gender. My friends take on it was that men can take twice as much pain/physical abuse than women, which makes them tougher. In the end I think we were looking at the same thing from opposite directions and kind of agreeing, while disagreeing vehemently about it.

But I still wondered about the “man flu” part, and whether blokes are actually being a bit wet. Given that women experience pain more than men, I reckoned that any kind of illness would affect us more. I was unable to find many articles on this area, but apparently a new study suggests that men may actually suffer more when they are struck down with flu – because high levels of testosterone can weaken their immune response, So while men can physically take more of a physical hit, women’s bodies cope much better with illness!

So there we go, I think it boils down to the point that we have different strengths and weaknesses, but they balance out in the end. In addition to all of this, we have to remember that pain is subjective, and each and every one of us actually experiences it in different ways, as this little video from asapScience discusses:

Now, I must stop faffing about on the internet and go and revise!

From somewhere in the South Atlantic….

•March 17, 2015 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a long time since my last entry here, for which I can only apologise and say that it wouldn’t have been very interesting anyway, not much new has happened.

I say that, but of course things have happened – I bought a house (with my boyfriend), I’ve been promoted to second mate (permanent!), we’ve had some serious weather and, most recently, we went to Montevideo.
The house thing happened last leave, the leave before last was a hectic maelstrom of house hunting and then dealing with all the paperwork that must be done before one can actually put an offer in, let alone actually buy the damn place. There was one place we loved but we didn’t have a mortgage offer in place so we missed it, but in the end we got a house on the same road. We have a few things to do to it, such as put in a proper staircase to the loft conversion (as the current one can only be classed as a deathtrap ladder), but on the whole, it’s pretty damn good. We also have a fish tank, which wasn’t part of the plan, but as we got it for free, we couldn’t resist!

Having completed all the paperwork for our side before I left for work I was able to get back to the UK and pick up the keys within a couple of days, so I spent most of last leave in our new home waiting for deliveries. Not the most exciting of pastimes but made bearable by kitten sitting for a friend. (I now, more than ever, want one for my own). I made my first Christmas dinner in my own kitchen for my beloved Beast, his daughter and mother, and then went back to the familial home to spend Christmas Day itself with my family, which now of course includes my cherub of a Nibling. I’m sure he received more presents than the rest of us put together, and I must admit that in a wine fuelled late night moment after witnessing the ceremonial nibbling and quaffing of the mice pie and whiskey left out for Father Christmas, I quietly wept for my lost childhood as it hit home fully that I was no longer the baby of the family.

It was a wonderful Christmas and leaving was a wrench, but work and the need to pay the mortgage calls like a car alarm at 5am, you don’t like it, but there’s no ignoring it. And, I was going back as permanent 2nd mate. I’d done a couple of trips as relief 2 nd already, but doing the job for a month or so was never going to be the same as doing it full time. After three months I can tell you that the best thing about being permanent 2nd is the ability to change things to suit me (OK, so the things I’ve changed are mostly only filing systems on the computer, but I’m making life simpler for myself and future 2nds… baby steps!) My previous jobs (in a past life) in admin have given me a perspective on filing that perhaps some deck officers don’t get, and I hate cluttered folders. I also hate uncompleted paperwork and records, it’s dull as hell and often feels utterly pointless at the time, but when you have to look back and find out when/if/by whom something was supposedly received or done, if the paperwork isn’t there to support the deed, it’s a fecking nightmare. Most paperwork is all about tracing accountability, and while you may not give a shit about what happens when you’ve gone, somebody else will get it in the neck if you’ve not done it right. I spent much of the early part of this trip catching up on someone else’s version of record keeping, nothing massive but multiple little bits and bobs that mounted up to a fair chunk, and with a definite MCA inspection coming up in the maintenance period, and then possibly also a Port State Control inspection when we found we were going to Montevideo, I had to ensure that everything I was responsible for was in good order, and didn’t feel that I could rely on my predecessor to have left it in quite the sate I would want it to be, so I went through everything, with a fine toothcomb.

Montevideo was a bit of a surprise, normally we’d do our annual maintenance period in Stanley but back in January we had had a wee problem with one our diesel generators. When I say wee problem, I mean it decided to take up smoking, which as we all know is a bad habit, but particularly bad in electrical components. I did A-level physics, and got a very respectable B, I would have got an A but the element that let me down was electronics, so I adhere to the maxim that electricity is made of smoke, and if the smoke gets out of the cables, its bad. I was on watch at the time and when the power alarms went off briefly a couple of times while the available power gauge still said 40% I knew something was amiss , and I was reaching for the phone to call an engineer when the fire alarm went off. There was no actual fire, thank the gods, but an engine room full of smoke is not good for the other engines and we did experience a full power failure. The crew all mustered and reacted immediately and professionally, the engineers got us power back within minutes and everyone remained calm and collected throughout (That’s why we do drills folks, it’s not just because the MCA requires us to!). The DG responsible for the fracas was dead though, it transpired that repair was not going to be a job that could be done onboard either, the copper coil component needed re-winding, and Stanley simply doesn’t have the kit for that kind of job, so our maintenance period was suddenly repositioned to Montevideo.

Most of the passage plans I do on this ship involve re-drawing the same well scored lines on the same charts, so going to Montevideo was a welcome change. I got to christen unfamiliar charts with a 2B pencil, and I even had to order some new ones! I was pulling out and reading things in publications which until now had merely been an annoying heap of paper I had to glue slivers of paper into on a seemingly pointless but regular basis. Ok so the ALRS list of AIS beacons can still take a running jump off a very short pier, but some of those books do actually have useful information in them!

The trip north took us about 5 days, it was unpleasantly cold when we left Stanley, but within a day or so it became at first pleasantly warm, and then sticky warm and by the time we got to Uruguay it was sweltering. Being a British ship we complain about the weather whatever it’s doing, but this was a whole new level of hell, mainly because we don’t have air conditioning. Even worse, the ventilation system was turned off for much of the time as it takes up too much power. As normal in a maintenance period, the engineers needed to work on all the engines, which meant we had to switch over to the generator on deck for our day to day power needs, it does the job, but you don’t get much spare to play with. We got fans, which helped a bit, but as all they can do is move hot air about it was like living in a sauna. I couldn’t even open my windows, not because I’m locked in like a naughty child but because the hinges had seized up through years of inactivity. Thankfully, sorting this out was one of my jobs during the maintenance period.

There are many jobs to do during maintenance, the list grows throughout the year as things crop up and are either too big or too impractical to do while the ship is at sea, and you’re never going to get to do them all, not unless you employ a huge number of shore-side workers to come and do most of it for you. We had a few extra crew and we did hire shore-side workers to do some tank cleaning and all the welding jobs, but the rest was down to us. Naturally the deck team is mostly doing chipping and painting, and on this ship even as an officer, if you’re not busy with anything else, you grab a needle gun or wire brush and set to. There was plenty to keep me from actually reaching that point though, as 2nd mate I am also the safety officer, so it’s my job to issue, extend, keep track of and close all the work permits, and then hot work needs a fire-watch, and tank entry needs a (wo)man outside the tank to make sure no-one dies of asphyxiation etc. And then there’s other things, like people turning up at the gangway needing either to be shown where to go or told to bugger off, surveyors wanting to inspect various bits of kit that are your responsibility, service technicians with questions, assorted LSA to be gathered to be sent ashore for servicing and then distributed when it gets back, and a million other little things…. At the end of all that you look back at your day and feel like you’ve been running about like a blue arsed fly all day but don’t really seem to have achieved anything. I did get my windows done though, it took a few days in the end, in-between all the other stuff, but the brass is now shiny, they open and close properly, and I even picked the right moment to ask if we could get some new curtains as mine were very tatty and let far too much light through for someone who’s job involves trying to get to sleep in broad daylight a lot of the time.

I did do some chipping and painting on deck in the end, our 10’ transport container, which has always been known as The Blue Container, is now a shiny post box red which is taking some getting used to. I spent most of a day sitting on top of it wire brushing and then painting. It sounds like it might be rather pleasant to sit in the sun doing a job like that doesn’t it? But It’s not a shorts and t-shirt job, you’re in a boiler suit and rigger boots, and a harness because you’re working at a height, and thick gloves and goggles and ear defenders and a rag tied over your head to absorb the sweat/keep the sun off your head, and the surface you’re sitting on is metal, which absorbs the sun’s heat very efficiently…. then I got the job of attacking the more difficult to reach and therefore neglected parts on the top of the 20T crane jib, under the drive motors etc. where the rust comes off in chunks instead of flakes. The worst time of day you could pick for a job like that would be after smoko in the afternoon, when the sun has been beating down all day onto the black painted surface of the jib… I fried my ass, literally.

Thankfully there was no lasting damage and we have now returned to the blessed cool of our usual operating area, browner, thinner and poorer than when we left. I didn’t spend a huge amount myself, but some of the lads seemed to be going out almost every night. I can’t do that anymore, not if I’m going to be able to work the next day. We did get Sundays off though so I had one big Saturday night out, getting back to the ship at 0730 the next morning and feeling very, very jaded for the rest of the day (I woke up at 3pm). Once was enough for me, hangovers seem to last longer as I get older, and the memory of the hangover also lasts longer…

I turned 33 today, it’s not a great milestone or anything, but it’s nice not to be travelling to work on my birthday as I have done for the last two years. Everyone’s been very nice to me, although that’s not to say I’ve gotten out of doing any work, it’s been a hectic day in fact. There is also cake, for which I am exceedingly grateful and have already had two slices (It’s got fruit in it so it must be healthy). I’ve got just over a month left of this trip, and am looking forward to getting home and spending time with loved ones again, sleeping late and cooking whatever takes my fancy. In the meantime, I’m still mulling over how to discuss feminism in a blog, and have many more photos to edit…

Wishing you calm seas and fair winds wherever you are, with much love from the South Atlantic. x

Testing testing, 1 2 3…

•March 17, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Attempting to post via email…

Is is working?

Leave so far: I’m still here and I’m a feminist (if you hadn’t realised already….)

•July 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Time is flying by at the moment, I am in the process of buying a house, which has taken up a lot of my life recently. We’ve viewed a LOT of houses and I have been though the pain of seeing a place I absolutely adored and could have afforded, only to see it go because we had no mortgage in principle in place (and therefore had no standing to put an offer in). Getting a mortgage in principle should be a relatively easy affair – however as a seafarer with no actual permanent contract (and with a partner who has three zero hour contracts, even though it’s me who’s going to be paying the mortgage off), getting a lender to even consider us as a viable option has been a slog. Now however, we have said mortgage in principle and have had an offer on somewhere accepted… it’s not over yet, and until I have the keys in my hand nothing’s set in stone, but I am hopeful🙂

This leave also seems to have been pretty child-centric too. My stepdaughter (OK, we’re not married, but for all intents and purposes she is that) comes to stay every other weekend and I also have my gorgeous wee Nibling to fawn over. He turns 1 soon (what on earth do you give a 1yr old for his birthday?!) which merely emphasises how fast time is flying by, it only seems like yesterday that I was visiting my sister and her newborn baby in hospital. I find it slightly strange that so many of my friends and family have now spawned… I shouldn’t of course, we are at the age now that that kind of thing is normal (dare I say expected….) but I still find myself harbouring no desire whatsoever to make one of my own. That subject will be covered further in a later post.

I have also made a tumblr. I am a feminist, and very often I am angry about feminist issues, and the wider issues that mix in with that: sexism, racism, ablism, LGBQT-phobia (is that word? Cos it probably should be) and a there’s whole lot of other marginalised groups that have a shitty time of it, all needing to be heard. Being an angry ranty feminist at my friends on facebook and twitter (who tend to be pretty cool and enlightened anyway) isn’t going to change much though. Plus, people ranting angrily often makes me less inclined to listen, (even though they’re angry for good reasons). I’m in the process of writing my own take on feminist issues. From a seafarers point of view. I can’t talk for POC, or for people with disabilities, or for the gay/bi or trans community etc. But as a woman at sea, in a culture where I, as a woman, am part of a mere 1-2% of the community, I have a few things I’d like to say. It’s a work in process right now though, and to help me sort stuff in my head into a coherent and properly written thing, I got/made a tumblr. It’s more a place for me to collate thoughts and links about stuff than a blog, I’ll still be writing on wordpress. Feel free to follow it though and throw in anything that you think I might be interested in:

http://size4riggerboots.tumblr.com/

There may will also be comics.

 

Washing elephants: The Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia

•September 20, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I went on holiday to Cambodia this leave, and it was amazing. You can see how amazing it was because photos from this trip are now up on Flickr. We visited Mondulkiri in the East where we met elephants, washed them and generally hung out with them, and then went to Siem Reap where we saw a lot of temples. Both experiences were amazing, but the one that’s really going to stay with me for the longest time is meeting the elephants, and this is why:

There’s no doubt that the initial attraction of riding an elephant has an immediate appeal, especially to western tourists. To me it evokes the olden days (dare I say the pretty side of colonialism?!) with the brightly coloured trappings, the elegant looking baskets, the gentle sway of the elephant’s pace as it transports you from place to place, high above everyone else….. However, when you look closer at the elephant; if you look at it properly as a fellow living creature, not merely as a means of transport, then you realise that there’s only one species that is enjoying this spectacle.

In India, ten or so years ago, I saw elephants with chains on their ankles, trudging up and down the hills to the fort I was visiting, with groups of tourists on their back. I’d thought before I got there that I’d love to ride an elephant up the hill, for that full indian royalty experience, but then I saw them and it was truely heartbreaking; these magnificent creatures, spirits broken and reduced to little more than a slow taxi service. Elephants are not domesticated animals like cows or sheep, they are not bred for purpose, they are captured from the wild as babies, taken from their mothers and families and forced into, what is essentially, slavery. They are not dumb animals; their natural way of life is family based and they form strong bonds within a group, they demonstrate prolonged grief when one dies and share the responsibility of caring for their young; they deserve to be treated with respect and empathy.

Visiting the EVP was, for me, a very moving experience, I’d done some research on what they do there: the attention grabbing and deeply appealing bit for me was getting to wash the elephants. The idea of getting to actually interact with them, splash about and get muddy while doing something to help them sold me on the idea immediately. It wasn’t until I got there though and started to meet them as individuals and hear their stories from Jemma and Jack that I realised quite how amazing the EVP is. The elephants at EVP each have a story, most of which are heartbreaking to hear: Overworked, dehydrated, malnourished and abused; abscesses, snakebites, infections and injuries that would otherwise go untreated. These are all too common reasons for these elephants being there. There are happier stories too though, owners who have become too old to care for their elephant properly, or who have realised that that their elephant needs time to rest and recuperate have brought them there. Almost all of the elephants still bear the scars of their former lives though: Sunken rib cages, blinded eyes, broken tusks, scar tissue evidencing horrific wounds, and then there are the mental scars too, so many of the elephants arrived at the EVP scared, nervous, shy and desperately in need of tender loving care from both their mahouts and the other people at EVP, and from each other. An elephant flaps its ears when it’s happy, and it was a joy to see them so obviously enjoying being washed and scrubbed and then diving into the forest to scoff bamboo and banana trees and throw mud and dirt over themselves again.

Some were more outgoing than others; one elephant in particular, Onion, was feeling particularly down and in need of love: She had come to the EVP in 2010; having been difficult to control for a while, her then owners took extreme measures and cut a hole in her forehead which they then kept open and dug hooks into it each day to force her to do their will. After a few weeks of this she snapped mentally and they realised there was nothing they could do to make her work any more. She was brought to the EVP, broken in so many ways, and they started her on the long road to recovery. Unusually for an elephant, who generally form matriarchal groups and leave the males to wander alone, she formed a strong bond of friendship with a male elephant called Bob. They had a lot in common, having both been massively overworked in the logging industry and both having been deeply traumatised by their experiences, together they mooched around the forest and were doing well. Devastatingly, the week before we visited, Bob died. It was sudden and unexpected and shook the entire community deeply. The Bunong villagers came out en-masse and helped with his burial and performed a week of ceremonies to help his spirit pass from this world to the next, but out of everyone, Onion was the most deeply affected. She’d just lost her best friend and constant companion, and was looking for him and missing him deeply. The day after we arrived at the project, about a week after Bob had passed away, it was decided to give her a change of scenery and move her and the other three elephants from the valley they had shared with Bob for the last two years to the grassy hilltop. Moving the elephants around also gives them a change in diet and new things to learn about. We walked down the slopes of Heaven (the valley is named so because they have planted extensive amounts of extra bamboo, making it a kind of elephant all you can eat buffet) and met the elephants at the river where they had a wash and a splash. Their mahouts then directed them up the hill. This was obviously exciting for the other three elephants, who plowed up the hill, happily snacking on bamboo as they went. Onion though wanted to hang back, she was reluctant to leave the place that she so strongly associated with Bob, but also didn’t want to be left behind by the others; she came up the hill slowly, unsure and uncertain. That afternoon their mahouts brought them to the elephant washing station at Base Camp. (The elephants in the other two valleys go down to the river to wash, but when they are on top of the hill there is no easy to reach bathing area, so the EVP has a purpose built elephant washing area, fed by streams and with a trough they can drink from, this is where the volunteers get the full on soaking wet experience of elephant washing: hurling buckets of water over the elephants and scrubbing the mud off with brushes and hoses) This was a new experience for the elephants who had been brought up the hill that morning and while the other three were quite content to receive the superstar treatment of being washed with no effort from themselves, Onion stayed only briefly before deciding she had had enough. The next afternoon they were brought down to the washing station again, this time Onion stayed much longer, she seemed much more relaxed and chilled out, and also she was quite definitely intrigued by the scent of another male elephant who had been there about half an hour before! After washing we wandered up the hill and met up with her and the others, the other three stayed at the edge of the trees, pulling up grass and mud and happily throwing it over themselves. Onion though, almost gambolled into the open grassy area, and came right up to us, ears flapping and looking much happier than she had done the day before. It’s going to take her a long time to get over losing Bob, but I felt that we saw her make a big step in the right direction that day, she’s starting to spend more time with the other female elephants and make friends with them, and I hope to hear that she continues on this track in the future.

It’s not just the elephants that EVP looks after though, these elephants will never be able to go back to the wild, and while they spend their days learning how to behave as wild elephants do again, they need a mahout to look after them too. Traditionally, in the Mondulkiri region, the indigenous Bunong people have always used elephants as part of their way of life, and the EVP is working to help them maintain that relationship. When an elephant is brought to the EVP the owner continues to own it, and the EVP pays them a rental fee, the owner therefore does not lose the income they would make from working the elephant and has a reason to let them stay there. In addition, the EVP pays a salary to the mahout who looks after the elephant, this is very often a member of the family that owns the elephant, or they pay one of the local villagers to become a mahout if the owner does not or cannot look after it themselves. In instances where the owner does not want the elephant at all, the EVP raises funds to buy the elephant from the owner and then signs it over to a member of the local village who is then paid a salary to be the elephants mahout. In addition to this, the EVP supports the Bunong people with a healthcare program (while I was there there were 5 people from the villages in the local hospital, where everything, including the bed, medicine and food has to be paid for by the family, which they cannot possibly afford, so the EVP helps); they provide funding for education at all levels and help for the young people of the Bunong to find employment; they are assisting with funding and advice in the long process of land titling (Despite the Bunong people having lived in this area for thousands of years, they have no piece of paper that says that the land is theirs and therefore, officially, it belongs to the government. The land titling process involves mapping the area thoroughly using GPS and then submitting an application to the government to be granted the title deed to it, which given their love of bureaucracy and paperwork is a long and costly process! It is possible though and there have already been a few other places in Cambodia where this has been achieved); And, they are working closely with the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) to protect the remaining forest in this area. This involves paying for full time rangers to patrol the perimeters of the protected area, to stop illegal logging and poaching and ensure that the wild elephant population has enough forest to live and grow in.

All of these projects together make the EVP a realistic and sustainable long term project, but it takes a lot of money to keep them going, which is where we, the paying tourists, come in. The local town Sen Monorom, (which is populated mainly by Khmer, not the locally indigenous Bunong) is sadly suspicious of the EVP and believes that they are secretly lining their pockets and killing tourism in the area because they actively discourage riding elephants. What they seem to fail to realise is that without tourists, the project would go under. On our way to the EVP we stopped off at the ELIE office in town, a rented house which is also where Jack, the managing director, lives, it’s a tiny house up a dirt track, certainly not the home of someone who’s raking it in. And after we had left the project on Friday evening, and were having a few beers with the volunteers and managers, Jemma (the assistant manager) was celebrating having finally got hot running water after renting her place for two and half years! When Jack was still getting the project off the ground, and visitors and donations were too few to make the budget, he would go back to the UK and work on his fathers farm, driving combine harvesters for 16 hours a day, just to make enough money to keep the project going. These are not the lifestyles and actions of people who are making a profit, these are the lives and actions of people who care deeply, not just about the elephants, but the people of the Bunong, and Cambodia, and the habitat that links them all. Without the forest, both the captive and the wild elephant population will die out.

Whether or not the Government gives permission for the Bunong people to capture new wild elephants in the future to continue their traditional way of life is a contentious point (it is now illegal to do so), and one that will have to be addressed at some point. The EVP is deeply against this, but the Bunong people hold a deep seated religious belief that it is wrong to breed elephants in captivity (they are animalist in their beliefs, and believe that there are 5 forest spirits that come together to create a new elephant; if one is born in captivity they hold ceremonies and sacrifice livestock to appease the forest spirits). Meanwhile there are many elephants that are already working in Cambodia, (and Thailand) that would benefit from the EVP or a similar project. While I disagree strongly with taking elephants from the wild, I also feel it would be a shame to allow the Bunong traditional way of life to die out completely. In their traditional way of life, elephants are treated as part of the family, they work for a few hours a day and are then taken into the forest to eat, wash and rest. The commercial pressures of the modern world have forced many elephant owners into working them all day, pulling logs or carrying tourists, which is not how elephants were originally used and the elephants at the EVP with their sunken rib cages and scars both physical and mental, are testament to why it should not be allowed. If the EVP can continue it’s good work, the working elephants in the area will have access to medical care, a place to rest and recover from illness and somewhere to retire to when they can work no more. If they are given enough support they will be able to rescue abused elephants from further afield and the traditions of the Bunong people will be able to continue without either side having to renegade on their deep seated beliefs. And with further education and awareness of how fragile a balance it is between man and nature, I believe the Cambodian people will come to see how important it is that they retain what remains of their forests and wildlife and realise that the best tourism option is when we get to visit their country, and leave happy knowing we have helped make someone’s life a little bit better, be it elephant or human, or preferably both.

Please visit the EVP website to learn more about the work they are doing and the elephants who live there: www.elephantvalleyproject.org

If you would like to donate to the EVP you can do so here: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/elephantvalleyproject

 

Dry dock

•August 12, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Dry dock: it’s all a bit of a blur really!  Trying to recall what I did every day is nigh on impossible I fear, there was a lot of running around doing “things” and “stuff”. A lot of which involved the removal or the application of paint. Anyway, I should begin at the beginning…

We had already made good progress on chipping and painting the 20T crane down in SG, which was definitely an advantage, it looked a bit patchy, but the worst bits had been done. In Stanley we had a few days to prepare before we headed off to Punta, during which we (well, the engineers and the Chief Officer) did the rocking test on the 20T crane (checking it moves side to side properly and adjusting as necessary), and we loaded a generator, 4 extra cables of anchor chain (Cadet Q: How long is an anchor cable? Answers in fathoms and meters please!) a lot of paint and various other useful bits and bobs. Our departure time was, in all probability, the worst kept secret in Stanley, people we saw in the pub seemed to know more about it than us, but we tried to keep it on the quiet. It took us about two days to make the trip, during which time cardboard was laid down in every alleyway and stairwell by the deck crew.

As we approached the Strait of Magellan on my watch I was hailed on the radio by someone (presumably the Argie VTS), however, their message was too broken to understand (we were still a good 50 miles from land as I recall) and all I could do was reply with “Station calling Pharos SG, your message is broken, please repeat” they never got back to me, so I handed this over to the 2nd officer an hour later at 0000, along with all the usual gubbins and went to my bunk. He was hailed by them again as we got closer and after telling them who we were, where we were going etc, we were left to carry on over the border to Chilean waters. The only odd thing they ask for is the Captains passport number, but once they’ve been given it they seem perfectly happy.

I came back up to the bridge for my next watch just before the pilot came on board and we then continued down towards Punta, making excellent speed as the tide pushed us along, we didn’t quite make 20kts, but seeing as our max speed is usually about 12kts it was still a novelty. The narrowest part of the strait is about 2 miles wide (I’ve been through narrower without a pilot in bigger ships!) but the tidal current is not to be underestimated, (if we tried to go against the tide, we’d have spent a good 10 hours going no-where at full speed!) so I was glad to let the pilot drive while I kept busy with position monitoring on the chart. We have a ECS, not an ECDIS so still do it the old school way: radar ranges and bearings, paper and pencil, plus the Mark #1 eyeball of course (Cadet Q: What’s the difference between ECS and ECDIS?). Technically of course, I had the con, but I let the pilot sit in the big chair and give the helm commands, he was quite chatty and we discussed the appalling condition of some of the (chinese?) fishing boats that were going the same way as us for quite some time, they really did look like floating rust buckets, and according to the pilot are no better inside.

We arrived safely alongside, on the other side of the quay was a Chilean navy vessel, so for the rest of the week we were treated to all sorts of bells and whistles going off as they put flags up and down and people went up or down the gangway. Meanwhile, we shambled along at approximately sunset and sunrise and took the flags up or down with no fuss whatsoever!

Over that week alongside things felt like they were going quite slowly, although a lot did actually happen: we had a Port State inspection the day we arrived, the windlass was taken apart so that the dockyard could clean up, weld extra thickness to the gypsies points and then put them back the other way round, my rescue boat davit got taken apart, and eventually put back together and load tested (it was only supposed to take a day, but… a veil shall be drawn over that one as it’ll send my blood pressure rocketing) some of the fresh water tanks were opened and inspected (I spent a lot of time standing outside tanks, it, became a theme over the dry dock for me!) we had the initial rounds of the 5 yr inspection with our Lloyds/MCA surveyor, who was a lovely man, but he did pick the one day that week I was really hungover to decide he wanted to look at all the LSA and FFA, which included me running round the ship testing fire detectors:-/ When I wasn’t busy with those things, I continued with a wee project of mine: one of the bulkheads on the main deck was particularly rusty, while we were down in SG I attacked the section around one of the panama leads, but now had to face dealing with the section forward of it, this was a nightmare to do because it has 4 Winel heads (vent covers that allow air/water out, but stop water going in) in front of it. So I took them off (a task that proved to be a nightmare enough on it’s own!) and went at the area with needle gun and wire brush, and the Winel heads themselves as well. It’s one thing chipping and brushing a flat surface, but when you’re dealing with angles, tight corners and curves etc, behind pipes as well, it becomes somewhat more of an arse. I regretted starting it almost immediately, but once you start, there’s no going back!

Eventually though we moved over to the dry dock itself. I had by then purchased a small videocamera thing and had worked out how to do time lapse pics with it. Unfortunately I didn’t get it working right at the start of the whole procedure, and I had it mounted on the bridge which meant it was too low to see a lot of the things going on on deck, and finally, while I have worked out how to edit it in movie maker, with music and titles and everything, my computer refuses to save it, telling me that I don’t have enough space, when I have 30GB free on the hard drive I’m trying to save it to… *sigh*. Thankfully though, one of our wonderful AB’s also had a (superior) videocamera which he sensibly mounted onto the monkey island and produced this:

If you look at the right hand side of the picture at the beginning you can see the cradle moving out in readiness for us. We had to take a pilot to take us off the berth and up to the cradle, after that the dock staff take over and are in charge of positioning the ship precisely over the blocks. Once the ship was about halfway into the cradle we had to stop all propulsion and turn off all the engines, (switching over to the generator on deck for lighting etc) and leave the rest to them, the main reason for this being that they send divers down to make sure everything’s in place. It looks like quite a quick process on the video, but in fact it took several hours. It was a long day; once we were actually on the blocks and out of the water the ship was suddenly swarmed by dockyard crew, taking out valves, pipe sections, gratings and gods-know what else from the engine room. The deck officers job at this point is to open tanks, and quickly, because they need to ventilate for 24hrs before anyone can go into them. With the 5 yr survey due it meant that pretty much all the tanks needed inspections. Fresh water and void space tanks are the deck department’s responsibility, even though a lot of the tank lids are in the engine room, underneath the deck plates. (The engine room floor is actually a series of plates suspended over the actual deck/tank top, and between the two is a mind boggling array of pipes, this makes getting to the tank lids even more fun). So we had quite a long day, and by the time we finally got finished at 7, we were very much in need of a beer!

The next few days all blur into one. I spent most of my time sitting outside one or another tank while it was either inspected or worked on, at some points I was outside a tank in an area that I could continue with chipping and scraping or eventually painting those bloody Winel heads (They come apart into several pieces too… Never again!!) I also spent a lot of time running around collecting immersion suits, BA bottles, lifejackets and stuff that needed to be sent ashore for servicing, making lists of these things and trying to keep tabs on what was going when, and where and when it was coming back so that I could make sure they all came back, with the right certificates. Meanwhile sheaves on the end of the 20T crane and the top pins holding the hydraulic arms in place were taken out (with a LOT of effort and some very big hydraulic jacks) so that the seals etc could be replaced (this was the first time we believe this particular job had been done since the ship was built) this involved a lot of chain blocks, welding of extra bits to hold things, and a lot of heat treatment of the pins themselves, all a bit scary looking! Then there was the memorable night when we had the dockyard crew grinding patches on the hull at one point, having already been driven nuts by the guy moving down the hull from fwd to aft, another grinder joined the first guy from the other direction so I ended up being serenaded in stereo, the first guy going for the jiggy beat, the second the long whine. I was close to comitting murder.

After 14 days in Punta, we finally got a half day. Some people went shopping (again) honestly some of the guys seemed to be tootling off to the nearby mall every other evening! Some people went for a walk, (crazy people, it was freezing cold and blowing a hoolie!) I was on day duty though and was very grateful for the opportunity to only have option of staying on board and vegetating! The next day it started snowing. Nothing heavy thank goodness, but it made chipping and painting less of an option! It continued to snow on and off while we had the dockyard guys painting the hull, which meant that they had to stop and start a few times. I stayed warm though, as my job, along with the 2nd officer, was to keep up with the cherry picker with large sections of chipboard to protect the rails and superstructure from the spray paint. We were mostly successful, although we ended up with red toes on our boots and a fine mist of red on our faces and safety goggles! That was also the day the 2nd officer tried to kill me with his piece of chipboard. It wasn’t on purpose by any means, he’d managed to get it up the steps from the main deck to the poop deck and was trying to get it over the rail when a gust of wind took it and it landed on me. Thankfully it only hit my arm not my neck but I had a cracking bruise the size of a grapefruit for the rest of drydock!

That wasn’t the only damage I managed to sustain that month, a few days later I managed to get a shard of metal in my eye, right on the cornea, while wire brushing a particularly awkward bit of my bulkhead (I was wearing goggles, but they weren’t as effective as I had believed they would be, and we’ve ordered better ones now). I thought it would come out with some washing, but no, it was stuck well in there, I could actually see it in the mirror! I went to the Old Man, who is de-facto doctor on board who took one look and called the ships agent. An hour or so later I found myself at a Chilean eye specialist’s who spoke no English and noted my middle name as London, he was however, very good at his job. I got the ships agent to translate for me and once the eye doc had put some anaesthetic drops in my eye (OH the relief!) he inspected it and then produced what looked like a big pen. Then he took the lid off. That was no pen, that was a dirty great big needle and he was coming straight at my eyeball with it!! Somehow, I didn’t flinch (the anaesthetic did it’s job well) and after a couple of pokes he seemed happy that it was gone and I was given eyedrops and an eyepatch to wear for 24 hours. Sadly it was more like a big plaster than a pirate patch and I found it really disorientating to only have one working eye (depth perception really does work better with two!). It was fine after that, a bit blurry for a few weeks after, but I am happy to report that no lasting damage was done. It certainly taught me a lesson about thoroughly checking PPE before using it though!  (Cadet Q: Where can you find information on what PPE you should wear for each type of job, including chapter number!?)

Not long after that the painting had all been completed, valves etc were replaced and we were ready to go back in the water. Once again, my attempt at video footage was a bit of a fail, but Dave the AB did a cracking job with his🙂

You may notice that that the cradle pauses for a while with the ship in the water but not floating, this is the critical period where everyone runs around doing a check on all the things that got taken out to make sure that they are indeed watertight! Also, once we’re alongside you can see the cradle come back up with another (very small) ship on it.

After that, there were a few things that needed to be put back together on deck, like the 20T crane, which then of course had to be load tested, once again, my gratitude to Dave for his fab footage.

And then of course, when you live in the Falklands and everything has to be shipped in, there’s no point in not loading as much stores as possible before you leave!

That was just some of it going into the aft hold, you should have seen how much we fitted into the fwd hold!

So there we go, that was drydock. As I said, for me it was mostly about chipping and painting, and standing outside tanks. I think there’s a lot more going on in the engine room than on deck at times like this, but I certainly didn’t have enough time to go and watch! Of course, what I have failed to mention at all was the fun we had, there were several nights ashore, (including the one where I was just so knackered that by the time we reached the 3rd bar all I wanted was a cup of tea, I’ve not been allowed to live that one down!) and I even went out in a frock once! Tales of drunken nights out are only funny to the people that were there though, so I won’t bore you with details, but wish you fair winds and calm seas until the next time🙂

Pictures from drydock and the rest of this trip are on Flickr

 
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