Washing elephants: The Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia

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

 

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On bullying.

This is not the post I am halfway through writing about my trip, this is something which is important to say now. Now, because it’s being talked about a lot on the internet, and frankly dear internet, we need to talk more. This is actually just the comment I posted on Amanda Palmer’s blog about internet bullying, which she wrote when she had heard about the very sad death of teenager Amamda Todd. who, at the age of 12 was targeted by someone on a webcam chat site, blackmailed by them and then bullied and ostracised by everyone she knew, even after she had moved schools twice. She committed suicide a few months ago. I first read about this story here and then yesterday I read Amanda Palmer’s blog. I hope you read both of those links, the first is gut wrenching and horrific but analytical of the situation that created her hell in the first place, and everyone should be aware of it. The second is amazing because it has instigated so much sharing; of stories, and love, and understanding, and hope. Hope that we can, together, stop people feeling so alone. No-one should feel alone on the internet dammit, it’s the largest communication tool we have for heaven’s sake! So yeah, once you’ve read those two, read this.. it’s only my tuppence, but it’s mine and as such it’s just as valid as yours.

I was bullied at primary school, why, I’ve never been sure, I guess I let myself be an easy target. By the time I was in the final year class, it had reached the point where I came home from school and just wept in front of my parents, and couldn’t stop. I didn’t want them to go to the teacher and say something because I thought it would make things worse. Thankfully, they didn’t listen to me and went anyway. It was the worst feeling of my life when our class teacher, who was also the headmaster, asked me to leave the room while he spoke to the rest of the class. I have no idea what he said, but he must have said it right because from that day on, not only did the bullying stop, but some of the girls actually went out of their way to befriend me and include me. It unnerved me, and I was always wondering whether they meant it or were doing it because they were scared of our teacher, but it sure as hell made life easier. However, when I moved to senior school, I took my fears and insecurities with me and lived as though I was a victim, I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t really bullied, I did feel ostracised though and there was one boy with whom I had a strange love/hate relationship with which dissolved into hate once I refused to sleep with him. I did once (very reluctantly) allow him to finger me in an alleyway and the contrariness of doing this but not wanting to suck his dick/sleep with him at the age of 13 lead him to call me a “frigid whore” for the next two years. Nice eh?However, I got through it, and when I went to Uni, I took a life changing decision on my first day. I was not going to be THAT person any more. I was going to be the person who said hello first, I was going to smile and look people in the eye and remember that no matter how nervous and scared I was at being in this new place, with all these cool arty looking new people around me, looking cool is like putting on armour, it’s a way of saying “I’m not afraid” but inside, everyone’s the same, everyone in that room at registration was just as nervous as me. And blow me down if I wasn’t right. 6 months later, my friends told me they’d actually been a little scared by me because I was so confident!So there, that’s my bullying experiences, but as many people who have commented here already have said, this was before the internet took off. I don’t know how my experience would have been different in this day and age, and I don’t know how I would have coped with it as a teenager. Excessive use of the block button I’m guessing.

What I do know is that it is my, and everybody else’s responsibility to stand up and say “THIS IS NOT OK” whenever and wherever we see someone posting, saying or doing things that are hateful, bullying, sexist, racist or whatever else it is they can think of to say or do that will hurt and upset people. And the thing is, while it is wonderful that we have people like AFP here, who has created such a beautiful corner of the internet where people are unafraid to stand up and say “This happened to me” and other people are unafraid to stand up and say “It’s not your fault, it’s ok to be who you are, have some love”. What we also need to do is stand up ALL over the internet and in the real world and say “THIS IS NOT OK” to the trolls, to the haters, to the idiots, to the cruel, to the unthinking and to those who say “It’s not my problem”. One of the biggest problems we face is apathy. If all the people who thought “I can’t do anything about it” and “If I say something they’ll attack me too” actually stood up and said something, I think they’d have a much louder voice than they thought. So next time you see someone hating on facebook, call them on it, next time you see a kid in the playground being shoved about, grab a friend and go stop it together, next time you hear a friend joke about rape, berate them, next time, SAY SOMETHING. And love, always, always love. xx

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

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

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

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

With a chunky pay rise.

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

WORK YOUR ASS OFF.

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

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

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

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

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

Day of the Seafarer

Today is International Day of the Seafarer.

Ok, you say.. so what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aquaintance: And what do your daughters do?

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

Aquaintance: Mmm lovely…. And your youngest?

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

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

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

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

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

Aquaintance: GOOD GOD!!

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

Anyway.

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

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

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

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

Other highlights of the trip were:

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

Going for a post work swim off the stern platform.

Eating fresh out of the oven warm mini chocolate cakes.

Getting her up to 8kts with no engines.

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

A free hot stones massage.

Zip lining in Nicaragua.

Free Nicaraguan rum.

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

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

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

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

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

Myknonos, where I simply wandered through the back streets.

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

There are many photos, you can see them on Flickr here.

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

Meanwhile, I’m always on twitter.

Regarding Concordia

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

We interrupt broadcasting for a short service message

I would just like to make something very clear, this is my blog, and I will post what I dam well like, not what some antipodean old fart who has to resort to posting anonymously because he has made himself so unpopular on forums that he has turned one into a wasteland and been banned from another thinks I should write. I am no longer accepting anonymous comments and will post again if and when I have calmed down a bit.