From somewhere in the South Atlantic….

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

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

 

Dry dock

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

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…

Oh how glorious to be in summer, proper summer, I’ve not had this for a while! I returned from deepest darkest winter in the Falklands just over a week month ago, just in time to catch the start of this amazing weather, I couldn’t face wearing jeans so went hunting for my summer clothes: I had one pair of shorts, that I could no longer fit over my backside, and that was, apparently, it. I resorted to borrowing my mums shorts for the day and then went and raided the two clothing shops in Sherborne that don’t cater to middle aged ladies who lunch. £380 later and I have a summer wardrobe, which includes dresses!! (I am a habitual jeans wearer, in fact I have worn nothing but jeans unless forced into a pair of shorts by excessive heat for the last gods know how many years. In the Caribbean when I was on the cruise ships, I had shorts as uniform, so was ok, and was so used to the heat that I was fine in jeans when I went ashore, or had that one pair of shorts for the beach!) Anyway, this is not a fashion blog so I’ll stop talking about clothes!

First of all, I feel I owe an apology, I went off making wild promises about blogging by email from the ship, and yes, I have failed utterly to do so. The problem is,  I’m not allowed to tell you where we are, what we are doing or where we’re off to next. It’s all very secret squirrel, and makes trying to write something without giving stuff away a tad difficult, especially this trip as we were off to dry dock. We go to Punta Arenas in Chile for dry dock, and to get there we have to go through Argentine waters. (I’m not going to give you a history lesson here, if you have to ask why that’s a problem, use google). So we don’t advertise the fact we’re coming, we report in as required by maritime protocols etc, but it’s always a bit of a tense time until we’re through. Nothings ever happened and I doubt it ever would now, but the events of 1982 are still pretty fresh in the memories of many.

We didn’t go to dry dock immediately mind you, we had a few other things to do first; primarily a patrol, but before that we went north of the Falklands to do some buoy work. These buoys are the ones we deployed at the start of my first trip, they are acoustic listening devices that are placed at various levels under the sea to monitor the sea life in the area. The job this time was to recover them so the technicians could service them, and then re-deploy them in the same place. We had  a few days to achieve this is as we weren’t sure whether the weather would be favourable. As it turned out, we had some lumpy seas on the way up to the site and then glorious sunshine and clam seas for the work, enabling us to get all 5 buoys recovered and re-deployed in one day. (Team B wins again!)

It was a quick turnaround after that and straight down to South Georgia for patrol. The weather down in SG was still very pleasant at that time (April) and I got to see what the island looks like in late summer (only the big mountains are covered in snow!). After patrolling the 1000m contour line around the island we went back to King Edward Point and picked up some of the BAS team for the albatross survey on Prion island. Prion Island is one of the major wandering albatross breeding sites and every year they (the scientists) go and check how each nest is doing as they (the birds) return to the same nest site each year. Having not ever been to Prion Island I was extremely keen to do the drop off on the zodiac and have a chance to look around. There was a party going on on the beach: the penguins kept to themselves, but as usual, the fur seals were more, er, well, plain unfriendly. I took one of the paddles from the boat with me, for two reasons: a) there’s a lot of kelp on the beach, thick slimy rotting kelp, and you can’t help but walk on it, it’s that or get a bit too close to a fur seal for comfort! So I needed it for balance. And reason b) fur seals. I’ve probably mentioned before what evil savage little bastards they are, but if it’s not yet been made clear, these animals scare the bejezus out of me! For good reason. If you get bitten by one (and it happens) you have to scrub the wound out with a toothbrush, they have a selection of bacteria living in their mouth that would, in all likelihood, kill you if untreated, or at very least you’d lose the limb. They are vicious, aggressive, territorial buggers and ugly brutes to boot. Ok, the small ones are actually quite cute and would probably only gum you, but a full size male charging at you is when you really, really want a big stick with you!

There is a board-walk path which leads up to the top of the island and I left the Bosun with the other paddle at the zodaic while I took a stroll, accompanied by a few South Georgia Pipits, herding baby fur seals and being hissed at by the older ones who popped out from behind every bit of tussock grass along the path. At the top I was treated to some stunning vistas of the main island, and several wandering albatross sitting on their nests, mostly with their backs to me of course, but one was eventually kind enough to turn their head, allowing me to get a photo of more than just a white shape! Photographic desires fulfilled, I returned to the zodiac and drove back to the ship, a task made much more difficult than it should be by swathes of kelp.

We popped in and out of KEP quite a few times that trip, taking people to various parts of the island to count birds, or make repairs to some of the buildings at the other old whaling stations. The good weather kindly remained with us, and when we weren’t at sea, we had time alongside during which we made a good start on chipping and painting the 20 tonne crane, which is no small job! On Sundays however we get a half day, and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful sunshine and go for a long walk. I went with one of the girls from the base, partly because I didn’t really know where I was going, but also because as Winnie-the-Pooh says; It’s so much friendlier with two! We walked around the cove, past Grytviken and along the stony shore, scrambled over the rocks of the headland and along the beach before cutting through the tussock grass to reach Penguin River. Unsurprisingly we met some penguins there, not many, but more than I’d seen together up close before. Most of the penguins who venture ashore at KEP are Gentu penguins, and I’ve only seen a couple of solitary King penguins, so this was quite special for me and I snapped away like an excited paparazzi.  We left the river and scrambled up a very steep slope, during which I had to keep stopping to take more pictures as the full vista of Penguin River and the glaciers behind emerged. We strode over the flats of Mt Brown, bouncing almost on the soft spongy ground and admiring the variety of plants, mosses and lichens growing in the more boggy areas. We also came across the remains of an Argy helicopter that crashed there during the war (Falklands, not World War!), riddled with bullet holes and missing all the major components, but not looking like it’s going to disappear any time soon.  From there we walked over to the dam, where I was mesmerized by the mirror perfect reflections of the hills for a while before realizing it was going to get dark soon and making our way down the steep “track” back to Grytviken and home. It took us about 4 hours, and I’ve even taken the time to make a picture of where we went.

A wee map of my walk

Incidently, Google maps have updated their satellite images of SG, and the detail is fantastic, they’ve even marked all the tracks (Even on Bird Island, where 4 BAS scientists live studying birds), and have labelled the small islands, so you can now go and have a look at the places I’m talking about in detail (Sadly they’ve not taken their camera car there yet!) Look up South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, otherwise you get the Georgia next to Azerbaijan!

Well that pretty much covers the first month at work, and in the interests of a) publishing this before I go back to work, and b) not making a post that’s so long you get bored and give up, I’ll put this up now and talk about dry dock in another post at a later date. (Next week, maybe??) Meanwhile, I have also been busy putting more pics up on flickr, I’ve got as far St Petersburgh on the Balmoral (5th cadetship trip, less than 2 years ago!) And am going to make a concerted effort to get on with a load more in the next few days.

Edit: All pictures fro this trip are now up on Flickr!

Shiny new blog, same old waffle

Welcome to my shiny new page! All the posts from the last 6 years (grief it’s strange to think how long ago my journey to this point actually started!) have been lovingly moved over, and I’ve put them into categories and given them tags too. I’ve managed to get all the pre-cadetship sailing posts into the right place, so it’s now one blog instead of two. At some point I might even put a photo up as my header, but this one will do for now.

I know the font on some of the posts is a bit small, there doesn’t seem to be a font size option in the publisher, so if it’s too small, zoom the page in a bit!

I’m off back to the wilds of the South Atlantic on the 17th (my birthday 😦 ) and will be attempting to send blogs via email from time to time, so fingers crossed! Oh and I’ll be tring to knuckle down and edit a ton of photos too.

Oh and by the way, I passed my driving theory this leave!

First impressions of the South Atlantic

Well Christmas is over, the New Year has well and truly begun and I have gotten over my stinking cold: I have officially run out of excuses not to write this!

I’ve been home for just over a month, 2 months now and having had time to reflect on the last trip, I’m pleased to say that Yes, it was a good trip. I find that with a bit of time to give me perspective, I sometimes change my mind about whether I actually enjoyed something or not, or rather; whether the good outweighed the bad.

I did my first trip as a qualified officer on a cruise ship, I wrote this about it afterwards. Reading the other posts (such as this one) I did while on board mostly reminds me of how knackered and stressed out I became, and in the time leading up to joining the next ship I was becoming more and more uneasy about going back. While I certainly met some lovely people who I would be more than happy to sail with again, and I got to (briefly) see some beautiful places, the workload and lack of support from HQ was demoralising, there was a lot of playground politics between the crew and I rarely went ashore with people because everyone’s work schedule was different. While I was busy and enjoyed the work (mostly) and the seeing pretty places and really liked my co-workers, I still felt like I was living quite a lonely existence sometimes, and I was knackered. So when I was offered this job, three weeks before I was due to go back to the cruise company, it wasn’t really that difficult a choice! I was, naturally, apprehensive about going to somewhere so cold and far away, but I also saw it as a new adventure. And I do love a new adventure.

It wasn’t the most auspicious of starts. My first thoughts, as we bounced and jiggled and jarred in a minibus along the “road” from Mount Pleasant Airport to Stanley and I stared blearily out of the window at a grey, cold, sleety moorland, were “Oh dear gods, where the hell have I landed myself?” followed soon after by “What the hell? There’s NO trees!”.

No trees. Yes, that’s the thing that hit me the most. The landscape is deeply reminiscent of Dartmoor; low peaty heathland with occasional rocky outcrops that disappear into low cloud. There are differences though too, like the rivers of rock slewing through the landscape, big lumps of grey rock, all pretty much the same size, in long swathes cutting across the land, and nothing grows between the stones. Plus there’s the myriad of areas all along the roadside, all fenced off with barbed wire and red signs saying “WARNING MINES!” And there’s NO trees. Even on the most desolate British bit of moorland there’s the odd tree here and there, or a few bushes. There are no natural trees on the Falkland Islands. It’s weird. In Stanley, people have planted trees and bushes in their gardens, but the westerly gales that the islands generally experience has prevented anything larger than a heather from growing naturally.

By the time we arrived at the ship, I was the last person left on the bus. All the others who had been picked up at the airport with me had been dropped off at their respective homes or hotels already to begin their recovery from the two 8 hour long flights, with a 2 hour break on Ascension Island between them (in what I can only describe as a holding pen), and followed by an hour long drive on a road that really doesn’t deserve such a title. We were warned as we set off “Anyone who’s not been here before, it’s a bit bumpy in places!”. A *bit*! At least half of the road is not tarmacked; it’s gravel and potholes. The sections of tarmac are randomly spread along the road, so you have a period of (relatively) smooth, quiet driving. Then you hit an un-tarmacked bit, and at first you think it’s not that bad, but after a few minutes you realise your neck and back are starting to hurt, and by the time you get to the next smooth bit you are praying for it to end. So you can imagine by now, by the time I reached the ship, I was a *bit* shattered! Keen to make a good impression though, I naturally said yes when asked if I was going to the pub!

The first week onboard was spent alongside, which was strange to me, having only ever worked on ships that almost never spent even one night in port. Still, it meant I had plenty of time to learn the non-navigational side of my new job from my handover. Previously I was only responsible for the LSA, and now I am responsible for both LSA and FFA. I had of course, learned about the maintenance of both during my cadetship, but as a cadet you are generally helping, or doing it under the supervision of someone else, and don’t necessarily get into the routine of doing the same things week in week out. Plus, every ship is different, and the specific jobs and/or ways of doing said jobs vary slightly. Actually having a proper handover was a new one on me as last time I joined a ship the guy I was taking over from was moving into a different role at the same time! Another pleasant surprise was not having to be on the bridge while in port: On cruise ships you stand watches no matter whether you’re in port or not; as you’re in and out of port every day it makes sense to keep the routine, plus its a security requirement, but it doesn’t half make doing the rest of your maintenance a pain. Suddenly finding myself on daywork, having plenty of time to do all my jobs, and being able to knock off at 5 with everyone else and have a few drinks (or maybe several, occasionally!) was a revelation!

So, once I’d learnt my way around the ship, gotten my head around the planned maintenance system and sampled the delights of Stanley’s drinking establishments a few times, it was finally time to head out to sea. Only a short trip, heading north of the islands to lay some acoustic buoys. While the vessel is predominantly a fishery protection vessel, we also get sub-chartered by oil companies to help them do research. The acoustic buoys were being placed to record marine life sounds to see if drilling in that area would have too much of an effect on the wildlife. As the ship was built as a buoy tender she has a large working area fwd and a 20T heavy lift crane, however these buoys were much smaller than navigational mark buoys, we used one of the Effer cranes and a bit of ingenuity. Once that was done we headed back to Stanley and after a quick turnaround we were finally off to South Georgia!

The trip to SG takes about 4 or 5 days, depending on the weather, and on that first trip, Oh Boy did we have weather! The wind got up to 55kts and the waves got up to at least 12m. Sitting on the bridge though, I was pleasantly surprised by two things: a) I definitely do not get seasick (I’d packed a few packets of Stugeron, just in case, never been seasick before, but have mostly been on ships with stabilizers) and b) its not half as scary as it sounds. From the navigator’s chair on the worst day (in weather like that one does not even attempt to stand unless absolutely necessary!) my view consisted of a wall of water, followed 5 seconds later by nothing but sky, followed 5 seconds later by (you guessed it) a wall of water! On the bridge though, I felt perfectly safe, and somehow you don’t notice how bad it is when you’re below, well, I don’t anyway. The ship rolls a fair bit, but we try and direct the bow into the waves so that the motion is mostly pitching rather than rolling. And when it gets really bad, we simply hove to and wait it out. The worst part of it is when you’re in your bunk below trying to sleep. You can stuff your lifejacket under the mattress and put pillows against the bulkhead in an attempt to wedge yourself in, but there’s nothing you can do to stop yourself from noticing when she slams into a wave. No-one gets much sleep when it’s like that, and non-essential maintenance is put on hold until things improve or we reach land.

It was a blessed relief to reach the lee of the island, although due to the visibility I could only see it on radar. We slowed down once in calmer seas, to make an arrival time of 0900 at King Edward Point. As I am the 8-12 watchkeeper this meant I got to do all the arrival checks etc, as well as driving, although by that time the Captain was up and about and as it was my first time coming in he took over earlier than he would normally. (For those not in the know, the Captain ALWAYS does the parking, on every ship). This gave me the opportunity to admire the view. There were blue icebergs in the middle distance and despite the grey and gloom of the weather, the sun managed to shine through the low cloud  at the bottom of the snow covered mountains. The island has no lowlands and no foot hills. It is just, quite literally, a snow covered mountain range in the middle of the ocean. It is, to use the word it in its proper sense, awesome.

We discharged our cargo (supplies for the British Antarctic Survey base), stayed in port for a night and then went out on patrol. This is our primary function; in the South Georgia area there is good fishing to be had; in the winter time, there are long-liners fishing for Toothfish and Icefish and then in the spring we get krill trawlers. The fishing rights are controlled by the SG government who issue permits. The permits also dictate how much each vessel is permitted to catch but obviously we can’t weigh the catch while we’re all at sea. What we do is patrol the area on the 1000m contour line (where the fishing is best) and look out for any vessel that isn’t supposed to be there. We log all vessels sighted and check their AIS details against our list of people we expect to be in the area. If they’re not expected or not on AIS we go for a closer look. Well, actually, we call the Fishery Protection Officer, who decides what they want us to do. The FPO is not a member of crew as such, they sail as the “Charterer’s Representative” but while on patrol they, with the Captain, decide what we’re going to do and where we’re going to go. As well as checking out USOs (Unidentified Sailing Objects) we also, when possible, board the legitimate vessels to check that they are operating as per SG’s rules. This is mostly a case of having a wander around the vessel, making sure they’re not chucking baited hooks overboard/leaving them lying around on deck and probably having a cup of tea too. The hooks thing is because seabirds go for them and then choke and die, which is bad as most of the seabirds down that way are endangered/protected species – various albatrosses and petrels etc. (And it looks like we’re doing well on that front!)

I have to admit something now: I’ve not yet actually done a boarding. I only had one opportunity and when it came to the crunch, I chickened out. This wasn’t on our first patrol,  but we found a couple of krill trawlers one day and as the weather was OK and the seas not too high, the FPO decided to put the RIB down and go see them. I’d been down in the RIB plenty of times when we did practice runs in calm areas, but this was my first time on the high seas. It looked fine from the bridge, and I went down in the RIB perfectly happily, (dressed in full thermal boat suit, helmet etc.). However, once alongside another vessel, which suddenly looked HUGE; and with a swell of about 1-1.5m; and then watching the FPO make a lunge for the ladder and then apparently get his ankles squished by the RIB as it rose up on the swell; and then the RIB driver not being able to keep the boat alongside the vessel, while the other AB held the ladder for me at an angle (so that the only logical conclusion was that I would swing wildly towards the side of the vessel and bash into it once he let go)…… I couldn’t do it. back on the ship, no-one blamed me, most people have backed out more than once, but especially on their first time. As the duty officer I wouldn’t have been responsible for checking anything myself, but we go as a witness, in case a problem is found, in which case I’d have to make a statement and be prepared to go back to the Falklands during my leave when it came to court.

After that first trip everything has slightly blurred into one. There were hours and hours and hours of staring at fog; there were days and days sat at anchor in 50+kt winds; there were weekly and monthly jobs to do, which seemed to come round alarmingly quickly as it very often felt like no time had passed at all; there were passengers to ferry back and forth (max of 12!); there were fuck ups (flooding the port accommodation alleyway being a particularly memorable one!); and there were moments of sheer brilliance: Whales! Seals! Penguins! Huuuge icebergs! (biggest seen on radar was 17 miles long, biggest seen properly by eye was 8 miles long)…. I remember looking out of my porthole on the first morning we had a sunny day in SG and being blown away by the awesomeness (there are pics, I’m working on getting them up!). There were several delightful evenings ashore in Stanley, or just sitting out on the lower poop deck having a few post-work beverages when in port. There were several other evenings when we decided that it was too damn cold to stay out there and retire instead to the engineers workshop (the only place inside where it is permitted to smoke). There were deck BBQs in the hold, complete with laser lighting and mulled wine. (I may not remember the end to all of those evenings!) I visited the SG museum (lots of old whalers equipment and pics, and lots of dead things in jars, I loved it!), we went tobogganing, we went for walks along the beach, which became increasingly populated by seals, mostly of the elephant variety. The last time I went for a wee wander I had the privilege of seeing an elephant seal being born (much like a sheep giving birth: lots of noise followed by a slithery squelch and then licking). So yeah, it was a good trip. Most of all it was good people, with no bullshit and the chance to kick back with them at the end of a long day. The ethos of the ship is that of “Work Hard, then Play Hard”, and I’m looking forward to round two!

I’m sure I’ve missed out loads of stuff, but this has become so long that I’m going to leave it there, hopefully it gives you an idea. Probably a rose tinted idea in fact: it’s difficult to write engagingly about monotony and boredom, much easier to tell you about the memorable and fun bits. If you have any questions or comments though, I’d be happy to answer them 🙂 Meanwhile for the rest of my leave I’ll be working on getting my flickr up to date, which to my shame is now only a year and 10 months behind!!

Wishing you fair winds and calm seas S4 xxx

Edit: Only a year after I wrote this I have finally got those pictures up on Flickr! You can see them here

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

Photos

Hello folks! Back from the South Atlantic for 3 months, it’s lovely to be home 🙂 I hope to have a proper blog about life on the bottom of the world soon for you. Meanwhile, I’m now about 2 years behind on photos… *hangs head in shame* but I have started getting them sorted and uploaded again. For some reason the flickr app that I used to have in the sidebar has stopped working,  Edit – I’ve moved to wordpress, I have widgets! (Um, still working on those photos…)

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.

Ship life Vs Real Life Part 2: Real Life

I write this on a train; this in itself is quite a novelty for me, as until recently my laptop was incapable of working unless plugged into the mains. Now I have a shiny new little beast that weighs half of what the old one did and has hours of battery life. I love it.

Being on a train however, is not a novelty. It is how I spend a good proportion of my leave. This is real life. And I do not love it.

I am, I know, incredibly lucky to have the friends I have. I have collected an incredible set of people who never cease to amaze and inspire me. They are creative, intelligent, adventurous and crazy and I love them dearly. Unfortunately, many of them don’t really know each other, having only met through me on odd occasions. There are the friends I met when I was young and living at home, there are the friends I met when I lived in Winchester, then there are those I met while indulging in wonderfully silly LRP weekend events across the country, and now there are those I have met at sea too. And none of them live in the same place.

As soon as I announce that I am coming home, I am beset by the question:  “So when are you going to come and see me?” I hate that question, but then again, it’s nice to be wanted. Inevitably I will, of course, end up travelling halfway across the country to see them, spending hours, if not days, of my precious leave on the train, squishing my belongings into a rucksack and myself in between commuters and cider fuelled tramps. And it’s wonderful to see them, but there is also within me a tinge of resentment, the sullen teenager that resides within me still, muttering, “Why do I always have to come to you, why can’t you come to see me for once?”

I get 4 months leave a year, in two blocks. And yes that probably sounds like an age to most of you. However, do the maths: 52 weeks in a year, so that’s 104 days of weekends, then add the 28 days  of statutory leave you get in your average job, then add in at least 8 days of bank holidays and you will find that you get 140 days off work every year. 4 months, if they average at 30 days per month, works out at 120 days off in a year.

So my time off is precious. And I try to spend it wisely, but when one has just spent 4 months working solidly, 10 or more hours a day, 7 days a week, then what I really want to do, initially a least, is cocoon myself away and just not do anything. I want 4 months’ worth of weekends: I want my lazy lie ins with my lover, I want my late nights getting drunk on good wine in front of the tv, I want to go to the supermarket and buy the food I have spent months thinking about, in short, actually,  I want to revel in domesticity.

I long for a place of my own, but as yet there are insufficient funds in my account. And while I officially reside at my parent’s house, I probably spend more time at my boyfriend’s house. He also lives with his mother, and I find myself amused regularly at the exchanges between them; he, at 34, sounding like a petulant teenager, and she the put-upon mother. Sometimes I think they sound more like a bickering old married couple. But when I return home to my parents, I find myself hearing the petulant teenager in my own voice, and feel the very physical sense of annoyance that wriggles under my shoulder blades when I am told to do something. For example, when I had my own place, I always did the washing up in the morning – why end a lovely relaxed evening with work? And I always found that having done one task, I was spurred on to do more. But at home my mother insists it is done that night, so I am dragged from my comfortable seat on the sofa to come and help with the drying up. Likewise with other household and garden tasks, I have no issue with doing them, in fact, I quite enjoy them, but I would like to be allowed do them when I decide, not be given instruction. I realise run the risk here of sounding exactly like the petulant teenager I gently mock my boyfriend for sounding like. I do try and help as much as I can, I do my laundry when I get home from sea (although my skills in this department pale into insignificance next to my mother, who insists upon soaking almost everything first, and irons when I would simply hang up to dry and be done with it). I sometimes cook, but my mother usually has menus planned out for the whole weekend, which narrows my contribution down to chief chopper of vegetables and stirrer of saucepans, and that is a poor substitute for actually cooking.

My main contribution, as I see it, is in the garden. We have a large garden, which is a struggle for my parents to keep up with as they get older. Over the last 32 years that my family has lived in our house, my mother has slowly, painstakingly, and with the aid of a lot of compost, sand, manure and sheer bloody determination, taken a wasteland of weeds and overgrown shrubs growing on 500 ft of blue clay, and turned it into a garden. It is a work in progress, and when she makes a concerted effort to attack one area, inevitably, another area runs amok and the docks and nettles and grasses move in. I am their nemesis. I leave the planting and nurturing to her, but there is a huge amount of satisfaction to be gained from ripping up weeds and depositing huge heaps of them onto the bonfire. And while it is satisfying, it is also useful and helpful and lets me live happy in the knowledge that I’ve done the donkey work and they won’t break their backs trying to do it.

As I said, though, I spend more of my time at my boyfriend’s house, and have to admit I probably do more there than I do at home, but I get to do it on my own terms: I wash up, I cook, I buy groceries, including all the fancy things I feel eating in the shopping basket. I even do his laundry sometimes, when I’m doing my own. I tidy his room, put his clothes away and make the bed. Sometimes.

So I get my longed for domesticity, I get time with the family, and I get time with the man I love. But this gets broken up into little segments of a few days at a time, because there are all these other people demanding my time too, people who live in Devon, or Winchester, or Bristol. All of these places are too far to pop over for a pint, and as I may only get to see them once a year, they want to see me for a day or more, not a few hours. And I go, I spend hours on the train (the learning to drive new year’s resolution has not yet come to fruition) and I am glad to see them, in the hopes that at some point they will reciprocate.

Now, I threw a party earlier this leave. I decided a long time ago that as I turned 30 in March and I had never had a proper party I would have it in the summer. A full weekend if people wanted to stay, plenty of space in the garden of all to camp. Lots of food, lots of booze. I sent out messages in February asking what dates suited people the best. I had a few responses. I set a date and sent out invites. To about 70 people. I had to send invites via facebook because I was on the other side of the world (which is a pretty good excuse for not sending paper invites I reckon). I subsequently sent out about 5 messages to the invitees asking them to please RSVP. In the end, about 30 people said they could come. Not bad I guess. And then they started dropping out. The injuries, illness and sudden discovery of being newly pregnant I can forgive. Shit happens. But it still felt like a kick in the teeth when only 18 people actually turned up. This included my parents, sister and boyfriend. And the neighbours. The number of friends who made the effort to drag themselves across the country was depressingly low (injuries, illness and sudden discovery of being newly pregnant notwithstanding). I love my friends, and I know they love me, but after 3 and a half years of being in this job, there’s some things they still just don’t get.