Early September, the highlights……

Well here I am at home again, and finally I have some time to catch up with this! My lack of posts for the last couple of months has not been due to a lack of anything to say, nor because I felt discouraged by strangers reading my tuppence worth, no, it has simply been due to my lack of time! I kept writing a daily log, but it rather degenerated into a daily list of jobs done, or a detailed description of how one should dismantle, clean and put back together a fire extinguisher, or some other deeply dull job, which is, I felt, not very exciting reading, unless one is the MCA examiner…. and even then..?!

So, allow me to catch you up on the more interesting aspects of life on ship. As I mentioned in my last post, my second month was spent with the deck POs (petty officers). There are 4 of them and, under the Safety Officer, they are responsible for maintaining all the safety equipment on board, which for the most part consists of the fire fighting equipment, tenders and lifeboats. There are, unsurprisingly, a lot of these on the ship and the monthly, quarterly and annual inspections are done on a continuous rotation.

We did get to do other things over the month though, on the 4th, in New York, we did our first void space entry. A void space is, as you might imagine, an empty space, most of them are located in the bowels of the ship and are fairly inaccessible. Getting into one involves quite a lot of preparation, not least the paperwork, but also a lot of kit that has to be lugged to the tank entrance to be there should anything go wrong. This one was particularly fun because it was right underneath the engine room, and within this space, lube oil tanks were suspended. Lube oil has to be heated before it’s allowed near an engine, so not only was being in the tank incredibly noisy, it was like a sauna, only not nearly so nice! After the nice chap from Lloyds had been in to survey the space, the Chief Officer had us gadgets get in there to mop out the inch or so of water that was sitting in the bottom, an inch really doesn’t sound like much, until you work out the area over which it was sitting!

We also started getting much more involved in the drills, that week all three of us made up a cadet fire team for the IPM drill (In Port Manning). The “fire” was in the paint store, right f’wd on deck 5. We had to pretend that the paint store was filled with smoke, and did a right hand search (keeping your right hand on the bulkhead at all time so you don’t get lost). I was no 3, pulling the hose through, which wasn’t to difficult, but bear in mind that the hose was not charged, if it had been things would have been a teensy bit more difficult. We put out the “fire” and recovered 2 casualties, getting the secondary team to come in and take them off our hands each time so we could continue searching. As we started to make our way back to the exit, having searched the whole space, the Chief Officer, who’d been watching and asking questions the whole time started putting obstructions in our way and throwing boiler suits at us, and he’s a good aim! While I held the hose my two team mates tried to clear the way, meanwhile he kept lobbing boiler suits at my head and then told me I had been knocked unconscious by debris falling from the deckhead. He then did the same to S, leaving A who was number 1, calling for help on the radio and feeling a little, er, flustered! It was a very good lesson for us, the BA cylinders only have a very limited amount of air, and when working hard (i.e. when it’s hot and you’re pulling a charged hose and lugging real people around) we’d have used up much more air than we did and could well have run out by then. I did have to giggle though when the second team came in to rescue us and saw us two lying on the floor, their whole body language said “Oh B…….!” Luckily for them, and us, they didn’t have to carry us in our BA suits, we were miraculously classed as walking wounded and helped up.

The next outing for the cadet fire team wasn’t quite so exciting sadly, we got all kitted up in the gear and went to join the Search and Rescue team, whereupon we all stood around and waited, and, er, waited. The deck fire team did such a good job that we weren’t required, but we filled the time up by going over stairway procedures with the third officer, so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

With all this work going on, you might start to think I didn’t get to have much fun on the ship, now let me put your mind at rest. On the 11th, to celebrate several of the deck crew leaving us, including Staff Captain C and SECO, we had a little deck party on sailor square. Just a few huge trays of food, a couple of bins full of ice and beer and much exceedingly silly dancing by senior officers and crew alike. We spent the whole afternoon decorating the place with flags of all nationalities and streamers and tinsel, and of course there was the karaoke machine to get things started. If you have never sailed with a Filipino deck crew you probably won’t understand the significance of karaoke to them, so let me put it like this…. it’s like a national religion. They adore it, whether they can sing like an angel or wail like a banshee, they all have a go, and then insist that you do too. Now let me explain something else; I. Don’t. Do. Karaoke. Never have, never will….. yet, somehow, I suddenly found myself with a microphone in my hand singing “How deep is your love?” by the Beegees at the top of my voice. Luckily for all concerned, Jerry started DJing and the lads started dancing. Alright, the lads and I started dancing, and then I made Staff get up to strut his funky stuff too and the party was well and truly kicked off. I’d love to share the pictures with you, but I would like to keep my job too. Suffice to say that, mops were used as wigs, there was a Marylin Monroe dress in use and Staff dances like an aerobics instructor on speed… and he only had a couple of beers!

Finally that week, I got lumbered with the one thing I’d been dreading above all others. Reading in church on Sunday. Now I’m a fairly confident person, heaven knows I’ve done enough school plays, am-dram, not to mention my more recent exploits as a living statue and other things, but still, when I have to get up in front of people and just speak I turn to jelly. Standing on that stage is utterly terrifying, and I don’t know why. But, despite my hands starting to shake like I was mixing a cocktail and my voice starting to go the same way, I made it through, and I made it back down the steps off the stage with out going arse over tit too! Problem was, I did it too well and realised I’d set myself up to be asked again!

So, that takes me up to the 13th September, the day after that we were in Southampton where my parents came and visited for the afternoon and then we were off on the Mediterranean Cruise, which I shall tell you all about another day. (This is mainly to keep my mother in suspense as she is dying to hear all about Rome and Florence and Pisa)
For now, I shall just say, how lovely it is to be home 🙂

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Just cruising…..

11th August
Up at 0630 for stations this morning, but different stations this time, we’d asked if we could observe/help with the gangway side of things, partly for a change and partly to get a better understanding of the whole mooring process. It was rather cool to be standing at the open shell door as the ship came alongside, QM2 has no fenders so relies solely upon the protection shoreside to prevent damage, which in this case was just tyres along the quay, we squashed them to death as we came into position, but they did their job. What was more worrying to SECO (Chief Security Officer) was the barrier arrangements. There is supposed to be 50 meters between the fence and the ship, and the fence is supposed to be difficult to get over at least. What we got was some single wooden rails held up by little wooden cradles, the height of which as about a foot and a half off the ground, oh and they were painted red with retro-reflective yellow strips on, which, of course, makes all the difference…

The gangways were prepared to be lifted out by hand, using a triple purchase block and tackle to lift it, but the port provided a HIAB lorry instead. Once the gangway was down, rails and nets were rigged and the security team already had their ID and luggage checking equipment in place so the passengers were free to go and explore Bergen. As anyone leaves or joins the ship their ID card barcode is scanned, visitors are issued a temporary card and have their photo taken with a webcam. Luggage checks only happen when people return or join the ship, security have a scanner like at airports for bags and a walk through archway too.

After breakfast we went up to deck 5 f’wd to find out what our jobs for the day were, we met the boatswain on the way and he took us up to deck 7 where the deck gang had already begun chipping and sanding the next section of railings. I got going with that and S continued with the boatswain to find out what she was doing for the morning. The guys I was working with finished at 1100, so they could have their lunch before starting a bridge watch at 1200 and I carried on. I was quite happy there but soon the boatswain came and told me to stop and take my tools back down below, I was a little confused as to why, but as a gadget I don’t ask, (plus I find it very difficult to understand the boatswain sometimes!). I waited down there for a bit, thinking he’d be down to give me another job, but when I figured he wasn’t going to I asked the store keeper where S was working and took myself off to help her sand porthole covers in the crew mess until lunch.
After lunch we had a free afternoon, and took great pleasure in climbing on the shuttle bus into Bergen. On our arrival in town we managed to go the wrong way, but after a short while came to a place I recognised from being here a year ago with the Tall Ships, so I was able to navigate us to the fish market without any problem after that. I love the fish market, the smell of the sea and beautifully fresh fish, mixed with all the smoked fish smells makes your mouth water as you look at the huge slabs of salmon, the mountains of prawns and the piles of bright red foot long spider crab legs. There was a live shellfish tank too, in which were lobsters, crabs and the most enormous langoustine I have ever seen, they were the size of lobsters and had to be seen to be believed. After that we wandered down the Bryggen, the oldest part of the city along the harbour front. It’s a charming row of wooden built painted houses and is flanked each end with some rather more ornate stone buildings, most of the houses now are shops and bars, which made us consider the possibility of coffee. We found a place at the top of the street with a wide courtyard to sit out in, S and I share a fondness of sitting with coffee and watching the world go by, which is rather handy! Inside there were all sorts of alcoves and niches, and the walls and shelves were filled with oddments and eccentric antiquities, it reminded me very much of the Black Boy back in Winchester, until I got to the loos, where I discovered, with the assistance of a nice lady, that you had to have a code to get into the cubicle, which was odd.

Refreshed, we wandered up the street to the funicular railway, we had to scrape together our last kroner, but as it was our last shore leave in Norway it made sense to spend it. It was well worth it too, at the top we discovered a view that took in the whole city, and the hill and mountains beyond. The QM2 dominated the scene, even from such a distance amongst everything else. All the other ships around looked tiny compared to her, even the cruise ships, and I finally got an idea of just how big she is. There’s only one quay in the port big enough to fit her, the cruise liner terminals are far too small!

When we got back to ship, we got some extra work trousers as two pairs just isn’t enough, especially when you need one pair to stay smart enough to be allowed in the mess in (we change in and out of uniforms several times a day, especially when doing messy jobs!) and then headed to stations to watch the reverse of the morning’s procedure. We stayed with SECO after that for a briefing on a security operation and the subsequent execution of 6 simultaneous cabin searches – there’s been some thefts and the aim was to firstly try and find the stolen items and second to give a very clear message to all crew that the security team are out to get the perpetrators.
In the bar, after dinner S and I got given the fullest glass of wine in the world, which made us laugh so much we couldn’t drink it.

12th Aug
We were up at 0615 to get breakfast before being on station for tendering at 0700. The tenders had already been lowered to the embarkation point on deck 7 and I climbed aboard where I was greeted by SECO asking me where my camera was, as he was hoping I’d take lots of photos for him for his security dossier. At every port they go to, the SECO for a ship will take photos and write notes on it for subsequent visits so that any problems can be planned for in advance. As mine is quite bulky I didn’t have it with me so he gave me his to take photos with for him instead. The boat was lowered to the water where the pontoons were just being opened out and I helped rig the hand rails before hopping back on the tender and heading ashore with SECO, the boat’s first job is to get the shore team away so that security can set up and the sailors can set the mooring ropes up to the right lengths. Once that was done I returned in the boat to pick up the first load of passengers, getting Sarah, who was on the pontoon, to grab me my jacket (as I was freezing) and my camera (as SECO’s had run out of battery) while we loaded the passengers.

400 passengers went ashore at Hellesylt, I continued to crew in the boat, helping with mooring lines and asking passengers to please sit down for their own safety. When disembarking the passengers at the shore SECO would come into the boat and tell them firmly to remain seated while he disembarked them in an orderly fashion, to prevent a stampede and people getting hurt. Once the tendering was done the boats were lifted to the rail and the ship sailed slowly to Geiranger, accompanied by some classical music on deck. We had about an hour’s break while we sailed and then the ship anchored, sending stern lines to a small island near the shore to keep her in position.it was time to go and stand on a pontoon and say to every passenger “Good morning, watch your step and mind your head.” I also helped with mooring lines, throwing the light rope that controls the painter and passing the stern rope. After a brief lunch I returned for half an hour when one of the 3rd officers asked if I’d had a break, I told him I’d half an hour and he told me to go and have a cup of tea and a sit down as there were plenty of hands around.

I got back to find A had taken over. As he couldn’t leave the station, he asked me to pop up to the bridge to get a new battery for his radio. While I was up there I saw Staff, who was watching the whole operation from the bridge wing, and asked him if it would be alright to go on a boat that was going to the bunkering point. He said that it was fine so I hopped on the next boat that was heading there. I found S onboard already, she’d hopped off her pontoon to have a go crewing for a bit. After bunkering the boat was ordered to go to shore so I asked if I could hop off there and see the shore side of the operation. I started by just standing by the security officer who was checking passes at the gate, each guest has an identity card which shows the dates between which they are on board, so at the gate you have to check that each one has a disembarkation date after the day’s date today. When they get onto the ship they also have to show their card, where it gets barcode scanned. As the afternoon drew to a close it started to get busier so SECO gave me a clicker counter and I was stood by the entrance to the pontoon counting passengers on to the tender, they are built to take 120 people but as that would be very tightly packed and would take quite a long time to embark and disembark them all we were instructed to only put 60 on each. When everyone was back on board I watched the boats being lifted and went onto platform to see how they’re secured with skates and gripes.

We somehow managed to muster enough energy to go and have dinner and then chilled before popping to the bar for a quiet drink in our own clothes at 2100, where there was a quiz being held by the medical team, which meant it wasn’t nearly so quiet as I’d hoped!

August 13th
Another 0630 start for stations coming into Alesund, I went aft, helping flake out the lines and then watching closely how they rig the heaving lines, it’s quite complicated as lines have to be passed around parts of the ship on the outside, all done with accurate throwing of monkeys fists and long poles with hooks.
After an 0830 breakfast we visited the boatswain to see what we had in store, he took us to the laundry where he got the linen keeper to issue us with coats, I’d been wearing my Trinity House coat yesterday as after three days of asking we’d still not been given a Cunard one, the linen keeper is extremely protective of his stock! By then there wasn’t much point in starting any work as we had a fire drill at 1000 so the boatswain told us to wait for that. I caught up with the Chief Officer in the alleyway and asked what we should do for the drill, he told us we’d be with the fire team and to find the Safety Officer for more instructions. We paged the SO, who told us to meet the BA team at the deck fire locker when the alarms sounded.

The BA team comprised of 6 people, in two teams, they all kitted out in fire suits with BA helmets that have comms radios built in. From deck 11 we went down to deck B (two below deck 1). The scenario was that the settling tanks on the double bottom deck had caught fire, so the team we were following were doing boundary cooling on the other side of the bulkhead of that section. The engine room fire locker was too close to the fire and so couldn’t be reached. One team went down with the hose first and when they were running low on air the second team followed the hose down to relieve them. The “fire “ was put out with the high fog system but the drill continued as a full crew muster to lifeboat stations and exercising the starboard lifeboats. We followed the Chief Officer as he strode up and down the ship making checks for the first part of the drill and then he sent us to watch the liferaft inflation demonstration. After that we were involved in lifting the lifeboats and securing bits of equipment. As we were starting to help the boatswains mate secure the FRC there was a call for all officers, and the cadets, to go to the bridge for a debrief. When that was done there was one other matter to deal with- W’s birthday! An extremely decadent cake, covered in strawberries and cream, was brought out, along with smoked salmon sandwiches and we all tucked in.

After all that the afternoon was a bit of a let down, we were back to chipping rails on deck 7! We finished at 4 as the deckie we were working with had a watch at midnight (and so needed some rest) and the boatswain had no other work for us so we had a much needed little snooze before went down for mooring stations at 1730. We were due to sail at 1800, but there was some kind of problem with the steering, so we waited, and waited… eventually we got off at about 1900 and cleared down the deck. I got back to my cabin ready to just chill out and then get some dinner, until W knocked on the door and asked if we were ready to go to the cocktail party. Technically I don’t have to go to these things, but it’s recommended….
Anyone who says women can’t get ready in less than 2 hours is wrong, we showered, dressed, dried hair, did make-up and were out of the door in 20 minutes! I was very proud of myself this time, randomly starting up conversations with people I passed, and managing to keep my footing as we started to feel the ship move for the first time. Never felt the ship move before so it was quite a novelty to experience it for the first time in high heels!

I’m now sitting in the wardroom in my own clothes, having spilled gravy down my mess shirt at a late dinner, am not sure if I’m knackered or not anymore, I think yesterday may have been the worst and now I’m getting used to it all a bit more, still I’m looking forward to my bunk in a minute!