Busy busy!

Well, it’s been a busy couple of days! Having been told to call the agent in the morning to find out what time the ship was arriving, I imagined I would get a good 8 hours sleep in the hotel. So I was fairly unimpressed to get a phone call at 0435 saying my taxi was waiting. I made coffee, threw my clothes on and my things back into my bags while gulping it down, got locked out of the room as I attempted to manoeuvre two large cases out of the door and eventually made it downstairs. The taxi ride was much longer than I had been led to think it would be the night before, and involved stopping off twice, each time the taxi driver got out with some pieces of paper, went off to do something with them and came back, all without a word, apart from asking me for my passport at the second stop. I began to feel more like a parcel than a person, I had no idea where I was going or what was going on around me, but at that point I simply had to trust that these people would get me to my destination! The last stop was at a rather small jetty, even in the dark I could see that there was no way that the vessel would fit alongside it, and sat, waiting for the next move, feeling confused. As dawn brightened the sky a man arrived, and I could over hear him talking to the Wind Star on the phone, I had no idea who he was, but at least I appeared to be in the right vicinity! Shortly after I was told, “Ok, we go now” and my bags and I were led down the jetty to a small boat. The realisation dawned then, I was joining the ship on the move, and I was wearing flip flops!

Luckily my trainers were at the top of my bag and while we chuntered out to the ship I changed footwear. It took about 25 minutes to reach her, as the boat approached the pilot ladder there was a bit of a swell, so it was a case of choosing one’s moment carefully. I asked if there were any lifejackets and the agent (as the man on the phone had turned out to be) smiled and simply said “No, not here I don’t think!” My bags went first and I was relieved to see them safely on board, and then it was my turn to find a moment when the movement between the two vessels was at a minimum. I scrambled up easily, but it was still a relief to be on board. I was met by the Purser, and there were forms to fill in and then I was taken to the bridge, where I was greeted by the Captain and C/O. We waved goodbye to the Senior 2nd officer as he left on another boat. He’d been waiting for a relief for a couple of weeks I am told, which explained the huge smile he had greeted me with as we passed at the pilot station. He has been relieved by the previous 3/O, who is now promoted to 2/O and I am taking over as 3/O. I must say it is comforting to know I have the guy who was doing my job around for a while, as there’s a hell of a lot to take in! Most handovers for new officers are done over a week, and while I am in one sense taking over immediately, he is going to be there for me to pick his brain for much longer.J

After going through the basics, the C/O’s first concern was how much sleep I’d had, and on hearing that I’d not slept for 24 hours and then only had about 5 hours kip in the hotel, she told me to go and rest up, sort myself out and be ready to start work at 8 that evening. I could have hugged her! My cabin is one deck below the bridge, on the same deck as the mess. I have three mirrors in the cabin, plus one in the bathroom, (why there are so many is baffling, I guess they want us to be aware of how we look so that we don’t look like scruffy baggages in front of the guests). I have a tv and dvd player, a fridge, lots of storage space, a double bunk and a porthole. Oh and wifi access too! (I am going to get through a lot of internet cards I think!) I unpacked and went and found uniform, saw the Doc (she stuck needles in me) and then meandered up to the bridge again, never having been through the Panama Canal before I wanted to see what was going on. We were in one lock, and about to go through the second, for which the C/O suggested I go down to the aft mooring deck to see how things worked. I will save lengthy descriptions of the process until I know a bit more about it all, but in fact, my job will simply involve talking to the bridge on the radio. After that, we went under a bridge and I then decided it would be a good idea to take the C/O’s hints (she started asking if I had actually slept yet) and go to bed.

I dozed for a few hours, but solid sleep evaded me, but I did feel refreshed when I got up for dinner. I had a wander around the ship just to see what was what, and then it was time to go to the bridge. I had the C/O with me for the first hour (she takes the 4-8 watch) and then the Captain for the next three. It turns out that he and I have several friends in common from the Tall Ships, he sailed as Captain with people that have in turn been my Captain, only he sailed with them when they were still bosuns mates and 2ndOfficers and Mates. I have promised to bore him silly with pictures of Pelican! Both he and the C/O are absolutely lovely and while I have no doubt that they would not take kindly to stupid behaviour (which I have No intention of starting!) they are very approachable and supportive and easy to talk to.

This morning I got up to the bridge for my anchor watch and was told to go straight down to the tender and go with the security officer to have a quick look around the island we would be tendering to. There are several islands, all tiny and all crammed with more wooden, palm thatched huts than you would think possible. The locals were all busily setting up displays of their wares, and I imagine that by the time our guests arrived on the island, the streets (if you can call them that) would be a riot of colour. Sadly I couldn’t linger and we returned to the Star. Anchor watch was quiet enough, and I managed to get a fair bit of reading done, there are many, many documents I must be familiarised with! After lunch and a wee lie down I went back up to do my two hours day work – more reading, indispersed with asking the 2/O many questions about how this and that was done and where to find the right forms on the computer system. I was still there when the C/O came up for her watch and was firmly told to go and get some rest!

This evening, I imagined things would go as they had done last night. The C/O asked how I was getting on with the familiarisation check lists, and I showed her what I’d got ticked off so far, she then asked me if I knew where various alarm panels were, what I’d do if this happened or that happened, how I’d call the Captain if he wasn’t in his cabin, and then ticked off a load more things and signed it off. At 2100 she went off saying she was going to call the Captain, who turned up about 15 minutes later, he hung about for about half an hour, we discussed the traffic situation (one cruise ship on my port side, passing about a mile and a half astern) he asked if I knew all the various ways I could get hold of him, told me to keep 2 miles away from any danger and to call him if in any doubt and then shook my hand and told me he was going to bed! I really hadn’t expected to be left to it that quickly, but I’m positive that they wouldn’t leave me if they had any worries. I told him that I am absolutely determined not to let him down and thanked him, several times I think! There was no traffic, and nothing going on, but of course, that couldn’t last! In the next 2 and ½ hours I had a fire alarm; (not an actual fire, just a lot of people smoking in the crew mess, but Dear God, when it went off I nearly had a heart attack! Sent the quartermaster to check it and reset it…) disposal of food waste, the incinerator, greys and blacks (lots of logging of times and positions of start and stop times); and then a vessel, on my port side, crossing 1.4 miles ahead. Which, frankly, seemed rude, like someone brushing past you when you’re in a wide open space. I spotted him from about 15 miles away, and watched and waited to see if he was going to give way, but when he got to 4 miles, and still hadn’t done any thing, I called the Captain. He came up, and we watched as this ship passed ahead of us, and then he thanked me for calling him and went back to his cabin.

All in all, I think this is going pretty well so far!

From Snow to Surf

It feels weird to think that 5 days ago I was in the snow and wearing as many layers as possible. Now I’m wearing as few as possible! I know everyone in England reading this will think I’m being a cow and rubbing it in, but it’s quite a major theme I’m afraid! I have heat rash, as per usual, which is a pain, but I’m being good and trying not to scratch it. My face is bright red, not from sunburn, but because I’m a true brit and am also sweating like a pig, it’s running off me in rivers during the day at the moment, but I’m hoping that I will soon acclimatise and start to look a bit more human!

So, what’s been happening? A hell of a lot actually! The last few days have been surprisingly action packed, but I’ll start at the beginning….

I met S in the airport, who I sailed with on my first trip on the Patricia, and we got through all the usual airport gubbins without any fuss, although we were fairly late in checking in so didn’t get seats next to each other. Then in the baggage drop off que I saw a face I sort of recognised and he asked if we were joining the Wind Surf, it turned out he was a guy from college who had qualified in August and was joining the ship for his first contract as 3/O. On the plane I found my seat and once sitting down, the guy on my left asked if I was joining the Wind Surf. Out of all the people I could have ended up next to I was next to an ETO cadet who was also joining the ship! The flight was long and uneventful, although we were about an hour late for take off, not because of the weather I think, but because of luggage loading issues. It was very warm as I stepped off the plane, but it was cloudy so I didn’t get that smack in the face feeling of a really hot day! We were all being put up in the same hotel in Barbados for a night, so once we had dumped our bags in our rooms and freshened up we all went out for some food and a drink. It wasn’t a late one by any means though, we were all shattered, the taxis were coming to get us at 0800 the next morning and although the clocks said 2130, our bodies said 0130!

Arriving at the ship, I lugged my cases along the quay wondering why they felt so much heavier when I actually had to carry them somewhere. I thought I’d packed fairly light, albeit in two bags! On the ship we signed on the articles, handed in certificates, saw the doctor (who stuck two needles in me, one for flu, and one to see if I have TB) and then went up to the bridge to meet the Captain and officers. Nothing very exciting happened that day, it was all the usual inductions and getting uniform and wandering about the place trying to work out where we were. There is another cadet on board, A, he’s an engineering cadet so we won’t see him that much during the day. He showed me where the crew bar was that evening, and it was quite late when I hit my bunk. Speaking of my cabin, I’d better tell you a little about it, as I will probably be mentioning certain aspects of it quite often. Sizewise, it’s fine, with two wardrobes and plenty of storage space although the bathroom is a little small,(While the shower is a good size, I run serious risk of bashing my nose on the door every time I go to the loo!) I have a fore and aft bunk which has 4 tiny little steps up to it and I have a porthole too, which is wonderful. There’s only one problem really: we are right down in the bottom of the ship, right next to the steering gear and next to the propellers too. It’s not a quiet cabin!!

The ship sailed to Bequia overnight and I was up on the bridge in time for anchoring, we then tagged along to a safety meeting with the C/O and then went in search of formal uniform for the Introductions cocktail party. To be fair, the C/O actually described it to us as ritual humiliation. He and all the other senior staff and officers have to line up and get introduced by the Captain. But it’s only once a week, and there’s free drinks, so it can’t be all that bad. Life got even better after that too, as the C/O told us to go and have a swim in the afternoon. The ship has a platform aft that lowers down whenever the ship is at anchor, from there you can swim, sunbathe on the rafts, go waterskiing, kayaking or windsurfing. I couldn’t believe my luck, second day at work and I get this!

The only negative so far is that the storekeeper doesn’t have any ladies formal uniform so S and I have the mens uniform instead. I feel a bit of an idiot in it, but having it does mean we can go upstairs in the evenings. Having sailed on the QM I figured that the drinks would be limited to the cheaper stuff for us, and that we would have to be accompanied by a senior officer if drinking in the public bars at any other time. This is not so… At the cocktail party I’m allowed any drink I like for free, and as long as I’m in uniform I can go to the public bars at any time, where, as a cadet, I get $15 a week for free (higher ranks get more), and then all other drinks are 50% off!!  This ship is extremely good to it’s crew, and I am already of the opinion that I had better work damn hard and make a good impression, because I want a job here when I’m qualified!

The ship was already alongside the quay at Greneda when we got to the bridge at 0800, and the last lines were being made fast. The berth isn’t sheltered by a harbour and although there was only a small swell the wind was pushing the ship off the berth and she was surging quite a lot. As they have to use the anchor windlass for all mooring lines it is difficult to make them all even so some lines were taking more strain than others. While the sailors were still on the deck one of the lines parted, and actually hit the 2/O, grazing his elbow and scraping his arm as well as hitting him in the chest. He was incredibly lucky though, and aside from the graze he was unharmed. The C/O sent him to the doctor anyway and meanwhile photos were taken of the rope and the area for the report.

After another set of inductions we got our boiler suits on and started on a task the C/O has set us, as we walked down the bridge deck 2/O Navs called us back and gave us a master key, asking us to go down to the pool machinery room right aft on deck three as a flood alarm had gone off in there. Alarms often fault, and while you always go and check it out, you never actually expect to find something, however…. We got down there at the same time as A (Engine cadet) and opened the door to find that there was indeed a flood, with water spraying out of some part of the equipment. We called the Bridge immediately and told them that the flood was very real. A tried to find the valve to shut off the water but is unfamiliar with that machinery and couldn’t find the right bit. We went down to deck two and found that water was coming through the deckhead, as we were next to the marina (which was closed) we grabbed the dirty towel bins and used them to catch the majority of the water coming through, as well as getting towels and laying them over the wet carpet to minimise the damage as much as possible. The 2/E arrived soon after and was able to shut off the water. There wasn’t anything else we could do so we went back to the bridge to give them an update on the situation and then went back to the original task we had started on.

The ship has a loadline survey coming up so we’ve been asked to check that all vents are correctly labelled. This isn’t quite as easy as it sounds as the plans we are working from are from when the ship was built in France, and none of us can speak French to a level where technical terms can be translated. Online translators it turns out, are almost as useless!

While S was using the computer to try and translate, I heard a bang from outside. I went out and looked down from the bridge wing, and saw a line had parted. I told the bridge immediately and then went down with 2/O LSA and the new 3/O to the mooring deck. The line that had parted had been stopped off on the windlass so we removed the broken rope first and then looked for a spare line, the only one left was the extra large one (known as the Anaconda) so, with the sailors who had by then arrived, we pulled it out and led it to the windlass, it weighs a ton and took all of us. The 2/O threw a heaving line to shore, and we fed the huge rope down to the sailors on the quay. Once it was over the bollard he tried to start the windlass to heave it in, but nothing happened. Because the line was on the windlass when it snapped, it must have tripped something. He called an electrician, who was unable to fix the problem immediately, so we heaved in the slack by hand, not an easy task! We weren’t able to get it very tight at all, so once it was made off, the line on the other side of the windlass (which still worked) was stoppered off and put on the bits and we then put the large line on the windlass to heave it in. I hope we don’t get many days with problems like that, but on the other hand, it’s good to be around when the bad stuff happens as one day I may well have to deal with stuff like that on my own.

Today was much quieter, we spent the morning stencilling labels, and were going to go see an engineer this afternoon to see if he could help us identify the ones we couldn’t translate. But the C/O decided instead that we would be much more useful on the sports platform. I kid you not, our job this afternoon was to go and drive a boat around. It’s had a new engine put in and apparently needs to be driven for 50 hours before it can be used. I went down a little early so I could have a swim first, (well, who wouldn’t?) We got some practice berthing it and generally pootled about in it until the platform started getting busier and the sports guys were needed.

I can’t believe my luck really, this ship is brilliant. I may feel a bit less enthusiastic after 4 months, but I think this is going to be the best trip so far out of my cadetship. It’s bigger than the Pat and smaller than the QM2, so there’s lots of people to hang out with, but not so many that you stand no chance of getting to know everyone. She has sails, and they use them! Last night was wonderful as the engines were turned off and we sailed to Mayrau, meaning I got a lovely quiet night’s sleep 🙂

First few days on the QM2

Installment one, I didn’t mean to write quite so much, but there’s been a lot to take in!

5th August
Getting up at 0545 is never fun, and while I’m sure I’m supposed to say I was excited, I wasn’t. Nervous maybe, but mostly just tired and feeling a little fraught. Thankfully the drive down was uneventful and after a (potentially last) smoke outside I presented myself at the crew pass office at 0845am. I got my knife and spike taken away at the x-ray machine; they saw the spike on the scanner and asked what the heck it was, when I explained it was a marlin spike for opening shackles they looked at me blankly and when they found I had a knife too, well, being a sailor counts for nothing! At this moment I met one of the 3rd officers, W, who was checking in too, he told me not to worry and I’d get it back as soon as the security officer had picked it up.
On the ship we were shown to a holding room where we handed in certificates, passports and discharge books and waited to be shown where to go next. The captain’s secretary showed me where my cabin was and then took me up to the bridge where I met the captain and staff captain and was given my name badge. I was then taken back down below by a cadet, A, who’s been on the ship for a while He took me and my cabin mate, S, who’s also a phase 2 cadet, to the laundry to get uniform. I’ll have to visit them again to get more, mainly whites and formal mess uniform, but have managed to get enough to get by at the moment, borrowing some bits from S meanwhile. We had some lunch in the officer’s mess and then A showed us around the boat deck (deck 7).
We then attended a safety briefing for new joiners, a video on how to put on a life jacket, what the emergency signals are etc, we were also shown the fire screen doors and water tight doors. Also issued with “Blue cards” which tell you what your responsibilities, muster stations and life boats/rafts are in an emergency. The Safety officer showed us our muster points and then we had a little free time to get safety shoes from the laundry and hastily hem our work trousers before meeting on the bridge at 1600 for a brief chat with the chief officer and then heading down to mooring stations to observe. I went aft, the mooring deck is quite far down, and it was rather odd to me to have a deck head over us. There’s 5 huge winches aft and the AB’s made it all look very slick, Time then for a quick throw about with the basketball down there before I was shown deck 13 by W, A and one of the 2nd officers. Deck 13 is the crew area on deck, looking down aft on the stern and all the passengers, lovely view as we went down the Solent. Dinner (in whites) after that, followed by a couple of beers in the Wardroom.

6th August
Met the Chief Officer on the bridge first thing, he threw some questions at us to find out, we’ve been given a few days to find these things out, and managed most of it that day.
After that we had a talk from both the Staff Chief and the C/O about the rules and standards on Cunard ships, as the QM2 is the flagship of the fleet it’s especially important not to say anything or behave in a way that would reflect badly on the company.
We then went down to the Safety Officers office to be briefed on our first task- each accommodation section of the ship has in it’s fire locker a number of “CLEAR” door handle hangers which are used in the event of an emergency. When a muster is called, rather than ticking everyone off on a list, designated crewmembers check each section and once they have made sure each room is empty they put a hanger on the door. Therefore each fire locker is supposed to have the correct number of door hangers for each section, and we were counting them and amending numbers as necessary. Boring, but a good way of starting to find our way around the ship.
After lunch we started a task can only be described as “Let’s chuck this at them and see how they react”- cleaning all the glow in the dark strips along the bottom of the walls in the crew areas. The almost everyone who came past and laughed their heads off, one person even asked if they’d really given us that job… No, we just decided it would be fun. Really.

7th August
Woken at 0430 by a call from the bridge for mooring stations (and oh that feels like such a long time ago) I went forward this time, and helped flake out the lines from the 4 winches. I then stood on the officers platform admiring the view as we came into Hamburg. The sun was still below the horizon, and the cranes and spires of Hamburg were silhouetted against a glow of beautiful dusky pink, all framed on one side by the elegant flare of the bow as it rose high above me. One of those beautiful moments when you are reminded of exactly why you went to sea.
After breakfast we reported to the boatswain, S got chipping and painting duty on the port side rails and I started off deck scrubbing on deck 6 aft and then moved on to scupper wiping… mmm fun! After smoko I went with one of the deck crew to hoover up some water that wasn’t draining through the scupper on one of the outside stairways aft. Sounds so simple, but so much time seems to be taken up by the act of getting the equipment to the place you’re working, as the boatswain’s store is right f’wd on deck 5, it was a bit of a trek to get the hoover there and back!
After lunch I was with the deck crew on deck 7 starboard side, sanding and painting the bulkheads white. They were white already, but now the f’wd section is even whiter! Painting the ship is a non-stop job, and while it looks immaculate, it wouldn’t stay like that for long if the chipping, sanding and painting stopped.
We stopped at 1615 to be ready for mooring stations, I went f’wd again, this time with my camera. Once we’d let go I stood on the officers platform again to watch the spectacle of us leaving. There were a lot of small boats full of passengers who accompanied us down the river which means a careful watch needs to be kept in case any of them decide to cross in front where the bridge can’t see. As well as that there were crowds of people lining the riverbank, waving, whistling and taking pictures. After we were stood down I went up to deck 13 to see the view from the other end, which was just as impressive. It takes several hours to navigate the river, so after dinner S and I joined A and W for a couple for a couple of drinks up there to admire the German countryside and relax. As the sun set the sky turned an amazing hue of delicate sea green, dark clouds were heading towards us and the sky became a sinister mass of witches potion fumes, with the orange funnel, lit from below in a yellow hue which also illuminated the smoke rising from it in front, I was once again reminded of why I’m here, sore feet and all.

8th August
Another day of painting bulkheads for me, S got to sand a deck chair and fit a balcony rail so I’m slightly jealous at the moment! Although I did luck out as we were painting on the Queens Grill aft deck and while it was grey and not very warm, by late afternoon there were a few guests out, giving us slightly dirty looks for making the place look untidy and smell of paint, so we scuttled off. I asked the boatswain what he wanted me to do next and he said “Go and have a little rest?” I nearly hugged the man! This evening we attended a cocktail party, I managed to get the appropriate uniform this afternoon at smoko so we tottered up and tried to look interesting. We eventually managed to get talking to a guest, which is what one is supposed to do, and the Staff Captain saw us looking smart, which gets us brownie points when it comes to reports later! I realise there will be a general baying and demanding of pictures of me in my various uniforms, and I will try to oblige at some point, but right now I need to go to the wardroom, (in my own clothes for the first time!) and have a nice cold pint!