Not going to St John

It’s official, I am the queen of procrastination! When I have work to do I will do laundry, hoover, cook large and time consuming meals, clean the bathroom, re-do the silicone seal around the bath, buy stuff I shouldn’t on the internet, blog, edit the photos I’ve been meaning to get around to editing for two years…. anything but the thing in hand! And so, in that spirit….

Before we didn’t go to St John, we went to Halifax, my nav work book starts to get a little more technical here, with tide print outs and lists of instructions on the use and set up of radar and echo sounders and steering and propulsion tests; I was getting a bit more comfortable in my surroundings on the bridge by then. I got ashore in Halifax too, we didn’t go far, just down the wooden boardwalk to the first decent looking restaurant we saw, where I recall eating a very good lobster sandwich.

Next day we were due to go to St John, which we had actually been to before as a 3 day cruise from New York, but I failed to mention it when I was writing about early September (my excuse is that my brain was fried at the time of writing, having only recently got home. It wasn’t a big event anyway; I did get ashore, but only as far as the nearest restaurant where I devoured as much lobster as I could!) Anyway, I was rather looking forward to getting to see a bit more of it, as we were due to spend a longer time than normal there, due to the tides and depth of water at the entrance to the harbour.

The weather wasn’t good, and there had been much discussion on the bridge over the days preceding as to whether we would be able to make it in, but the final decision was only made when we were a few miles off the pilot station. We would have been able to get in, but the forecast for when we were due to be leaving was simply too bad and it would have been too dangerous to try it, which left us with the chance of getting in but not getting out and thereby screwing up a lot of people’s holidays by making them late back to NYC, or not going in. That’s it in a nutshell, but for the more technically minded I thought I’d put in what I wrote in my nav workbook here, I’m afraid you’ll have to do without the charts and diagrams that should accompany it, but I hope it’s vaguely interesting (If it’s not, just skip to where the italics end!)

The ship was due to call into the port of St John today, arriving on the flood at high tide and departing on the flood of the next hight tide. The ship is only able to get into St John at high tide and has a very narrow window of opportunity to get up and down the channel. The port authority will only allow ships to enter or leave between 2hrs before High water and 2hrs after high water, and they must have at least 5meters clearance over the bank at the entrance. Chart datum at the bar is 8.8m, QM2 has a draft of 10.3m and also has to take squat into account. Squat occurs in shallow waters when a ship is travelling at speed, water is displaced more than normal and so the depth of water is reduced (though the ship’s draft stays the same). For the channel at St John squat is estimated at 1.5m, the ship therefore has a clearance of 0mover the bar at datum [datum being the height of water the lowest astronomical tide] and so needs a Height of Tide of at least 5m to be allowed into the harbour.

Looking at the tidal graph for St John that day it was apparent that the ship could make it from the pilot station to the berth by slack water (when the tide turns) but there was not much margin for error or contingency, even without the bad weather that was developing. The forecast for our due time of departure showed a large depression right over St John, bringing winds of 35-40kts. As a depression passes over, the cold front comes first, as this happens the wind tends to alter direction suddenly, first veering slightly and then backing dramatically. If this was to happen when the ship was in the narrow channel the ship could be pushed off course and grounded very easily.

The forecast showed that this bad weather would be likely to happen when the ship was leaving the port, so while we would have been able to get in to St John, we could have been stuck there for much longer than the itinerary allowed and therefore all the passengers who had to catch flights from New York would have missed them, so the Commodore took the decision not to to in. It was not a lighthearted decision, and was only taken at the last moment, when the most up-to-date information was at hand and much advice from shoreside support had been listened to. At the end of the day, it’s the master’s responsibility to keep the ship safe first, and being on schedule comes after, and we could not have done both.

To fill the time we should have spent in St John, we took a slow scenic cruise down the Grand Manan Channel, heading for New York. However, it wasn’t quite as simple as that and the navigator had to work out some extra legs for the ship to sail so that she could go fast enough to be able to keep the water making plant working. The ship uses approximately 1000 tonnes of water a day, and there’s no way she could store that much! She has three evaporators, which, when making a speed of 26kts can produce 1500 tonnes of water a day. To be able to run one evaporator the ship needs to be going at a minimum of 13kts so the navigator had to extend our passage to enable the ship to travel at that speed and not reach New York too early.

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Getting in on the action…. gulp!!

Coming back into Southampton from the med cruise I did the fwd station comms on the radio, under the 2/0’s supervision of course, but it was nice to be allowed that little extra bit of responsibility! Once again we had a round of MCA surveys that day, one of the inspectors wasn’t arriving until 1230 so I stayed on the bridge for the morning, filling out the stability log book, doing rounds with one of the 3rd Officers and then once the MCA were there, I stood at the CSS console (Computerised Safety System) acknowledging alarms and door closures while the Chief Officer went around with the MCA setting them off. I had a visitor on for the afternoon, and then all too soon I was back on the mooring deck again for stations at 1600, I operated the winches aft this time, it’s more complicated than it sounds as you have to be watching several things at once, but I was getting the hang of it.

The trip across to New York went rather slowly as we had some pretty dull jobs to occupy us – refilling the tenders that had come back from their maintenance ashore with the small gear (there’s a lot of it, it’s all very small and it stored in some rather difficult to reach places!), inspecting mooring ropes, checking the rescue craft gear, fixing new fenders to the pontoon uprights… oh and an engine room fire drill in which the Chief Engineer was taken out and we simulated a full CO2 release in the engine room, so it wasn’t all dull!

We spent a day and half going around the ship and colouring in tiny bits of fire plans as a result of that exercise, which was a thankless task as they were being replaced soon. I’m suspecting it was one of those jobs cadets get given to keep the out of the way when there’s nothing else for them to do, but I could be wrong…

Anyway I was set for bigger and brighter things after that, I finally had my first bridge watch that night. Not that I actually got to do much, but it felt rather fine to be up there in an official capacity, as opposed to just being up there for studying on a Sunday or getting our day’s orders. I read the standing orders and the bridge familiarisation programme, which is quite a hefty document and there’s a lot of equipment up there! A, who had been doing all the bridge stuff was leaving in a week so I was there to shadow him before taking over as he left, so he took me through the radar and GPS and gave me an overview of the rest. I was also introduced to the maintenance management system AMOS, through which all of the ship’s maintenance is programmed and overseen. I had some data entry fun ahead of me!

The next morning I was up there again, we were coming in to New York so I had to be up there extra early for the beginning of standby at 0330. Not my favourite time of day I have to admit! As I was only shadowing A I got to enjoy the view a little as the ship slid majestically under the Verrazano bridge. From up there it really looks like you’re going to hit it, but the ship has 4m clearance at high tide so there’s no real worry, as long as the ship is kept bang in the middle of the channel anyway….thankfully the helmsmen are well practised and the officers keep a close eye on everything. And there’s a lot of them up there – the Bridge Team, when entering/leaving port and other tight situations consists of the Master, Pilot, Staff Captain, Navigating Officer, 3rd Officer, Cadet and 4 quartermaster/lookouts as a minimum. There’s a lot going on and at that point, having tried to do 6 minute fixing and mostly failing, even without trying to do the log book and telephone at the same time, I couldn’t imagine how on earth I’d be able to ever do 3 minute fixing, plus the log, phone and checklists……

You’d think after being up since 0330 I might have opted to go to bed for a bit before going through the whole thing again that evening on the way out, but no, I had booked myself onto the New York bus tour for the day instead! I thoroughly enjoyed it too, we went up to the top of the Rockerfella building which gave us some amazing views of the city, stopped off at a pier on the river for lunch and visited ground zero, well, we viewed it from the building across the road anyway, the place is now starting to rise up again, in hot pursuit of getting the record for the worlds tallest building. The won’t have it for long as there’s another building in Dubai that’ll trump it within weeks, but I guess it’s a matter of pride!

All too soon it was back to the ship for a quick cup of (extremely strong) coffee and then back up to the bridge to do what we’d done in the morning, but in reverse!!

Painting, NYC and heli-ops!

Blimey,what a week, sorry it’s taken so long to get this installment up, I keep getting behind on it as things have been so busy, but here it is…

18th August
We had an extra hour in bed this morning as the clocks went back an hour, wonderful! The only downside is when we come back we’ll be loosing an hour’s sleep each night.
So, feeling pretty fresh and awake, we went to find out what the boatswain had in store for us. The first job was helping pass down the new mooring lines from deck 4 to the mooring deck (3) through the hatch. The hatch lid is lifted by a wire on a crank handle and posts and chains are put up around the non-working sides. The lines had been put on board using the derricks on the foredeck, coiled around a cardboard drum and wrapped with paper and high strength sheeting. We cut the wrapping off and then it took 4 of us to push the huge coil nearer to the hatch, the line was then unwound from the drum and passed below where it was either coiled into one of the baskets or threaded around a set of bits and through a shackle to go directly onto a drum. The lines are all 12 strand multiplait and are extremely heavy. Once all 4 lines had been put in place we eye spliced a length of three strand rope around the eye of each line, which is used by the linesmen to pick them up. After that we cleared up the rubbish and went for smoko. When we got back we had a lesson on multiplait splicing, it’s not nearly as difficult as I’d thought it would be, once the rope is unlaid you take 6 strands on each side and work with two at a time, weaving them up in a straight line along the original lay. It gets very tight by the end and you need to use a setting fid to open it up each time.
After lunch I was on the f’wd mooring deck again, this time cleaning. First of all two guys went around with a bucket of metalbright and a paintbrush on a long stick, finding all the rust spots, then another deckhand started jetting the deck down, meanwhile we also started scrubbing down with soogie and brooms.
After an hour I had to chip off to meet the Safety Officer- we’d arranged to meet him to go over fire fighting equipment for our training books. When we’d done that I got back to the deck to find they were currently vaccuming up water from the floor. I got hold of a vaccum and cracked on. Once the floor was no longer puddley, we set to with mops to get it dry.
After a very active day, where both of us had sweated a fair bit, S and I decided to visit the spa again before cocktails, I had a Finnish Sauna to start with, before relaxing in the pool and then trying out the reflexology basin. Once cocktails was done with we had some dinner and then went to the bar where we had fun playing with flash cards- J, one of the 3rd Officers, was spelling out rude words for S with the code flags and then he set up some buoy channels for us to navigate through. Geeky, but fun!

August 19th
We started the morning off on the aft mooring deck, S was scraping old varnish off handrails and I was and oiling handrails that had been scraped and sanded.
At 1000 there was a Helicopter Fire drill, the ship uses the sundeck on deck 13 as a winching area. We mustered with the deck fire party on deck 11 and went up the stairs to deck 13 when instructed. It was blowing about 25kts out on deck, which made running out hoses slightly difficult as they kept flapping about. S and I ran around fetching extra hoses and connected them up with a nozzle, we were then instructed to help hold the hose as number 2 and number 3. The engine room fire team were also up on deck and went aft to the sundeck where there was a dummy casualty. Each fire party consists of two three man teams, in this case 4 people were holding 2 hoses, and two people were sheltered between them, ready to retrieve the casualty. The whole team edged forward, using the hoses to create water walls until they had reached the casualty and then edged back in the same manner. The second time they did this the hose I was on was used as another water wall, we edged forward to the wind screens that separate the deck areas with the water wall and number 1 turned it off briefly to put the nozzle through one of the gaps in the screen and then turned it back on, this gave the fire team additional protection as they moved forward, it was turned off to let them through and then put back on. Likewise when they came back with the casualty, the water wall was turned off to let them through.
Once the drill had been completed we all went below for a high expansion foam demonstration on the aft mooring deck. The fire teams took their kit off first to Sarah and I were there to see the first quick test, which produced a huge amount of foan in about 60 seconds. So when everyone else got down, we were at the ready with squeegees, to try and keep the foam from getting too far. Easier said than done as the squeegee blade just passed under the bubbles and only moved the water underneath. Once the demonstration was over we got the hoses onto it and eventually got the deck clean again.
In the afternoon we carried on with scraping varnish off hand rails, the rails are first painted with some blue gunk that corrodes the varnish, the first scrape down still leaves a fair amount of varnish on the wood and so the process is repeated. The blue gunk is evil and really hurts if you accidentally get even a tiny bit on your skin, I was wearing the right PPE (gloves and boiler suit) but still managed to get a little blob on my wrist. I washed it off immediately though and it was fine. Once all the varnish has been removed the rails have to be sanded with two grades of sandpaper until they are immaculate and ready for oiling with D1.
We went to the Queens Grill cocktail party in the evening where I met Commodore William …… who is the current maritime lecturer on board and a Trinity House Younger Brethren.

August 20th
Started off this morning painting the bits and roller fairleads on the aft mooring deck, we then had an early smoko to enable us to maximise on the time available to paint balconies. Passengers tend to spend the mornings out of their cabins, which is when the deck crew teams scuttle in and paint. In order to get the job done in time about 5 of us crammed onto the one (single size) balcony, so with two stepladders, the balcony furniture and the paint buckets, space was at a premium! Naturally I got paint in my hair as I was kneeling down to paint under a ledge at which point I was given a plastic shoe cover, which doubles nicely as a hat. Wearing that, plus the mask to protect me from the paint fumes, I looked delightful!
After lunch is was back down to the aft mooring deck, where S carried on with the painting and I got stuck in to some varnish scraping. I discovered the disposable boiler suits they have too, which are a bright red/pink colour and have a hood too, so I looked like a slightly deranged Teletubby wielding a paint scraper! Photo evidence of this exists, but it’s on my phone, which I don’t have the wire to my laptop for.
This evening I have been productive, taking advantage of the lack of cocktail party to do laundry, tidy the cabin and write up notes about anchoring procedures for when N grills us on Saturday. Once all that was done I went to the wardroom for a drink, to find most of the men wearing bibs with a large set of boobs in a corset printed on them, in honour of the German Tapas night. I always thought tapas was Spanish, but what would I know?

August 21st
The morning started off again scraping varnish on aft mooring deck until 0900, then it was early smoko and balcony painting. This time I was with S, working on the outside rails of the deck 8 balconies, which are easily accessed from the lifeboat platforms. All was going well until we got showered on from above, where one of the stewards decided to start washing down the outside of the glass balconies on one of the upper decks!
After lunch it was back to scraping varnish, broken up by smoko and a refresher talk on lifeboat hooks and engines. The statistics on lifeboats in general are a little bit worrying, so Cunard put all lifeboat crew through a refresher every 3 months.
After the World Cruise club cocktail party S and I joined SECO and ENVO to go and see the show, Viva Italia. The costumes were fabulous and I lost count of how many changes there’d been in the first 20 minutes! I had been expecting to maybe hear some songs I knew but they’d all been written for the show, the lack of plot also had me rather bemused for a while, and to be honest, it wasn’t really my cup of tea, but the performers put so much energy into it and it had some very funny moments.
We’d missed dinner in the mess by the time it finished so we all went up to the Lotus restaurant for some Chinese food, which was delicious. A quick change into casuals led to a couple of drinks in the wardroom and then a foray into the White Star party, which is held monthly for all crew in the luggage handling area. When we got there no one was dancing and I was reminded of school discos where everyone stood around the edge looking awkward. That didn’t stop us lot though and we hit the dance floor straight away. It didn’t take long for others to get the same idea and by the time I left an hour later the place was bouncing!

August 22nd
Study day, which has been lovely. Not having to get changed for meals, sitting down and getting all the bits of paper I’m accumulating organised. We had our grilling from N, which went really well in fact- seeing as we’d actually done the work he was very nice to usJ
The big excitement of the day has been hurricane Bill, which is perfect for my WBL, so I’ve been busy gathering as much info on the situation as possible and have even asked the Commodore if I could interview him about it all later.

August 23rd
NEW YORK!!!
Need I say more?
Oh, I suppose people will require a little more detail than that…
It was an early start, we were breakfasted and at immigration by 0630, immigration began at 0640 but we wanted to be first in line, had to be in fact as we were escorting a tour into Manhattan. We had been instructed on our itinerary “Day off- Book tour- Buy shoes and handbags” and so we decided to follow instructions to the letter. Conveniently for us the tour we were escorting was the shopping drop off tour, which meant we had the whole day to ourselves to, er, well, go shopping!
We were dropped on 7th Avenue, opposite the back entrance to Macy’s, which wasn’t yet open, it being about 0830. So we wandered toward Times Square, picking up a coffee in Starbucks and then hopping into tourist shops for the essentials, which as far as I was concerned was a giant pencil, which I didn’t find, and an umbrella, which were in plentiful supply. It was hot and muggy at that time of day, which had quickly become gentle, but annoying, rain. Over the day the rain ceased but the oppressive humidity remained, even when blue skies appeared in the afternoon, we were gasping in relief when we walked into a store and it’s air con hit us.
From Times Square we meandered on to Central Park and then to 5th Avenue where I felt glad that none of the shops were yet open as I would have felt disgustingly underdressed wandering around any of Tiffany’s, Gucci, Prada, Armarni etc. By the time we got as far down as the Rockerfella building though, the shops had opened and we went into Banana Republic, where I casually picked up a hat and tried it on.
It was love at first sight, I tried to say I shouldn’t really buy it, but S told me I had to… Ok, so I’m weak when it comes to hats. It is beautiful though, a 20’s style blue felt cloche (apologies to any men who are reading this, if I were you, I wouldn’t worry too much about this entry, it’s all about shops, shoes and handbags from here…)
We admired the Rockerfella’s architecture for a while, and then headed back toward 7th Avenue and Broadway where we stopped for an early lunch at Ruby Tuesdays, I had a crab burger which was very good, but I was most intrigued by the bun, which I think was brioche….Anyway, I digress. From lunch we stopped off at Mid Town Comics, which T has been sent to by G (G being one of the 3rd engineers and T his girlfriend) I got hugely tempted by several things but decided that buying all three volumes of Sandman (at $99 each) was a little excessive, especially as I’d have to carry them for the rest of the day. Likewise 6 volumes of SIP pocketbooks…
From there we embarked on my major mission of the day, which was camera shopping, my darling dad had found two stores which did cameras at sensible prices, one of which wasn’t too far from where we were so we cut across to 9th Avenue, through some slightly less classy streets, complete with guys yelling it each other about “Doin’ it the Nu Yoike way” or some such classic street banter. On the way we saw a shoe shop, and as I was after something cheap to wear with my whites uniform we popped in, where eventually I found a pair that would do, S also found some shoes, which made sense really as it was buy one get a second ½ price. From there it wasn’t too much further to the camera shop, and oh by gum what a camera shop, Dad would have been in heaven! There were different departments for film photography, digital, point and shoot, lighting, movies… You had to queue to see an advisor in the department you were shopping in (99% chance he’d be Jewish) They then looked up what kind of thing you wanted and got various models to show you, when you’d decided they give you a receipt for it and sent it to the collection point in a box on a roller conveyor system. You then had to go to the payment point, pay and then go to collect it further on, bit of a palaver! However I now have myself a neat little Fugi A150, which does everything I need and more, and only cost me $124.01 after tax.
We had less than two hours left by then so we headed back to Macy’s, where we perused the shoes and handbags at length. I am now the proud owner of a beautiful green leather handbag which has pockets galore and it’s own umbrella and purse! Happy then that we had fulfilled the C/O’s orders (“Book tour, buy shoes and handbags”) we went to the pick up point where a bus was conveniently waiting.
The ship wasn’t due to sail for an hour and a half when we got back so I decided to wander up to deck 13 for a spot of sunbathing on the phone. After half an hour of swearing at said phone and nearly throwing it overboard I gave up, it wouldn’t change to USA roaming, nor would it find any kind of network, turned out that the whole ship’s satellite system was down, so that might have had something to do with it. The sailaway was fantastic to be on deck for though, got some wonderful views of the city from there, especially when we went under the bridge only clearing it by about 4 meters!

August 24th
Today balanced yesterday rather nicely… I spent the day first following two of the guys, who were sanding, with grey primer and then re-tracing my steps (or to be more honest, bottom shuffles) with yellow paint. We were on Burma road, which is a crew area, but also the main thoroughfare for the working ship. Apparently, painting is a spectator sport!
Another cocktail party this evening, after which we caught the first bit of the Music of Sting show and then went for Chinese with Seco and Envo.

August 25th
Another day that started with painting, but not for too long, I phoned the C/O at 0930 to ask where we should be for the fire drill at 1000. Once again we joined the deck fire team at the muster station and were then directed to the fw’d mooring deck. The scenario was that two crew members had been last seen painting on stairway 1 which had filled with smoke, probably due to painting materials catching alight. From the mooring deck (deck 3) the fire teams had to search and rescue below first and then move up the stairway, which with a charged hose is pretty difficult, but when you have the added bonus of the stairway actually being filled with smoke and the weather being so hot and humid that you break a sweat without doing anything, then the scenario starts to feel pretty real! The C/O put us in the stair way to observe what was going on, the fake smoke made me choke so I used my hat as a mask as I didn’t want to start people worrying about me collapsing, but it was great to be able to see first hand what was going on as they found the two dummies and got them back down the companionways.
There was a full crew muster, which meant I had to get back up to deck 11 by the stairs to grab my lifejacket and then get back to my raft station, this job really is getting me fit!! After that we had touch drills on the bridge, where the officers have to talk though the procedures for different emergencies, ie steering gear failure, MOB, collision, grounding etc.
After lunch I was back on painting until after smoko when we went to the deck fire team’s debrief on the mooring deck. The guys had found it much more difficult with smoke taking vis down to 1/2mtr, and they learnt that their comms need to be better, gauge checks got missed, as did ladder and handrail cooling, also that casualties should be lowered down ladders/steep companionways not carried.
While we were getting ready for cocktails A gave us a heads up that there was a medevac happening later and there was a briefing at 1930. We showed our faces at the party for half an hour and then scooted back to our cabin to change and get some dinner before things started to happen. The ship had already started heading north in order to get closer to Canada where the helicopter was coming from, as we were pretty far out and they only have a range of 300 miles maximum. After the briefing we went to collect the high expansion foam kit with th SO and get it all up to deck 13 before we had a bit of time to relax. The fire team had been instructed to start getting ready at 2045, so they got there 10 minutes before and were all dressed and ready by the time I arrived! Up on deck we helped run out hoses, both deck and engine fire teams were there, with water hoses, foam hoses and high expansion foam so there was a lot to get ready for the rendezvous at 1045. The passengers had been removed from the cabins directly below the deck, and all had been instructed that the open decks were all closed and they must keep off the balconies too, so I felt rather privileged to be allowed to stand on the deck and watch (from as far back as possible). I videoed the whole operation with my new camera and we all breathed a sigh of relief when the helicopter left, the last thing anyone wants is to have to use any of the fire kit that’s standing by. People started clearing up and S and I helped put hoses away, which gained us brownie points for not just disappearing and we got told to turn to at 1000 next day as we’d not run off like most people. Bonus!

August 26th
Lie in- Oh what bliss it was to wake up at 0700 and turn over and snuggle back down for another two hours! And when we got to the paint store at 1000, all ready to go, the boatswain said, “Coffee time now!” Ah well…
The main part of my day was taken up by painting, although after afternoon smoko we joined the SO and the deck fire team for a walkthrough of one of the galley areas on deck 7. They’re going over a different part of the ship each day at the moment, and as S and I will be put into the fire team at some point it makes a lot of sense to learn as much as we can!