So, what does being a cadet involve?

Ok, I’m still massively behind on this blog, but, I’m not as behind on here as I am on flickr! I am trying to catch up, and to be honest, there’s not much more to tell you about, so I’m debating with myself as to whether to bother. In a nutshell, I spent the rest of my time on the QM2 on the bridge for arrivals and departures, doing the same stuff as I’ve already talked about, but getting better at it. We did the UK cruise, during which I started to learn how to calculate compass errors using the stars. We then went back to New York tracking south to avoid some more bad weather. In New York I got a massage which f*@ked my back up for about a week (tip- when you’ve had a massage and are on your back, roll sideways to sit up, don’t sit straight up!!). After that we did a short 3 day cruise to Boston, Bar Harbour and Halifax before returning to New York where I finally got off and flew home. If there’s interest, I will expand on that, but you’ll have to ask!

I got off the QM2 in November [Edit: All the pictures from this trip are now up on Flickr!] I was due to return to college in January, but college, in their infinite wisdom, decided to put our return date back til mid feb. So, with all that time to go I asked my company if I could go back to the THV Patricia, and they obliged. The Pat is the polar opposite to the QM, she’s 84m compared to 334m, she does take passengers, but only 12 of them, and she’s a buoy tender, going around parts of the UK coast looking after the lights and marks that we all use to navigate by. Quite a difference, but equally interesting and involving!

For now though, something different: Someone I sailed with on the Pelican is thinking about joining the MN, and he asked me what it involved, I wrote back to him with this. It struck me that a lot of people don’t know what being a cadet involves, so I thought I’d share…

I’m in the last couple of months of the academic stuff at college, which is pretty hectic- I have 4 assignments and three exams coming up in the next 2 months (which I should be cracking on with but it’s friday evening and my motivation is low!). I’m doing the foundation degree course, the other option is the HNC course, the FD covers all the theory for OOW, Chief Mates and masters while the HNC just covers the OOW, this means the FD course is more intensive, but the pay off is that when I have enough sea time to go for my mates ticket I won’t have to do a long college stint, I’ll just come back to do the orals prep, which is 4 weeks. On the other hand I’ll have to remember everything I’ve learned in college now in a few years time!

It is a big commitment, as you spend several months at college at a time and then several months at sea at a time, the courses don’t run like uni terms, and the holidays are less than at uni (2 weeks for xmas, 3 for easter and 4 for summer), plus if you’re on a sea phase you don’t get the college holiday. You do get some leave during your sea phases though, between trips and if you have something big like a family wedding and you give your sponsor enough notice (ie a year in advance) they will try to arrange your sea trips so you can be home for it. But it’s only three years like that, once you’re qualified the leave periods between trips are much longer, it depends entirely on the company you end up working for mind, so you could end up doing three weeks on three weeks off, or three months on two months off, or 6 months on 6 months off…

Cadet wages vary according to sponsor companies quite a lot, from about £550/month to £1000/month, some cadets get their accommodation paid for on top of their wage, most of us have to pay for it out of what we get paid. I get an extra bit of money for uniform, some cadets get their uniform provided by their sponsor, which includes being sent a bunch of stuff you’re never going to wear, I’ll never forget my girly coursemate’s tiny white see-through shorts!!

The course covers everything, in the first phase I covered maths skills, introductory ship construction and cargo work, general ship knowledge, buoyage and rules of the road, meteorology and chartwork, tides and sailings. In my sea phase I did Work Based Learning, in which you relate what you did on college to what goes on on ship, to demonstrate you have learnt and understood stuff. You also have a training record book, in which the ship’s officers sign off tasks you have done on ship. To back that up you keep a navigation and operations workbook, which is essentially writing about stuff you’re done.

This phase we’re doing celestial navigation and passage planning, navigation aids, ship stability, engineering, advanced cargo and construction, management, law and professional development (PD involves a 4000 word “dissertation”, which we can write about anything we like). In my next sea phase I’ll be doing more Work Based Learning, as well as getting the remaining tasks signed off in my training record book.

The HNC course cuts out a few of those subjects, such as the PD, engineering and law, and others are only taught to the OOW level, (stability, and possibly cargo and construction too). The other difference is that you don’t do the Work Based Learning when at sea, but you have other reports to write instead.

I’ve really enjoyed it all so far, well, there have been shit days and the maths in cel nav and stability makes my brain bleed, but I still have my eye firmly on that OOW ticket at the end of it and have no regrets at all.


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.

So much to learn, so little time!

Assignments, assignments, assignments!!! Being a student is harder than I remember!! Or maybe it’s because I’m engaged in the subject and actually care, which is more than I can say for the last time I was in education! I’m rather enjoying using this blog as a memory jogging exercise for all the things I’ve done on ship, and the reason I’m here. I know there are folk who would prefer I had kept it a little more up to date *waves at CunardCritic :D* but I do have a fair bit on my plate so have to prioritise.

Luckily for you, I kept notes throughout my voyage, they started out as the long rambling descriptives that I posted on here in my first month, but as I settled into life on board and started on the written work for college and my workbook I had less time for that and the notes I made became lists of tasks undertaken. In my last month I didn’t need to make notes on my computer as I was up on the bridge and logged all my activity in my Nav workbook. Obsessively. Most cadets don’t write their nav work book every day, but I did. Most of it consists of lists, a typical entry simply lists what I did that watch, i.e. filling out the log book, position fixing, ticking off items on the checklists etc, and there’s a fair amount of sailings calculations in there too, but there were also the days when we hit interesting weather or I got to do something different, which inevitably meant a big write up in my book, along with copies of charts and pictures glued in. I’m hoping for a gold star when the MCA read through it!!

So, my last entry brought us up to the beginning of the first North America/Canada cruise, and I was shadowing A up on the bridge….

Filling out the log book sounds as though it should be an easy job, but the space you have for the narrative on a 4 hour watch is pretty tiny, so there is a list of abbreviations to be used which is printed in the front of the book. Some of them are fairly easy, but when it gets to 5+ letters it starts to get confusing, especially as there are several which could easily get mixed up. For a long time I actually kept a rough log on a scrap piece of paper and then got someone to check it over and tell me what was unnecessary and what I could abbreviate before writing it up neatly in the log book. My handwriting was a secondary factor there, it looks like a drunken spider has crawled across the page when I write fast!

Our first stop off was Newport, Rhode Island, where we anchored in what seemed to me to be a rather tight spot, we kept the azipods on standyby that day! On the way in I was starting to practice my fixing techniques (range and bearing form the radar and three point bearings from the compass repeaters) and learning how to set up the bridge wing radar consoles. After my watch I got some breakfast and then went down to the tender pontoons until 12. I had a much needed rest after lunch and was back up on the bridge for departure, my fixing techniques were improving and I was rather pleased with myself when I compared the paper chart to the ECDIS track. When land is in range it’s preferable to use manual fixing techniques, this is good practice to keep your hand in (in case the GPS breaks) and also enables you to cross check the accuracy of the GPS.

Next morning, on our way to Boston, the visibility went down to below three miles, this means extra precautions and vigilance are required, and therefore yet another checklist. Once safely in and alongside we had a MOB muster and boat drill, this time we didn’t actually chuck a dummy over the rail but I did get to go down in the rescue boat, and I got to drive it too! It’s weird to drive because it’s propelled by waterjet, rather than a propeller, so when going in reverse the boat turns the opposite way to what you would expect and at slow speeds it’s virtually impossible to keep going in a straight line. I had some fun with 3/0 G, seeing how well I could approach a buoy as if it was a casualty, and then we went right up to the bow of the ship to see it from below, which is an incredible view of her, looking straight up the stem and seeing the flare of the bow sweep out either side. My watch that evening was extended by an hour as we only left at 2000hrs so A and I were still needed for position fixing etc while the ship was under pilotage.

Bar Harbour was next on the itinerary and lucky for me, as we weren’t due to arrive very early and I’d done an extra hour the night before, I only had to be up on the bridge at 0530 and work ’til 0830, it’s amazing what a difference an hours lie in makes to someone’s mood! Bar Harbour is an even tighter place to get in and out of than Newport, and is made even more interesting by the lobster fishermen, who appear to either not know or not care about where the channel is and place their pots all over the place! We let go the anchor and I learned about swinging circles and how to mark their limits on the radar and set up electronic bearing lines as well as using visual bearings to monitor the ships position and ensure she’s not dragging. Because Bar Harbour is such a tight anchorage we couldn’t even allow the ship to swing freely so it needed careful monitoring and the pods were kept on standby all day. I spent some time on the bridge for the rest of the morning keeping an eye on things while the senior officer got on with his paperwork in the Safety Centre, which is on the bridge, they weren’t about to leave me alone up there!! I got ashore for lunch, and spent a lovely hour sitting under a tree, I’m a country girl by origin, so I do miss the greenery sometimes. I had a little wander around the town too, it’s very pretty, but a bit twee for my liking if I’m honest, I’d love to see it in the full flush of autumnal glory though, but sadly we were just a bit too early in the year for that.

When I got back I had a special job from the C/O; film directing! The tender fenders get a bit of a bashing when they come alongside the pontoons in choppy water, despite the best efforts of the ABs driving. So, the Officers wanted some film footage of how they were getting damaged for the shoreside operations team, in the hope that some new fenders could be found or designed to prevent this. I and my cameraman started up on the bridge, looking down on the tendering operation, before moving to deck 7 and then the pontoons themselves for some close up shots. In the half hour we were down there I think we experienced a full years worth of weather – it went from bright sunshine to wind and hail and back with alarming rapidity! The sudden winds meant pausing the tendering operation for a few minutes, but thankfully it passed as quickly as it had come over. I did feel very sorry for the passengers who were out in it though, looking out from the shelter of the shell door I could see the rain and hail going practically horizontal at one point!

Crikey, it’s late, again, and I have to try and beat the boys to the bathroom in the morning… Next time; why we didn’t go to St John.

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!!

A Mediterranean Odyssey Part 2

It sounded wonderful- two days off…. Unfortunately, they weren’t lazy days spent chilling out in the sun and sightseeing lovely places at my own pace, no, they were spent herding passengers (around some of the most beautiful cities in Italy admittedly) which was not, I assure you, restful!

Florence and Pisa were as stunning as you would expect, incredibly detailed decoration on some of the buildings, and doors which were works of art on their own. Thankfully it wasn’t as hot as the day before had been, although I would have liked some sunshine for photos. The day did brighten up in the afternoon at Pisa and I happily wandered about on my own for an hour or so. The leaning tower is in a large courtyard with a couple of other, equally impressive, buildings so the tour group had been unleashed and allowed to roam free 🙂

Back on board that night I was on the bridge again for more steering training. My family are still gobsmacked that I was actually given the helm, which I find mildly insulting, seeing as I’ve steered a Tall Ship often enough and got my steering certificate on the Patricia on my first trip. To be fair, QM2 is a wee bit bigger, and we did start off with a quartermaster standing beside us to instruct and take over if necessary, but the wheel itself is the size of a go-cart steering wheel, and the ship is delightfully responsive (hurray for azi-pods!). We were treated to another lightning show that night, this time with intermittent rain showers, much to the entertainment staff’s pleasure as it meant they didn’t have to do the stargazing evening! If we’d not had such a tight schedule we could have steered around the rain, but as it was we had to go at pretty much full pelt to make it on time.

The next day we were at Monte Carlo, which as the harbour is way too small to berth in, was a tender port. We were going to go to anchor but when I got to anchor stations, the duty 3/0 arrived and informed me we weren’t anchoring after all, but just hovering on the thrusters and pods as there were too many yachts around, so I went for breakfast instead. I spent the morning on the pontoons, giving the passengers the old “Good morning! Watch your step and mind your head!” in the same singsong way that the Filipinos do, it just comes naturally after a few minutes! After lunch I was back on the pontoons for a bit and then was allowed to go with a tender & start learning to drive it on runs with no passengers. So I got to see a glimpse of Monte Carlo, it all looked terribly posh and expensive, the boats in the marina were fantastically expensive looking and there was a mister by the quay for people to cool off in. What I really liked were some of the bigger boats that were anchored out off shore, some really sexy looking old 1930s style things, with funnels and lots of shiny! And there was some kind of tall ship too, which always sets me off drooling! The tender I was on was the last one to be lifted home, so while waiting to be called in we took a little detour to take some pictures of the ship, the light was just perfect and I got myself a stunner 🙂

When we arrived in Barcelona, our last stop of the Med tour, I got to operate the mooring line winches, not a major thing really, but enough to give me a small frisson of excitement and feel pleased that they didn’t think I was a complete muppet who shouldn’t be allowed to do anything that might go wrong.
The rest of the day was taken up with tender repairs, the poor little things always seem to take quite a bashing from the pontoons, the slightest swell creates a lot of bobbing!! Because we had to work on the outer side of one of them we had to lower it, drive it round and come in to pick it up the wrong way round, and the same in reverse when the repairs had been done. This gave us a chance to do some more driving practice, which, frankly, I could still do with a lot more of!

The next few days at sea on-route back to the UK were spent emptying small gear and provisions out of a couple of the tenders, which were due to go ashore in Southampton for maintenance. It’s not such an easy job as it sounds as things like the drinking water are stored in lockers under the floor, so you have to lie flat out on the floor between two benches to reach in and grab the bags of sachets out. We actually removed a bench to make getting at them easier, but it made me wonder how on earth you’d get at them when the tender was full of 150 people. I also got to indulge my artistic side when re-painting the ‘fire’ that’s used for the basic fire fighting demonstrations, test about a million fire screen doors before they got tested by the MCA in Southampton and lay out yet more lifeboat gear for the MCA inspectors to inspect.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but the ship gets an MCA inspection almost every time she goes into Southampton because she’s so big and has such a tight turnaround schedule. Instead of inspecting the whole ship in one go annually, the MCA come aboard and inspect a zone each time. When all the zones have been done they then come and stay on the ship for a few days to watch drills and things and then, and only then, does the ship get issued with their certificate. Of course, a month or two later the whole process has to start all over again!

A Mediterranean Odyssey, part 1

Mmm, yes, again, apologies for the delay, stuff keeps happening and getting in the way of writing about it! So, where was I? Oh yes the med……

We set off from Southampton once again and had one day at sea cleaning tenders, followed by cocktails and a show. Over the three months I have attended innumerable cocktail parties on board, the thrill of which I have to admit, palled somewhat by the end of my time, but it was nice sometimes to put on a bit of make-up and heels and remind myself that I was a girl. We were allowed to sneak in at the back of the shows when they were about to start, on this occasion there weren’t any seats free so we stood to watch Apassionanta, and I tell you, those dancers can go some!

I was rather excited the next morning at stations, as we were coming into Lisbon, one of the places I sailed into 10 years previously when sailing in the Tall Ships Race on Astrid. This time we made our way up the river at dawn and I was treated to a beautiful sunrise with the bridge’s silhouette coming closer and closer. Passing beneath it we heard the most bizarre roaring noise, caused by the traffic above. The bridge isn’t tarmacked, it’s just metal grilling, so you can actually see the traffic as it passes above you, which I found slightly disconcerting. I didn’t get ashore in Lisbon, my day was spent cleaning out the tenders ready for use in Gibraltar the next day instead.

Gibraltar was slightly more exciting, I had yet another lovely sunrise, this time with the Rock silhouetted in front of it and I then spent most of the day on the pontoons, telling passengers to mind their step and please could they not try and barge the people in front of them on. It’s like they think the boat’s on a timer and if they don’t get on as fast as possible it’ll go without them. There’s also the people, mostly men, who, when offered a helping hand when bridging the gap between a stable platform and a bobbing boat, take it as a personal affront and huffily snatch their hand away. It’s always them who nearly go flying as the boat lurches too. Small victories.

Anyway the lovely part of the day was getting to go ashore and visit my friend N for lunch, she’d been away from the homeland for a while so we spent a fabulous 3 hours nattering about life and it’s myriad of complications. And, I got to wear the dress. I bought the dress in Swansea when I was doing my first trip on the THV Patricia. I’d wandered into a shop called Blue Banana selling the most divine retro and alternative clothing, the kind of stuff I’d love to buy and wear on a regular basis if I could a) afford it and b) wasn’t so lazy and actually put in the effort to do hair and make up and such things that are needed to make it look good, most of the time I live in jeans and only wear make up for parties. I oohed and aahed over the dresses for a while and was then pounced upon by one of the shop assistants who demanded I try the object of my affections on. I did, and while it was nice, I wasn’t convinced, mainly due to my socks and bad hair. She then produced the most glorious pair of black patent leather peep toe wedge heels with a red trim. Needless to say I bought the lot.

I digress, sorry, I am a girl after all.

I didn’t wear the shoes that day but the dress needed to be shown to N as she is my Dita Von Teasesque icon. I did however, wear the dress for the next two days ashore, (I only had the one smart thing to wear) which felt delightfully subversive as I was escorting tours and therefore representing the ship. Razor blades and 1940’s pin-ups never struck me as a Cunard look, but they didn’t seem to mind when I rocked up in it, after all, I was wearing my badge.

My first big day out was Rome, I collected my tour group from the theatre and led them to the bus with my little placard. The worst part was having to stand at the front and say in my best posh voice (which I do very well, I would point out) “Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, I am your escort for the day”. I then tried to point out that I was not the tour guide and knew nothing about the places we were going to see as I had never been there either. I was just there in case someone lost something or fell over. This didn’t stop people from asking me everything from how long it was going to take us to get there, to which things we were going to see. Some people just don’t listen, but hey, I was seeing Rome for free!!

After an hour and a bit on the bus from Civitavecchia, during which I gazed out of the window wistfully at olive groves and umbrella pines, we arrived in the city, making our way through narrow streets on foot to the Trevi Fountain. As you round the corner and see it you realise that the term fountain doesn’t really accurately describe it, not at all in fact, it takes up the entire side of a square, and most of the middle of it too, it is the side of a building, not some small architectural afterthought added on later. From there we were taken to Venice Square, past the huge white building known unaffectionally by the locals as “the wedding cake” and on to the Forum. I can’t possibly do justice to any of these places with description, and truth be told, I am writing this many months later, but I have photos, many, many photos, which, will one day make it onto my flickr account when I have had time to tweak them. I wouldn’t hold your breath though as I am still behind on photo editing by over a year!

We moved on to the Colosseum before lunch, it is a splendid ruin, though horribly over-crowded by tourists, which I hate, especially when I am aware that I am one of them. I managed to get most of my photos without people in them and so left happy. We were all hot and flagging by then, and I was discovering which of my wards I needed to keep an extra eye on so we didn’t lose them as they stopped to photograph everything on route. The term “herding cats” is appropriate here. Lunch was in a hotel, and as we arrived I felt something on my dress go ping. To my horror a button had become unstitched and one shoulder strap was hanging lose. I managed with the help of our tour guide to beg a safety pin from the receptionist and get it temporarily fixed and sat down with some of my tour to eat. It went again during lunch but one of the ladies helped me out, for which I am eternally grateful.

Suitably refreshed we went on to the Vatican. Again, words can do no justice (sorry mum!) the painted ceilings, the architecture, the sculpture, mosaic floors… oh and the small matter of the Sistine Chapel. Which one is absolutely not supposed to take photos of inside. None of us did of course. OK so we nearly got the tour guide in trouble and get kicked out but everyone loves a chancer don’t they! After briefly visiting St Peters Basillica there was time to get an ice cream which sustained me on the walk back to the bus. Our tour was one of the last back and as I was excused from mooring stations I took the chance to go up to deck 13 to see us sail out. Very soon after that I went and crashed for an hour or so, Rome in a day is rather exhausting!

There’s no rest for the wicked unfortunately and after dinner we went up to the bridge to start steering training. I got up there and very nearly asked which muppet was taking photographs, I soon realised that it wasn’t a camera flash I was seeing, but lightning. We had an incredible light show that night and debated what would happen if the ship got hit, thankfully we didn’t have to find out!

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 🙂

Shock news… we’ve been painting!!!

August 27th
I began the morning chipping paint on deck 11, just the undersides of the stanchions (rail posts) where they joined the wooden rail. By 0900 we had painted all the chipped bits with sealant and were vacuuming up the chips of paint from the deck so the guys told me to chip off as we has an engine room tour booked for 0930. G took us round, showing us everything, he managed to level it at two complete novices who have no idea what all the whirring, bleeping and clunking lumps of metal do, he did get rather excited showing us his area of expertise- the sewage works! We went painting on the aft mooring deck for half an hour after lunch as the engine guys get back at 1330, and then we went back to finish off with looking at the incinerator and electrical side. That took us up to smoko and then we returned to the aft mooring deck to carry on painting the yellow parts of the black and yellow danger area stripes around the winches.
The guys were having a party tonight on the f’wd deck, and insisted we come- about ten of them asked each of us over the afternoon, so we really couldn’t let them down. On top of that the Chief Electrical Engineer was having his leaving party- which we had also been invited to, so we went to both, the engineers party first and then the deck party, which was a bit more lively- karaoke is the Phillipines national pastime, and while it had been going on at the engineers party it was only background there, at the deck party it was the main event. For the first time in my life I sang karaoke, even though I swore I never would, after that there was dancing, someone made me drink tequila, more dancing and then S and I ran away as it was getting late, we went to the wardroom to check emails and have a glass of water and then chipped off to bed, just before the C/O came in apparently!

August 28th
This morning looked like it was going to be painting again but then we heard a call on the boatswains radio about cadets. We were being roped into helping empty the two tenders that are being put ashore in Southampton for maintenance. This involved getting all the supplies and equipment out of the lockers that are hidden under seats and in corners, it was a grimey job and took us all morning to empty both of them. We did get a break in the middle, smoko, followed by a lecture in the Royal Court Theatre about pest control, which nearly sent us all to sleep!
After an extra long lunch break (because we’d overrun in the morning into lunch) S and I were back on the aft mooring deck, painting black stripes on the floor this time!

August 29th
Back in Southampton and it was an early start for us as stations was at 0520, we were due to come alongside at 0700, but two tenders needed to be lowered before that as they are going ashore for maintenance. As it worked out things ran really smoothly and we were alongside and secure by 0610, which meant we had time for a leisurely breakfast and some catching up on writing up notes before reporting to the bridge at 0800. Our job for the morning was to go around the ship opening every fire screen door. It sounds simple enough, and considering that emails had been sent to every department to make everyone aware of this, and there were several announcements made by the C/O over the morning as well, you might think that all the crew would be aware of the test that we were doing this for… nuh uh! Thankfully we weren’t the only people doing this task as, by the time we had done decks 12 to 8, we started getting sent back to doors we’d already done because crewmembers had closed them again. We had to go back to some doors 4 or 5 times, which became a little, er, frustrating… The C/O actually told me to start finding the people who were closing them and hand out bollockings!! Finally though we were told to report back to the bridge, where we had a brief rest before being sent down to deck 1 where I was told to aft and stop anyone going through any fire door while the test was being conducted. When the announcement for the test was made I told the guys working in the area and anyone passing though that they had to stop and wait, and made sure no-one tried to pass through. Once the doors had been closed it took about 10-15 minutes while the bridge checked each deck on the computer system and noted any defects showing, many of which were due to crewmembers opening doors unfortunately, but still had to be checked individually later.
After that I had 3 hours with P, who I’d booked in as a visitor again, we had lunch in La Piazza upstairs on deck 7 and I showed him a bit more of the ship as I’d found a lot of places I didn’t know about before during the fire screen door closing!
Once he’d gone I went back up to the bridge where everyone was very busy making departure checks and getting ready to get underway. We stayed on the bridge for the sailaway, which was very interesting as we got to watch and listen in on all the briefings and checks that happen, as well as watching Staff drive us off the berth.
After that we decided to go to the spa, we felt we deserved it after the miles we’d trekked closing fire doors in the morning!

August 30th
Study day once more, we spent the morning writing up reports on things we’ve done until S handed the C/O her draft report on MOB, at which point he took us around the bridge going through the whole procedure, including any variations that might occur… S re-wrote her report!
We carried on writing things up in the afternoon and thought for a brief moment that we’d escaped our grilling- no such luck! N told us to come to the bridge at 2030 instead, straight after the cocktail party. We did alright actually, we’ve not got rule 3 verbatim yet, but we were close enough for him to be reasonably happy. We then talked about stability for a while before he told us he was sick of looking at us!

August 31st
Back to the aft mooring deck today, painting the black and yellow stripes around the winches. The morning was broken up by a technical drill at 1000 on damage control. S and I went with the 3rd officers into the control room where we were talked through the process of closing valves and what the options were for pumping water out of a space that was flooding. The damage control plan is a very important document if a space floods as it lists all the valves and doors that need to be closed if a compartment starts to flood. Back on the baggage handling area the deck and engine fire teams were going over the equipment for plugging holes, shoring up and pollution prevention. If an emergency occurs the first priority is safety of life and saving the ship, and then pollution prevention after that.
In the afternoon I joined the deck guys in their task of scraping 5 years worth of varnish off the deck, we’re going to paint an area of the aft mooring deck black, with anti skid paint and that is going to be the only area on which varnishing can take place.

September 1st
A new month brings new work, we are now working under the Safety Officer with the deck POs, (Petty Officers). Our first task was to go around all the fire screen doors that had shown faults on the full ship test in Southampton and re-test them individually. Most of the faults that had shown up were due to crewmembers walking through them while the test was being done, so there were only a few doors with actual faults. That took us most of the day but by afternoon smoko we were done and went to the SO for a new job. We pent the rest of the afternoon inspecting the low-location photo-luminescent strips around the crew areas (those strips we got put to work cleaning on out first day) This time we’re just going round noting any defects, thankfully, but we may well have to set to with the acetone again at some point.

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
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!

Off to NYC!!!!!

Aug 14th
Today I sanded a deck chair. It took all day and it’s still not finished. The brass fittings are all covered with verdigris and each screw head has to be sanded back to shiny brightness.
I got to my cabin after work to find the hit squad (yes they’re actually called that) there sanitizing everything, they told me S had been taken ill earlier in the afternoon, which was the first I heard about it. Poor girl had been sick after lunch and got quarantined for 24 hours as a precaution.

August 15th
Stations was after breakfast, which was very civilised for a change. After that I went to the boatswains daily briefing, where he hands out the day’s work to the deck crew, once again I was on the rails, painting this time.
After lunch we had shore leave scheduled, S had only just been let out of the medical centre and therefore had to go to work for the afternoon, so I trundled off into Hamburg on my own. I walked along the riverfront, through seething crowds of tourists all out for Queen Mary 2 Day. Hamburg goes nuts for the QM2, I saw so many postcards and pictures of her for sale and there were countless boats, barges and steamers offering rides up and down the river to see her. I found a bar with it’s own beach to sit in and had a coffee before wandering slowly back. I resisted the german sausages and pickled fish in a bun stalls and got back onboard in time for a lie down before supper and then stations, followed by a fabulous sailaway. Once again the city was out en-mass to see us off, the pontoons and banks of the river all crammed with people taking photos and waving. There were fires one the beaches further along and fireworks going off as we passed, one hotel even had a person in every room window, flapping sheets at us. The party carried on downstairs in the bar when the music on the passenger deck finished, and I was sad to have to go to bed before midnight.

August 16th
Study day, which meant being on the bridge for 0800 in whites to be grilled by N, (Chief Officer) I was doing alright until I made a stupid mistake, saying I’d make one short blast before altering course to port… Doh!
We had safety induction no 3 at 1000, and then had to attend the interdenominational church service at 1100. I had trouble not laughing during the second hymn; an elderly lady had come in late and sat behind us, she managed to get about two beats behind the piano and quavered everything, all at top volume, I couldn’t look at S…
After lunch we went back up to the bridge to get information and signatures for our training books, and Staff came and chatted to us about how to learn the rules, there’s a method, which makes a lot of sense and makes it all seem a little less scary.
After we were done for the day we decided to check out the spa, as officers (albeit trainee ones) we’re allowed to use it between 1800 and 2000 if there’s not too many guests, so we asked very nicely at the reception and were allowed in… to heavan! Started in the whirlpool spa Jacuzzi, then into the bubble pool, which has different areas, including a high pressure jet that looks a bit like a kitchen sink tap- perfect angle for pummelling out those knots in the shoulders and back… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! There’s also a finnish sauna, a steam room, a herbal steam room, reflexology tubs for feet and a monsoon shower… and I get it for free! Will be going there fairly regularly methinks!!

August 17th
We didn’t have to do stations in the morning, or at least it wasn’t on our itinerary so we presumed we didn’t have to go. Back in jolly old Southampton, we had the MCA surveyors coming on for zone surveying- every ship has to be surveyed every year but as this grand lady is so big and only spends one day in port each time, they break it down so each time she comes in they do one zone (there are 9 zones in total). We were doing zone 8 this morning, my job was to follow the inspector and Safety Officer, carrying a smoke detector tester (a long pole with a cup arrangement on the end that encloses the smoke detector and squirts fake smoke at it. A little light then goes on and the bridge calls up saying “We have a smoke detector going off at ….. location” and we reply “ Yes that’s us”) What was much more interesting was watching the inspector and asking him questions about what he was looking for. He was very nice and explained lots to me as we went around.
This afternoon I had a visitor booked in, my boyfriend P, I showed him around the ship, learning a few things about where things were as we went round! His comment on the bridge was “Mmm it’s a bit bigger than ones I’ve been on before!” He was later than expected (due to my shopping requests- how was I to know that white socks would be so hard to find?) but it was wonderful to see him for a couple of hours. After that I went up to the bridge to find out what I was supposed to be doing, they were doing all the pre-departure checks so I stayed up there learning about what goes on and then S and I went down to stations for unmooring. We are now heading for New York, and the best thing is, 4 days with no stations!!