Thursday, 13 August 2009

Just cruising.....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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